UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Record crowd at Gone Country raises half million to battle cancer

An annual cancer fundraising concert, organized by a pair of Langley brothers, raised $520,000.

Langley musician Shawn Meehan was choking back tears as he and his band belted out Nobody’s Girl before a crowd of thousands this weekend.

“It’s a good thing I had shades on because that was a tough song to get through,” Meehan shared.

He’s referring to the new song he recently penned and performed at the record-breaking Gone Country: Here for the Cure cancer fundraiser on Saturday.

He and his band, Me And Mae, were the second of six acts on stage at the charity concert at Cloverdale’s Millennium Park.

“I got to dedicate a new song to my mom,” Meehan said.

“My mom [Patricia Niles] was so supportive of me pursuing music. Not once did she waiver in her dedication,” he added.

“The song is sort of a tribute to modern independent woman… and my mom was certainly one,” he said.

It was a “special moment,” the Walnut Grove musician elaborated. “Because [Gone Country] is a cancer fundraiser, and like the promoters, I lost my mom to cancer in 2014.”

This was Me And Mae’s first time on the Gone Country stage, but Meehan hopes it won’t be the last.

Langley artists front and centre

Likewise, fellow Langley musician Karen Lee Batten also had a tear-filled moment or two during this weekend’s concert.

Standing stage right, just 30 seconds before going on, Batten said she was a little nervous because she was performing a number of new songs from her upcoming album. But moreover, she was emotional.

“It’s such an overwhelming experience to be part of something like this,” she said, and the emotion – at least for a few moments – took hold.

She described it like having golf balls in her throat. Determined not to cry through her first song on stage, she had to pull aside for a moment and regroup.

“It’s such a terrible, awful disease, and we keep coming together to do something about it. It’s a good feeling,” she said.

Unlike Me And Mae, Batten is not a Gone Country virgin. She has been part of the charity event since its inception – in front or behind the scenes.

While event founders Jamie and Chris Ruscheinski, a pair of philanthropic twins from Langley, have been holding various types of fundraising concerts since their late teens, they were directed to talk to Batten when they started pondering the creation of a country concert.

“I was more than thrilled that they would ask me,” she said of a chance not only to perform, but to assist with some of the organizing.

She’s been part of the show every year since, describing the Ruscheinski boys as “amazing” and particularly honoured to help raise money for such a worthy cause.

“You just know the money is going to the right place,” she said. “It’s such a great feeling to be a part of this event… as long as they ask me, I’ll always be there.”

Batten noted that her husband Mike Gardner – owner of Sammy J’s – is also involved, behind the scenes, with every year’s show – on the food end, providing sustenance for all the VIPs.

“Everyone’s heart is in the right place… we’re all there, giving back and helping out,” she added.

The couple laughed hysterically when they received a call from Chris about a week out from the fundraiser.

He wasn’t calling to confirm details for Gone Country 2017, as Batten expected. No. He was calling to ask if she and Mike would be part of 2018.

“Dude, we haven’t even gotten through 2017,” Batten told Chris. “But naturally, we’ll see you again at Gone Country 2018.”

Newbie touched by experience

Clayton Heights musician and one of the show’s headliners, Jojo Mason, took a few moments on stage to think of his grandmother – a special person in his life who he lost to colon cancer a few years back.

“There was a time when I was singing a song and I pretty much couldn’t get the words out… but the crowd helped me out,” Mason shared with the Langley Advance.

The 27-year-old hockey-player-turned singer-songwriter only broke onto the country music scene two summers ago, and has already enjoying his fourth Top Ten singles.

While Mason has performed across the country, including multiple shows in Vancouver, this was his first concert at home. In fact, he joked, it was close enough that he was able to walk home after the show.

The proximity to home also meant that many of his friends and family – several who have struggled directly or indirectly with cancer – were in the audience to cheer him on and at the same time help the cause.

“I think everybody has gone through some struggle with cancer, whether it be a family member, friend, or themselves,” he said… “It’s awful. And I appreciate so much what Jamie and Chris are doing, what everyone’s doing. It’s a team effort, and to be able to be part of that… I just appreciate the fact that they had me on the stage.”

In addition to performing, Mason was among a core group of volunteers who showed up the morning after to help clean up. And asked if he’d be back again to help, Mason said it would be an honour.

Organizers gush

It was an “unforgettable” year at Gone Country 2017, gushed Chris, one of the founders and ongoing event organizers.

In year five of the charity concert to raise money for cancer, the Langley twins managed to sell out this year’s show – meaning 5,000 people attended the fundraiser Saturday and helped raise more than half a million dollars, Chris explained.

“An absolutely incredible night,” he said, describing the show that started mid-afternoon and carried on well into the night. (Catch the post about Chris’ near tears moment).

“[We’re] just coming out of our coma now,” Ruscheinski joked Monday, sharing the news of how much was generated.

“$520,000 raised!” he said, noting that Canuck Place in Abbotsford – their charity of choice for Gone Country for the second year running – will benefit greatly.

Last year’s show raised $344,000. This year’s goal was $366,000.

“To come out at $520,000 is pretty insane,” Chris said. “We’re over the moon happy.”

The dollar announcement was made Sunday. After the cleanup spree at the park, a core group of about 40 volunteers gathered at Sammy J’s to celebrate “a job incredibly well done” and to rejoice in all that was accomplished.

It was during the after party, that the Ruscheinski boys announced the total. That was the most moving time for Chris, who said he could have just been “extra emotional” because he was so tired.”

“There were so many emotions when we announced the total to the team this [Sunday] afternoon during wrap up celebrations. My voice cracked during my toast, looking out at the people that mean the world to us. Everyone sunburnt, exhausted and a little hungover were now smiling, cheering, and crying,” Chris added.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” Batten added.

In addition to thanking all the spectators who attended, all the sponsors who helped make it happen, and all the musicians who performed, he expressed gratitude to all the volunteers who make the charity event possible each year.

“We will never be able to put into words how grateful we are to our volunteers. The words just don’t exist. This is all because of them. All 200 of them. Thank you,” Ruscheinski said.

“Thank you to everyone who continues to support us idiots and our fight against cancer,” he added.

• Stories about the Gone Country volunteers are being solicited, with tickets for the 2018 show being offered up as a prize.

• Read about a near tragedy – fentanyl overdose – averted at this year’s Gone Country.

• It Sure Feels Good video

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