By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — There’ll be plenty of music and likely some toe-tapping as local musicians and buddies take to the stage tonight to celebrate and support persons with intellectual disabilities in the community. Little Bit Country is a popular tradition that comes to the Paramount Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. to benefit Special Olympics. The concert is free, but donations are more than welcome.
“The whole thing came from a radio show,” said organizer Carl Erskine, who noted this is the 23rd year of the special production. When the show first got started, Erskine approached musician John Gunter about creating a country music benefit show based on the premise of Gunter’s Saturday morning radio show, “Little Bit Country.” The idea was good music from a variety of musicians, a little talking and a few jokes tossed into the mix. The idea took off.
“The event has really kind of had a life of its own,” Erskine chuckled over its popularity. He noted, “The same buddies are still doing it.” That includes Gunter, also known as “the Singing Sheriff, “who Erskine describes as the “lead horse.” Bluegrass musician Jeff Hardin and Dan Daugherty of Dan’s Music are also key performers, along with Erskine, who plays harmonica.
Other local musicians will also perform, including two local favorite groups, the Cops and Robbers and Old Stuff.
“I can hardly wait to hear what we’re going to play,” Erskine said, laughing.
Special Olympics has been an important program to Erksine’s family as well as to the larger community. Erskine’s son, Jimmy, was born in 1960 with Down syndrome. The Erskines got involved with Special Olympics in 1970 when Jimmy was 10 years old. That was shortly after the organization for persons with intellectual disabilities was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Erskine said that Shriver’s intent was “to put them in the game.”
“And that’s exactly what happened,” said Erskine. His wife, Betty, went to the first few practices with Jimmy, and led Erskine into it.
“He’s been a swimmer, track and field, now bowling,” said Erskine. This June, Jimmy, now 53, participated in his 43rd Special Olympics games.
“Special Olympics has helped people to see how beneficial it is to include people who are different,” said Erskine. He said that because of Special Olympics, people with special needs have become part of the mainstream.
“That’s been a big break for Jimmy,” said Erskine. He also noted that the community benefits as well. “It’s enriched our society. It really has.”
During tonight's two-hour show, supporters will be honored for their contributions. Erskine said that includes the annual Gourmet Sampler fundraiser that usually raises over $10,000 for Special Olympics, and The Herald Bulletin’s premiere presentation of the movie “42,” which raised over $17,000 earlier this year.
All of the funds go to support Madison County Special Olympians.
“What they raise stays right here,” said Erskine.
Members of the audience will have a chance to chip in when a basket is passed around.
Erskine said that about 1,000 people attended last year, and he’s hoping for a good turnout this year, too.
Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.
If you go
What: Little Bit Country concert to benefit Madison County Special Olympics
When: Thursday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. Where: The Paramount Theatre, 1124 Meridian St., Anderson
More info: The concert is free, but donations are welcome. Donations for Special Olympics can always be sent to Anderson University, Attention Special Olympics, 1100 E. Fifth St., Anderson, IN 46012.