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Deadheads Fight Hunger

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Scott Rudicel is very excited about some cover songs. For a musician who's been playing for over 22 years, that may seem odd. But Scott isn't a normal musician, and he isn't working on Bon Jovi covers for a local bar. He's Ruditoonz, and he's making the Grateful Dead kid-friendly for Tiny Tonic at this year's Tonic Ball.

Scott Rudicel has been Ruditoonz since 2009, interpreting classic rock for kids. - NATHANIEL EDMUNDS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Nathaniel Edmunds Photography
  • Scott Rudicel has been Ruditoonz since 2009, interpreting classic rock for kids.

The Tonic Ball is an annual event that draws some of Indianapolis' best artists playing music from some of the best bands in recent memory. This year it's the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and the Pixies. The goal: raise money for Second Helpings, a local nonprofit dedicated to eliminating "food insecurity" in central Indiana.

Food insecurity is the public policy word for hunger and malnutrition. An estimated 270,000 people in central Indiana suffer from food insecurity. The worst part is that the city throws away more than 1.5 million pounds of food daily. That's five pounds of sustenance per hungry Hoosier going into the trash every day. Thankfully Second Helpings steps in -- taking food that's overcooked or simply more than a restaurant needs-- and gives it to hungry people who need it. Every cent of a Tonic Ball ticket goes toward funding this effort. 

Rudicel played the first Tonic Ball in 2002, when he says "it was just Radio Radio." Back then, Tonic was an adult show (and the main event on Friday, Nov. 22nd still is). After a few years off, organizers approached him with a new pitch: Tiny Tonic. It would be an event featuring the same musical themes as the main show, except this one would be geared toward youngsters.

"I wasn't playing in any adult bands," Rudicel remembers. "[Organizers] approached me with the idea for Tiny Tonic in 2009. That year the main event was the Beatles, and it was perfect."

Artwork by Leslie Dolin to be featured in Tonic Gallery.
  • Artwork by Leslie Dolin to be featured in Tonic Gallery.

Since then, Rudicel has been playing Tiny Tonic as Ruditoonz. Some years are easier than others: the Beatles are great for creating covers for the wee ones - R.E.M. not so much. Tempo is key when you're dealing with children - they have to be stimulated and engaged.

"I'm really excited about this one," Rudicel says. "[The Grateful Dead] are almost as good as the Beatles in lending itself to kid-friendly songs. The Pixies were the biggest challenge - I always stay true to the artists."

Tiny Tonic hasn't been the only addition. Tonic Ball has grown from just Radio Radio to two more stages at White Rabbit Cabaret and the Fountain Square Theatre. The first Ball brought in more than $4,000 for Second Helpings, and since then the event has raised in excess of $100,000. This year more than 40 local bands and musicians are participating, which is a pretty good deal for a $25 ticket. As of this week, the event is completely sold out. If you haven't gotten a ticket yet, your only chance is to watch their Twitter and Facebook pages and hope for a last-minute release of extra tickets.

Sophia plays along with the provided instruments at Tiny Tonic.
  • Sophia plays along with the provided instruments at Tiny Tonic.

The bands aren't the only part of Tonic - there's an entire gallery of art too. This year's Tonic Gallery will be filling Well Done Marketing with 12-by-12-inch interpretations of beloved LP covers. From 6-9 p.m. on Nov. 15, the donated art will be sold in a silent auction - once again benefiting Second Helpings.  This event doesn't require tickets, so whether you are going to the Ball or not, you can add this event to your Friday calendar.

Tonic Gallery, Tonic Ball and Tiny Tonic all bring together the creative community of Indianapolis to raise money for a good cause. As much fun as it is to play covers of great bands, the purpose helps to make the night really special.

"Everybody comes together, and nobody's paid a dime," Rudicel says. "It's the most awesome night. It's not about my band or that band. It's for Second Helpings. You're raising money and you're raising awareness. Some people don't know about it - it's not the United Way - but it does great things."

Rudicel is excited to do his part with Ruditoonz - which started in the '90s when he wrote songs for his nephews. Now his 4-year-old daughter Sophia is watching him at Tiny Tonic, as she has since she was only a few months old. The kids even have some instruments available to play along, doing their part to fight hunger - and having a blast while they're at it.             

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