Band Together to fight Alzheimer's at Fairfield Theatre Company

Rob Fried and Jerry Vigorito, co-founders of Band Together CT, gather musicians to play benefit concerts throughout the state. A March 15 show at the Fairfield Theatre Company will raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. (Ron Kovis Photo)

Rob Fried and Jerry Vigorito, co-founders of Band Together CT, gather musicians to play benefit concerts throughout the state. A March 15 show at the Fairfield Theatre Company will raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. (Ron Kovis
Photo)

In 2006, Jerry Vigorito and Rob Fried invited some fellow musicians to an informal jam session. It was held at Weston’s bucolic Norfield Grange, and the two organizers printed their own tickets, made some good music, and sold apple pie and ice cream to the family-oriented audience.

Vigorito said they’ve come a long way since then.

With the moniker Band Together CT, the musical duo continues to bring professional musicians and vocalists together at least six times a year. Different lineups, based on the theme of the show and their availability, perform one-night-only concerts to raise funds for local charities. Musicians are paid for Band Together concerts, with proceeds and donations going to charity. Band Together recently surpassed the $1-million mark in helping to raise funds for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Near and Far Aid, the American Red Cross, the Center for Women and Families, the Pilot House, and Save the Children.

Band Together will perform an evening of 1990s music at the Fairfield Theatre Company to benefit the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association on Friday, March 15. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for a pre-party; food and drinks will be available. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Performers are Rachel Ulreich, a native of Monroe; Dylan Conner of Stratford, who teaches in Stratford; Tracy James of Newtown; and Mike Cusato of Westport; with Ryan Parino, Eric Kalb, Chris Toelken, Fried, and Vigorito.

Vigorito, of Fairfield, said the concert is personal for him since his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He said there are others involved in the show who are close to family members with the disease, too.

“I’ve done so many charity events and this is the first time I’ve had a real personal connection,” he said.

Although he feels “powerless” observing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, Vigorito said, music has been a source of healing.

“This is our form of praying,” Vigorito said. “This is how we all release whatever feelings we have.”

Every Band Together show has a different theme and a different set of musicians and featured performers. For their altruistic efforts, the group has been lauded by the United States Congress and Connecticut lawmakers. Vigorito and Fried have also received the 2010 Hero Award for Public Impact from the Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross.

Vigorito is especially proud of Band Together’s work on behalf of The Pilot House, a Fairfield community center for children with special needs. The Pilot House was struggling financially and didn’t have a permanent facility when Band Together began to host benefit concerts.

“They now have a building to host their programs,” Vigorito said. “They rely on Band Together, though, as a significant funding source.”

Vigorito and Fried, who grew up together in Fairfield, have also worked closely with actress Meryl Streep and the late Paul Newman, a Westport resident, to help Connecticut Farmland Trust preserve Connecticut’s farms.

Performing about six concerts a year, Vigorito handles the majority of marketing for the shows, and Fried, who now lives in Redding, is responsible for the music.

A businessman working in the asset management industry, Fried is also a jazz musician, composer and bassist. He has released two CDs of original compositions and regularly plays live music at local bars and clubs with The Rob Fried Band, Stoneband and, with Vigorito, Bone Dry.

However, it’s through coordinating and playing with Band Together CT that both he and Vigorito have received “a sense of purpose,” Fried said.

“Producing events that are a lot of fun to attend and help families in need is both selfless and selfish,” he said. “It is selfless because we are making tangible improvements in our community. It is selfish because we take pleasure in doing this while building meaningful relationships. That is what makes this kind of social activism work.”

Along with its organizers, Band Together’s performers embrace this philanthropic concept.

The upcoming 90s-themed show at FTC marks singer/musician Dylan Conner’s second Band Together CT appearance. A Latin teacher at Bunnell High School in Stratford, where he resides, Conner said he’s excited to be asked back onstage.

Growing up in Westport and Fairfield, Conner learned to play a variety of instruments at an early age. He credits his Compo Beach neighbors, the Coen family, with first introducing him to playing music.

“They had lots of instruments lying around their house and I was immediately attracted to them,” Conner said. “It was a great environment to learn music. There was a lot of encouragement from our families.”

At that time, Conner said, he was “obsessed” with playing songs by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

He moved to Fairfield from Westport in middle school, attending Fairfield Woods Middle School and Fairfield High. He did musical theater and was in the chorus at Fairfield Woods, then he did select choral groups and rock bands in high school.

Although he loved rock ’n’ roll, Conner became involved in classical music and was chosen for the highly competitive select All-State and All-Eastern choirs.

On the weekends, though, Conner and a few buddies — Dod Andrew, Greg Thorne and Chris Hansen — performed around town in rock bands.

After his graduation from Skidmore College, where he studied Latin and English literature, Conner spent six months playing in an original rock band in the San Francisco Bay area.

In the upcoming Band Together CT show, Conner will pay homage to rock ’n’ roll legend Tom Petty as he performs Learning to Fly.

“This is right up my alley — I love it,” Conner said.

Fried and Vigorito are charged with selecting the show’s material. Vigorito said they choose songs that they feel the musicians could perform easily and without a lot of rehearsal.

“We ship out CDs and music and they come prepared,” Vigorito said.

The performers typically have one rehearsal, onstage.

“We go out there and just do it,” Vigorito said. “We make it look easy.”

Rachel Ulreich, who performs under the stage name “Raycee Jones,” is excited to return for her third Band Together CT show, performing songs made famous by George Michael, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, and Jewel.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet other artists, play together, connect, and become a family through it,” Ulreich said. “I believe in doing good despite the chaos, Through these concerts, you touch people, grow as a musician and, ultimately, find happiness and peace.”

Ulreich grew up in Monroe with Vigorito’s two daughters, Samantha and Tori.

“I’ve known Rachel for a long time and watched her grow up,” said Vigorito.

Ulreich performed leading roles in several high school musical theater productions Vigorito attended with his family.

In 2010, Ulreich graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in music business. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is the lead vocalist for an original band she founded, The Dirty Gems. She is also a singer/songwriter with the duo Raycee and Mills.

Ulreich and her writing partner Mark Sanderlin (“Mills”) recently appeared on the Hallmark Channel’s Marie Osmond Show.

Information about Band Together may be found at bandtogetherct.com. Tickets to the March 15 concert may be purchased at fairfieldtheatre.org/alzheimers-association-benefit-concert.

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