Musically Fed offers help to struggling music industry workers

Gail Frantz, from Midwest Food Bank, packs bags of food during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia. Musically Fed, Rhino Staging, Midwest Food Bank and Infinite Energy Center hosted a drive-thru food distribution event for music and live entertainment industry workers in Atlanta. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Gail Frantz, from Midwest Food Bank, packs bags of food during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia. Musically Fed, Rhino Staging, Midwest Food Bank and Infinite Energy Center hosted a drive-thru food distribution event for music and live entertainment industry workers in Atlanta. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

During pandemic, nonprofit provides food to people working in music, live events.

About an hour before the first of nearly 100 cars scheduled to roll through the parking garage of Infinite Energy Arena arrives, Maria Brunner is in calm-but-brisk mode.

People interrupt her, and the smartphone nags with texts that need answers right this second, but Brunner, her bright blue eyes crinkling from a smile hidden behind her flower-decorated mask, is patient because this means so much to her.

Maria Brunner, head of Musically Fed, poses for a photo during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC
Maria Brunner, head of Musically Fed, poses for a photo during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

As the founder and director of Musically Fed, Brunner, who has spent more than 40 years in the entertainment industry, has found herself flipping the script of the non-profit organization dedicated to fighting hunger.

For the past five years, Musically Fed — which Brunner launched in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she lives — has repurposed leftover catering from concerts and provided them to community organizations comprised of at least 50 percent veterans to feed the homeless, hungry and food insecure.

From Kenny Chesney to the Zac Brown Band, Elton John to The Lumineers, artists willingly donated their unused food.

But then the pandemic hit, and Brunner started receiving different kinds of calls. Anonymous calls from people who work in the music industry — one that employs more than 12 million people nationally and is still almost entirely shut down, with scarce federal aid to staunch the hemorrhaging.

A recipient of food thanks a volunteer during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC
A recipient of food thanks a volunteer during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

“The wheels started turning,” Brunner, who also heads Insight Management, said, and in April, she worked with local restaurants in Phoenix to provide hot or easy-to-make meals for a drive-through event for about 50 cars populated with music industry workers.

Most of those who need help are the “gig workers” whom concertgoers don’t necessarily realize are doing the heavy lifting — the roadies and production crews, box office attendees and lighting riggers.

Following food drives in Phoenix, Minneapolis and Nashville, Musically Fed targeted Atlanta because “a lot of the music industry is based here,” Brunner noted.

Another Phoenix drive-thru took place last week, and Brunner’s crew is preparing for a Los Angeles distribution drive Dec. 19.

Live Nation’s recent “Live from the Drive-In” series in Alpharetta netted 300 pounds of donated food from attendees (ticket buyers were sent an email with information about contributing), and Musically Fed also relies on financial gifts to supply food boxes.

On a late October morning, the team on the ground in the Infinite Energy Arena parking garage was a beehive of helpers from the Georgia branch of Rhino Staging, Midwest Food Bank in Peachtree City — where the boxes were packed the previous day — and even Daniel de los Reyes, percussionist for the Zac Brown Band.

“All are volunteers and a few friends from the industry I forced to be here,” Brunner said with a smile. “We try to keep it a volunteer thing so we know the meaning of giving back.”

Emily Schubert, volunteer from Rhino Staging, loads food boxes into cars during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC
Emily Schubert, volunteer from Rhino Staging, loads food boxes into cars during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Each car — scheduled at staggered times as a coronavirus precaution and for logistics — received what is estimated to be a week-to-10-days of food: a case of water; a box of dairy products (milk, cheese, eggs) and produce; four large bags of frozen chicken breasts; and three boxes of dry goods (peanut butter, tuna fish, toilet paper).

In all, about 5,600 pounds of food would be distributed.

Will Garner, the executive director of Midwest Food Bank — which runs nine locations in the U.S. as well as in Haiti and Kenya — said that the Georgia outpost eagerly agreed to assist following a Brunner inquiry. “That’s what we do,” he said, explaining that the distributed food was a combination of what was procured by Musically Fed from the Alpharetta concerts, about 40% purchased with monetary contributions and the rest donated from the Midwest Food Bank.

That food bank services about 200 non-profit organizations in metro Atlanta, and Garner said they’ve seen a “huge increase” in need.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to, we don’t have a food shortage problem; we have a food distribution problem,” he said.

Daniel de los Reyes (right), percussionist for the Zac Brown Band, and Jeff Carson (left), from Midwest Food Bank, pack bags of food during the Musically Fed food drive on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. Photo: CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Daniel de los Reyes (right), percussionist for the Zac Brown Band, and Jeff Carson (left), from Midwest Food Bank, pack bags of food during the Musically Fed food drive on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. Photo: CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

That issue isn’t lost on de los Reyes, who also recently created his own line of face shields inspired by his drum material. Sporting one of his Mini-ShieldUSA coverings, the affable musician, who helped pack the relief boxes at Midwest Food Bank, emphasized the significance of assisting those who work in the background.

“Everyone thinks that (everyone in the industry) is at the Zac Brown Band level. Not everyone is at that level, and it’s good to let people know the importance of everybody it takes to put on a show,” he said. “Something like this at this time is so important. I always like to be supportive of our community.”

Jeff Carson from Midwest Food Bank (from left); Daniel de los Reyes, percussionist for the Zac Brown Band; Maria Brunner, head of Musically Fed; and Gail Frantz, from Midwest Food Bank have a discussion during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC
Jeff Carson from Midwest Food Bank (from left); Daniel de los Reyes, percussionist for the Zac Brown Band; Maria Brunner, head of Musically Fed; and Gail Frantz, from Midwest Food Bank have a discussion during the Musically Fed food drive Oct. 29 at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

As the line of cars trickled through, Marcia Powell, director of marketing for Infinite Energy Center, stood to the side as Brunner’s crew placed boxes in trunks popped open.

For Musically Fed to chose an entertainment complex for their food drive was a fitting bit of karma.

“We’re happy to provide the space and help those who have helped our building with the music connection,” she said. “It’s a way for us to give back to the people who help put on the show.”

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