Camp Heartland was the dream of a young man from Wisconsin named Neil Willenson. In 1993 Neil heard about a boy from his hometown who was denied the opportunity to attend a summer camp because he was afflicted with the HIV/AIDS virus. With no idea of what he was doing, other than wanting to help this boy and others like him, Willenson and a bunch of his college friends raised $60,000 during a six month period and sent 75 children to summer camp the following year. Camp Heartland has continued to provide this summer camp opportunity to children with HIV every summer since then. "He (Willenson) saw something that needed to get fixed and he did it," said local musician Mick Sterling who became involved with Camp Heartland in the fall of 1994. "Since then, Neil and his staff have given thousands of kids and families impacted by HIV / AIDS a week long summer camp experience, with all expenses paid. In 1998, the camp finally found a permanent home in Willow River, Minnesota., about 40 miles south of Duluth off 35W. It is located on 80 acres, its beautiful."
At one of Mick Sterling's weekly Sunday night shows at Bunker's he was approached by Susan Leckey, the Director of Development for Camp Heartland. Leckey asked if Mick would be willing to hold a show to help raise money for the summer camp. "This was the day before Labor Day 1994," recalled Sterling, "and it was so loud in there I could barely hear her." They agreed to talk a few days later where Susan asked if Sterling could do a show at Bunker's to raise money for Camp Heartland. "After our first phone conversation, I was completely moved by the mission of Camp Heartland." Mick's response to Susan was also unexpected. Instead of saying yes he would do a show, he said "I can do that but I don't know how much money you can raise, maybe a couple hundred bucks. Let me see if I can do something else." After tossing a few ideas around he came up with the idea of doing a week long series of shows at various venues around town during the spring of 1995, featuring some national and local musicians. "That's how Heart & Soul began," said Mick, "I just started making a bunch of phone calls. It all started like that, having Neil as the inspiration. I had never done anything like that before either, but I really felt like it was something that I could do. I liked the mission, I liked what Neil did, and having children myself, I could definitely identify with it, so it just kind of happened. Since then, we have had nearly 200 bands perform, in small and large outdoor venues."
Starting with just a phone on a small desk in his basement and a willingness to help, Mick Sterling has been the spark in the Twin Cities behind what has become an annual musical Event. The Heart & Soul benefit has raised over $250,000 during the past 4 years for Camp Heartland and is the single largest fund raiser for the camp in the nation.
From that inauspicious beginning in Mick's basement, Heart & Soul has grown into an organization with over 700 volunteers with major corporate sponsors, media assistance and the support of both local and national musicians. "There are so many really good people helping out with this event," said Mick. "They are seeing the same thing that I saw when I first talked to Susan -- that Camp Heartland is worthy of a lot of praise. Their mission is really something that a lot of people can get behind and there is no way this could have gotten as large as it has without some unbelievable people helping out, all the volunteer and music people."
"Heart & Soul in 2000 will definitely be our biggest event yet. We are keeping some of the same elements as last year. The outdoor main stage is still there, and will always be The Luther Allison Memorial Stage. We will have 16 bands performing outside, and another 26 inside Bunkers. This year we are adding a new element to the festival. Its a family area called HOPE TREE SQUARE. Inside this area, will be festival food, a climbing wall, trampoline, video games, face painting, educational booths, etc. We are also letting kids 12 and under get in for free this year. We are very committed to getting the family element to the festival, since this is a benefit for kids. The size of the site has doubled, so we are able to have more food, more tents, more parking, more attendance, and of course, more bathrooms. Our musical lineup is drastically different from last year. We have 24 new bands inside Bunkers from last year. The outdoor stage will be about 50-60% new artists. Luckily we still have our good friends Jonny Lang and Susan Tedeschi to headline the weekends, as well as G.B. Leighton. We are very happy to have Indigenous back with us. Last year, they wanted to do it, but at the last minute had to do a radio gig in New York. They played the event two years ago, so its great to have them back. We also have a great group out of New Orleans called Cowboy Mouth. A lot of new young bands are performing from the area. A great new blues act called Blue Smoke, a very talented young singer with a huge future is Amanda Harris. It's going to be a great mix of bands. One thing that's cool about the event is that we have had many acts perform at the event before they really broke out in the national scene. Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Shannon Curfman, Indigenous, Mary Cutrufello. That's a really cool part of the festival that will continue with this years lineup."
"Future plans for Heart & Soul is to keep it on the path it is. To get more national corporate sponsors so we can send more money to Camp Heartland. We want to attract more national artists, Film and TV stars, etc. I want this event to grow in to something that is nationally known, but is based in the Twin Cities. I think we are making great strides this year."
Corporate sponsors have also been instrumental in helping this benefit. This year's sponsors include City Pages, Samís Club, Lifetime Fitness, Glaxo Wellcome, Blues Sky Artists Worldwide, The Cullinan Group, Indiosonic, Zomax Optical Media, Showcore, Anheuser Busch, and Cities 97. "They have been instrumental to making this a reality."
A major turning point for Camp Heartland occurred two years ago when they were able to purchase a permanent location for the camp. After 4 years of camps being held in different locations, Camp Heartland opened its new doors in June of 1998 with a year-round camp located in Willow River, Minnesota, between Hinkley and Duluth on Highway 35.
The Heart and Soul music festival will be held outdoors next to Bunker's Music Bar and Grill located near downtown Minneapolis at 716 N. Washington Ave. The dates are Saturday and Sunday, May 20 and 21, 2000.
Lineup, times, tickets, contact, website, & volunteer info.
Mick Sterling Bio:
"I started playing in the Twin Cities back in the early 80's in a big horn band called HEAT TREATMENT. I then moved to St. Louis to play in a full time, traveling band for around 3 years. It was a big education for me. Its where I learned how to write songs and get the chops to sing 25-28 nights a month, set up and tear down sound systems, backline, etc., every night. I came back to Mpls in 1987 and formed a group called THE NIGHTBURNERS. Around the same time I was approached by my old HEAT TREATMENT band members to start a big 10 piece band. They wanted to call it Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers. I thought that was a catchy little name. We started to play around the cities just on the weekends. We weren't having much success with it. It was hard to find that many guys to commit to play for $10 a night. So we needed another course of action. When I was in St. Louis, there was an old blues band that used to play in this little suburban bar every Sunday afternoon from 4:00-7:00 p.m. It didn't matter if it was a beautiful day outside, inside that bar it would be packed with 300-400 people. The band was nothing special, but it was the vibe. It was a great hang. So I thought we should try and approach Bunkers to see if they would want to do a Sunday night thing. We told them we did not want to be paid for the first 6 weeks, as long as they put a small ad in the City Pages to say what was going on. It started out slow, but soon the band became this little secret that all the hairdressers, wait persons, bartenders, etc, knew about. It was the only thing going on a Sunday night. In about 5 months, the place was wall to wall. 11 years later, we still have the gig. It is a great gig. I truly believe that our Sunday night gigs have meant a lot to people. I have heard many stories of people saying that our Sunday night gig was their first date, and now they're married and have children, stuff like that. It's cool that this band is special to people. It makes me feel good."