The long-running local rock band Better Than Ezra is still going strong. Not only do they make great music, they strive to help others through their BTE Foundation; an organization that funds multiple causes. On Saturday night, the boys in the band will be holding their 12th annual benefit concert at the House of Blues. Tickets include an open bar all night and performances by Better Than Ezra, Matt Nathanson, and JT Hodges. I was able to talk to vocalist/guitarist Kevin Griffin about the band, the foundation, and the show this weekend. You can purchase tickets in advance here.
WYAT: How did the foundation begin?
Kevin Griffin: The BTE Foundation started almost 13 years ago; it wasn't as formal as it is now. We started doing a golf tournament at a golf course in eastern New Orleans. It benefitted the Multiple Sclerosis Society. We continue to donate to them, but in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we felt like we needed to step up. Our mission was to help rebuild and educate the New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast, specifically rebuilding homes, coastal restoration, and helping out with equipment for the fire department and police department. The big mission of the foundation was adopting Bethune Elementary School; building playgrounds, cubbies for the kids to put their stuff in, bringing in crayons and other supplies, now we're working on an afterschool program. There's a lot of things that have benefitted from the foundation, and we have a great board of directors. It's way bigger than the band at this point.
WYAT: Are there any charities or causes that you'd like to donate to in the future?
Griffin: A lot of different people come to us, and we'll donate. We donated to Pablove.org, which is an organization for juvenile cancer victims; it's a great organization. We've done NOCCA. What's really given us the most satisfaction is helping out with kids. We've done our first out-of-New Orleans event in Houston and Dallas last year. We benefitted the Booker T. Washington School of Performing Arts. Their list of alumni is really impressive. We want to do more with schools and education. The scope and mission of the foundation is constantly evolving. We've donated about 1.2 million dollars.
WYAT: New Orleans has changed pretty rapidly in the last few years. What is your opinion on the changes happening?
Griffin: It's good to see New Orleans putting Katrina behind itself. It's still not over, and there's still neighborhoods that aren't right and need to be fixed. That's kind of what we do; we're a small part of that. But I think it's great to see a lot of young professionals moving to the city. A lot of startups are happening. I like to see New Orleans becoming attractive to businesses to come in and giving them incentives to come in. New Orleans, for the longest time, was the hardest place to get help for businesses. I think that's changing and that's good. You can see it in the restaurants, in the startups, and just the feel of the city. I still have many interests in the city and am very invested in the city, but I've been living in Nashville because I'm a songwriter. So I get that perspective of coming back to the city often and seeing the changes you may not see if you live there.
WYAT: You're 12 annual benefit show is approaching, and you're bringing along Matt Nathanson and JT Hodges. How did you pick them for the show?
Griffin: First off, we're fans. Matt Nathanson puts on an amazing show and has a long list of albums and big fan base. I know both those guys; I've written with both of them. That goes a long way. Everybody wants to do charity events, but actually getting them to commit is a difficult proposition. I have a lot of respect for foundations and charities that do this. The first thing is who do I like and who is going to draw people to the event. Matt sells out big rooms all over the country and JT is a great live performer. He's a new country artist and has a new single out called "Lay It Down." We get along famously, and I couldn't be more excited to have him and his band at the show.
WYAT: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the show?
Griffin: Get there! Come out, and have a great night. It's going to be a fun night and great cause. Come and support your city!