The Lion’s Pause hosted a truly special event on April 4: the inspiring Fly a Little Higher Benefit Concert. The concert was a moving testament to the message of light and love that 18-year-old Minnesota musician Zach Sobiech inspired in so many before passing away from osteosarcoma in May 2013. Featuring speakers, performances and even a whimsical bubble machine, the event was a successful fundraiser and a celebration of a remarkable life.
The idea of a benefit concert was first introduced by first-year Sammy Brown ’17, Sobiech’s best friend and bandmate, with the help of St. Olaf’s Cancer Connection SCC club.
“I came to St. Olaf, and during the co-curricular fair I saw that St. Olaf had a cancer connection club,” Brown said. “Some not-so-great things had happened in the last three months, and it was weird not having friends and family, so I thought, ‘This could be somewhere where I can feel comfortable with those feelings.'”
SCC strives to provide a supportive environment for those touched by cancer as well as fundraise for various organizations, so the club proved a perfect outlet for Brown’s idea to have a benefit concert for her friend.
“I envisioned it, and they executed it,” she said. “I told them what we’d done in the past, and they did all the hard logistical stuff.”
The event ended up being very successful, raising over $1,000 and attracting 250 people. Sobiech’s parents Rob and Laura attended and spoke.
“We were so blessed by the amazing turnout at the fundraising event,” Laura said. “It was a beautiful Friday evening after a long, hard winter, but the room was full of college students willing to listen to what we had to say. I love seeing young people sacrifice for something bigger than themselves – it gives me so much hope for the future.”
Also in attendance was Justin Baldoni, director of the award-winning documentary “My Last Days.” The documentary, available for viewing on YouTube, has garnered 12 million views. SoulPancake and Wayfarer Entertainment, the documentary’s production companies, were in town to film a one-year-later follow-up documentary to “My Last Days,” which will feature the benefit concert. Love Your Melon, a charity Sobiech worked with that makes hats for cancer patients, was also present to sell merchandise.
The first hour of the concert was a Wellness Center swiped event and started with a screening of “My Last Days.” Brown closed out that portion with her new single “How to Go to Confession,” accompanied by fellow first year Claire Belisle ’17 on the violin, and then a rendition of Sobiech’s song “Clouds.” The audience joined in on the emotional song as bubbles floated out of a machine and tears welled.
“That was one of the best moments of the night,” said SCC co-president Kelsey Mullen ’14.
After a short break, the campus bands Appomattox and Sikk Dood performed and the night wound to a close.
“We were very pleased about the event.,” Mullen said. “We were very excited to be working with other groups that are very passionate about their work. I think for everyone, the takeaway message was positive.”
The name of the concert, Fly a Little Higher, was inspired by a lyric from “Clouds” and is also the name of Laura Sobiech’s memoir, which will be available on May 6. Brown recommends the book to those interested in gaining more insight into Sobiech’s life.
“A lot of people commented on the videos, ‘Wow, I loved that, I wish I actually knew you,'” Brown said. “The book has tons of detail; it’s very personal. It’s going to have pictures, too.”
Oles interested in supporting the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund can visit the website at childrenscancer.org/zach.
“You can donate and buy both of our CDs and my single and other stuff: necklaces, t-shirts, prints,” Brown said.
A significant portion of the proceeds from iTunes music and Laura Sobiech’s upcoming book will also go toward the fund.
Brown expressed her profound gratitude to the students of St. Olaf for making this concert a success.
“I personally was very touched by everyone who showed up,” Brown said. “I’m so proud that St. Olaf raised almost a thousand dollars. It’s not an easy thing for a college student to spend money if it’s not for a Cage cookie. So way to go, St. Olaf, for seeing the things that matter and making a difference. This is such a crazy, weird experience having these two worlds collide – it’s weird seeing my best friend through the eyes of my roommate or my friend from class – but I am thankful for it, and it’s cool seeing [Zach] having a continuing influence.”
That influence was strong at the benefit concert.
“Changing the world is done with the small things in life – the little choices we make each day. I want the students at St. Olaf to know that I am truly blessed by their kind words and dedication to making this world better,” Laura said.
The celebration was proof indeed that with optimism and love, all of us can “fly a little higher.”