Not so long ago, a pair of former co-workers got together for lunch and a chance to do a little light networking. The conversation went well. So well, in fact, that a slot on Delmar Hall's concert calendar stands as testimony to the discussion, with a May 22 show featuring Damon Johnson and the Black Moods. Of particular interest to local music fans is that Andy Schmidt, the singer-songwriter of Stir and a founding member of El Monstero, will be offering an acoustic set at the top of the night.
The show isn't just a chance to see some guitar legends: All money raised will go to a unique charity called Spirit of Discovery Park, which aims to open a theme park in the St. Louis region designed for people with mental and physical disabilities.
The project is the brainchild of one of those coworkers, Jamie Peniston Vann. She is founder and president of the organization hoping to bring such a park to St. Louis.
That effort has honed in on three possible locations for its future home: Eureka, Maryland Heights and an area in St. Charles County near the intersection of I-40 and I-70. Needing a footprint of at least 40 acres, with larger parcels preferred, the organization behind it is in constant fundraising mode. Once complete, the park will be only the second of its kind in the U.S., alongside Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio.
"There are so many children, adults and wounded warriors across our country who don't have access to a theme park where they can just let go and enjoy life because of their disability," Vann says. "We want to give them a place where they can feel the wind in their face and have a fun time in a park without limitations."
Which takes us back to that lunch meeting. Vann had worked with a guy named Dan Sokolik at Harrah's twenty years ago. Finding himself between gigs after years of doing marketing and advertising for the restaurant industry, Sokolik had reached out.
At the lunch, Sokolik discussed how he'd always enjoyed music and how he'd thought of putting on a concert focused on guitar mastery. Vann talked about her work with St. Louis Recreation Development Group, the group that's developing Spirit of Discovery Park. Relatively quickly, those divergent topics were merged into a show.
"I've got personal connections with all of the bands. It was the perfect storm of availability and trying to put something together for the charity," Sokolik says. "I'm friends with the guys in the Black Moods, have been for several years. They kinda gave me some dates to work with; coming off of a tour with Whitesnake, they were looking to pick up some shows on the way home. And I'd met Damon Johnson years ago. I'd always been a fan. I just reached out to him and lo and behold, it worked out."
Adding Schmidt, Sokolik says, came of a desire "to not mess with a full band. We wanted a guy with a guitar to open the night." Plus he's been friends with Schmidt since Stir's heyday. "I was around those guys all the time," he says. "It just took a phone call and a couple of plane tickets for he and his son to come back home for the show."
With a favorable rate from Delmar Hall and support from KSHE 95, the night's been given over fully to old-fashioned rock & roll. The Tempe-based trio Black Moods melds electric guitars with anthemic hooks for a sound that wouldn't sound out of place on that station. And if Damon Johnson is himself not a household name, the company he's kept certainly would be: He's co-written songs for Stevie Nicks, Carlos Santana, Steven Tyler and Sammy Hagar, and even played for a while with Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy.
It's a solid lineup — especially for a first-time promoter — but Sokolik goes to some lengths to note that the night is not about him. It's about supporting the mission of Spirit of Discovery Park. Still, Sokolik is proud he was able to pitch in.
"Jamie was telling me to follow my dreams since I love music so much," Sokolik says. "Well, I'm in my mid-40s and this is an industry in which you work for peanuts in your twenties to get anywhere. But I wanted to help her and the cause."
If it all works out, there's another idea in his back pocket. Humbly and reluctantly, Sokolik may become a promoter after all.