An Unusual Tour: Pledge For Justin Hines And He'll Pledge Back

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Justin Hines' upcoming Vehicle of Change tour will not only bring exposure to his new album, How We Fly (out on May 14), but after hopefully raising $40,000 through a crowd-funding campaign, the Newmarket, Ont.-born singer-songwriter plans to donate 100 percent of ticket sales from the tour towards a wide range of charities in each city.

Hines' empathy with charitable work has been a natural outcome of his own physical challenges. The 30-year-old was born with a rare joint condition known as Larsen’s Syndrome, one that has kept him confined in a wheelchair. His refusal to let his condition hold him back from pursuing a life in music has been inspirational (see video below).

In 1998 Hines won a YTV Youth Achievement award for his original music, and his performance on that awards show earned him a Gemini Award nomination. His original tune "Song for the Millennium" was adopted by the Government of Canada, and led to a national tour. In recent years, he has performed in places as far afield as China (at the Beijing Olympics), Italy and the Middle East, and in 2010 he participated in the first-ever Canadian Paralympic Torch Relay.

Since signing to The Orange Lounge Recording Company, Hines has released three acclaimed albums — 2008's Sides, 2009's Chasing Silver and 2011's Days To Recall. His U.S. profile was boosted greatly by a 2011 PBS television special that aired over 400 times and a guest slot on CBS show Sunday Morning.

Understandably, Hines' medical situation has attracted extensive media coverage, but it has been his talent as a writer and singer of melodic and meaningful pop-rock material that has brought him international recognition and a growing fan-base.

The concept behind The Vehicle of Change tour involves a fundraising campaign on Here, donors can contribute to the costs involved in sending Hines and two accompanying musicians out on tour. In return, donors can receive such items as a download of the new CD ($10), vinyl, signed CDs and vinyl, an autographed harmonica, up to a listening party at Hines' record label's studio ($1500), a private concert ($5000) or the chance to record a song with Hines ($5000).

“How much we raise through PledgeMusic will determine how far the tour goes,” Hines tells Samaritanmag.  “The hope is we can go through much of the year, starting at the end of June. We tentatively have shows set up for Texas, New York, and Boston, and right through the West to B.C.. Routing will be a big challenge."

The Vehicle of Change tour will use unconventional performance locales. It's described as a busking tour, with Hines often playing on the street in the towns he visits, as well as in local coffee houses, town halls or even backyard house parties.

"It is going to be a different experience wherever we go," says Hines. "Different charities want to do different things. Some want to have actual ticketed events for the public. For other stops, we're looking at more of a busking thing, where we just set up shop on a street corner or a parking lot and whoever comes that'll be the audience.

“The idea is that the charity itself will take ownership of the process, and rally around us being there. That will include things like securing the venue and a soundman. We're trying to create a community around the whole thing. Part of that is having the charity be part of the organization process."

Predicting the amount that can be raised at each stop "is very hard to judge,” he says — hopefully far more in total than the $40,000 he hopes to bring in from pledges.  “It really will depend on the crowd size and what the donation process will be. At a theatre type venue it can be pretty substantial. We will definitely have merch with us, and all that money will go to the charity."

The first Vehicle of Change date is set for June 20, at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont. As promised, he says 100 percent of the proceeds from this event will be donated back to the centre, a fully accessible, multi-purpose facility enriching the quality of life for individuals of all ages and abilities.

The initial goal is for a tour covering 5000 kilometres, while his PledgeMusic site notes that "If we reach 300 percent of our goal, we would play 3 legs of the tour covering 20,000 km. This is a big milestone but I’d love to achieve it!"

Just 10 days after beginning the two-month PledgeMusic campaign, 47 per cent of the $40,000 funding needed for the initial tour had been raised. "That is awesome," says Hines. "We are really encouraged by the response."

Helping boost the planned tour has been the donation of an RV to the cause. "A lovely couple in Brockville gave it to us, asking if we could do something with it," reports Hines. "The only condition is that once we're done with it we will pass it along to someone else who can do something good with it too."

Hines also explains they're keeping costs down. "We are trying to spend as much time in the RV as possible. A hotel would only be used as a necessity. We definitely want to minimize all those kinds of expenses. That is what the Pledge campaign is for, to keep us on the road, so we'll do everything we can to cut back."

The unpredictability of the tour appeals to the singer. "One of the first shows I ever did was outside a library in New York City. We were representing Canada as part of an international food celebration, and our aim was to draw people into our section,” he recalls. “There's a weird rush that comes with attempting to do that. We'll just play our hearts out and see what happens.  A lot will be flying by the seat of our pants."

Vetting and approving the charities and non-profits that'll be the beneficiaries of funds raised is an important task for Hines and his colleagues.  "Essentially your name is going to be attached to them. That has been a lot of the legwork, seeing what they're about. There are certain charities we wanted to work with and others have come along that we didn't actually know about before."

The charities and non-profit groups have yet to be officially named.

“Over the years I have been associated with a lot of disability causes, but this tour will find us working with a lot of different people,” Hines says.  “It looks like we'll be helping support animal shelters, veterans who are injured, and that kind of thing. A whole broad spectrum covering all walks of life.

"I've never really felt compelled to be attached to just one thing. I've always had this dream of connecting with as many different people as possible, and it'd be neat to embody a journey that covers as much ground as possible."

It has been an intrinsic part of his life early on, and he formed his own charitable organization, The Justin Hines Foundation, in 2007, when his musical career was in its infancy. The Foundation's first association was with the Wal-Mart Walk of Miracles, and his song “Wish You Well”  was used as the campaign theme. "We also did some work with Niagara Parks, on the environmental side," says Hines. Another group assisted by the Foundation is Variety: The Children's Charity.

He credits his family in helping instil this desire to give back. "My grandmother lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland and she's always been a really big charity supporter who has also done missionary work. I feel my parents mastered the art of support. I feel my journey is the by-product of tremendous effort. I see it as a privilege and a responsibility. Something great about this is that charities really do want to help you too, by raising your profile. It's a win-win situation."



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