A Perfect Music & Charity Marriage: John Bell’s 13th Annual Hannah’s Buddies Classic

There is something about charity and music that go hand in hand. When looking back over the relationship of the two, immediately one will recall massive undertakings that have taken place over the years. Things such as George Harrison’s 1971 single  (“Bangla Desh”) and subsequent star-studded Madison Square Garden concert and film for Bangladeshi refugees — that featured performances by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and many more –  pop into one’s mind.

And who could forget 1985’s “We Are the World” that featured artists ranging from Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross to Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon, amongst 18 other soloists and a choir of 23?

Putting music alongside charitable contribution is an obvious choice for many reasons, but for these purposes, there are three that ride high above the rest.

First of all, it works because music is a universal soul stirrer. It provokes emotion and in order for people to be moved to the point of “giving” their money away, something deep within them must be tapped.

Second, some people simply aren’t willing or able to give, but are willing to pay for a service or good. Therefore, when receiving something in exchange for a “donation” (i.e. a concert or CD), those that would not or could not give in or under other circumstances are willing or able to do so.

Finally, for artists, as one musician (who will remain nameless) once stated, “playing a gig for charity keeps (musicians) honest. It reminds us of why we started doing this in the first place. Sometimes it is easy to get tied up in the life of this whole thing. But I picked up a guitar because I liked the way it made people smile when I played it not because I thought it was going to make me a bunch of money. When I do a charity gig, I go back to that place much easier than on other nights.” 


The first and third are where the true beauty is found, for it is within this spirit that a vibe is cultivated within a charity event, be it large or small, that yields special or even once in a lifetime occurrences that seemingly cannot happen elsewhere.


A classic example of this is Warren Haynes’ annual Christmas Jam, where, for 23 years, Warren has gathered up friends of both old and new to come to Asheville, NC to help raise funds for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Each year, the music is exceptional and the collaborations are the type of things that only happen there. The spirit of the room is always on high, from the stage to the last row at the back of the balcony. This combination is what keeps people coming back year after year.


This past Sunday — and for 12 years previous — was another classic example, when Warren Haynes Band joined forces with John Bell for his 13th Annual Hannah’s Buddies Charity Classic that benefits the very worthy cause of fighting Spinal Muscular Atrophy. SMA is a neuromuscular disease that causes afflicts infants, children and adults by causing degeneration and death of the motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord produces weakness in the muscles of swallowing, breathing, and limbs. This disease afflicts infants, children, and adults worldwide. (FightSMA.org)


Celebrating its 13th year, the event’s proceeds again went to support Hannah’s Buddies, an organization named after John Bell’s goddaughter and niece who, in spite of her beautiful and inspiring smile, lives with the aforementioned illness.


Philanthropy is not something from which John Bell shies. Since 2005, he and his Panic band mates host Tunes for Tots to support advancements in art and music education. Amongst other efforts, Widespread Panic participated in the Make It Right Foundation‘s efforts by purchasing a house in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. They have sponsored many events and contests for Nuci’s Space and have food drives at every live show amongst donated songs to numerous projects. But through it all, John Bell’s “solo” heart has remained fully centered in accelerating a cure for SMA, raising over 2 million dollars to fund research.


Each year, Bell hosts the event (that directly contributes funds to its parent organization, Fight SMA) that takes place over a two day period. Historically, it has taken place in January but with Panic En La Playa, Wood Tour and an upcoming hiatus, this year’s classic was pushed back to March.


Its home is the tourism capital of the land, Orlando, FL and it offers fans a weekend long vacation experience that combines a sanctioned golf tourney (if that’s your bag) or any of the other 1,684 things there are to do in Orlando, a silent auction filled with items for every sized wallet and a culminating evening of music unlike most others.


Initially billed as “JB & Friends,” the lineup was soon revealed to be “friends” in the form of Warren Haynes’ most recent project and the one that he has toured most extensively behind Man In Motion, Warren Haynes Band. With that announcement, there were now two acts that could easily sell out the near 2000 capacity venue on any given night on the same bill. Expectations were high… and they would be exceeded.


After what most deemed a “miss” of an opening set by Nickel and the Polar Bears, JB took the House of Blues stage to thunderous and raucous applause.


Though freshly off from the fully acoustic Wood Tour, there was still something special about seeing Bell alone with his acoustic guitar or Dobro, strumming and crooning into the room that was filled with nothing but admirers of the venerable jam veteran of song.


For the last threesongs of the evening, Warren Haynes was welcomed into the fold for “Me and the Devil Blues,” a stunning rendition of Neil Young’s “This Old Guitar” and an even more mind blowing take on Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River.”


John Bell Setlist

Coconut, Blue Indian, Tickle The Truth Into Submission, Gradle, Mercy, Taildragger, Chilly Water, ?, Me and the Devil Blues, This Old Guitar, Whiskey River



Warren Haynes Band followed Bell’s set and demonstrated exactly what almost a year and a half of touring together will do… hone a band into near perfection. They were as tight as they have ever been, sounding like a united beast fully intent on taking no prisoners.


Highlighted by the always delightful insertion of the “Tupelo Honey” rap in “Soulshine,” Haynes and company had the packed multitude of Widespread sympathizers fully engaged in the set from the word “go.”


As many expected, the man of the evening, JB, returned to the stage to close things out and he even managed to bring a friend along with him, the guy who can literally sit in with anybody at any place at any time, Roosevelt Collier (The Lee Boys), who came out with his pedal steel to add an element of “sacred” to the closing ceremonies.


Between the familiarity of Bell’s vocals, the piercing riffs from Warren and the interplay between he and Collier, it was quite the way to seal the deal on the 13 years of value that goes far deeper than simply being a “great show.”


Warren Haynes Band Setlist

Tear me Down, Rivers Gonna Rise, Sick of My Shadow, Change is Gonna Come, Dreaming the Same Dream, Real Lonely Night, Invisible, You Don’t Know Nothing About Love, Soulshine (with Tupelo Honey rap),Man in Motion

Encore: Can’t Find My Way Home (w/ JB), Use Me (w/ Roosevelt Collier and JB)



As the night closed and fans wandered out into the streets of Orlando, looking forward to the next week of their lives, filled with paperwork, chores and all of the other things that make up day to day living, there was something different in the air. There was not the typical “downer” feel that is common after all of the endorphins have been spent and that post-show crash settles in amongst one’s comrades in the proverbial cattle call walk toward the exit. In fact, there wasn’t much of a cattle call at all. Most hung back, not to do the whole “antisocial, I’m really just too cool for the cattle call” thing, but to actually embrace one another, to shake hands and exchange thoughts.


Something had been pricked and it had not been done with ulterior motives. There was a singularity in purpose and result, to make music and raise money. That resonated from the stage and through the crowd.


Purity in sound, vibe and connection had been found and for that, $125.00 is quite the bargain… plus it was for a good cause, Hannah’s Buddies.


Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show by Ian Rawn

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