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2-day festival kicks off with Stella Parton class
Organizers of benefit hope to top $1M mark
Stella Parton, center, sister of Dolly Parton, talks about the importance of balancing different aspects of one’s life Thursday while moderators Barbara Steinhaus, left, department chair and professor of music, and Fred Lloyd, associate professor of theatre, listen on during a discussion at the Hosch Theatre at Brenau University in Gainesville. The discussion with Parton is an opening event for the two-day John Jarrard and Friends Benefit Concert today and Saturday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

John Jarrard Foundation Concert

When: Today-Saturday
Where: Brenau University, 500 Washington St. SE, Gainesville
How much: $20 Friday; Saturday, $30 per person or $25 per person for a block of five or more; free admission for First Verse Family Day
More info: 770-710-9191. Tickets can be purchased at the BB&T main branch and Green's Grocery, or at

Lineup of performers

7 p.m.: John Driskell Hopkins with Balsam Range; Blackberry Smoke, Rachel Farley
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: First Verse Family Day at Brenau Amphitheater. Fine arts exhibit, bouncy house and games for kids; young songwriters will perform. Book signing by Stella Parton, the younger sister of Dolly Parton.
6 p.m.: First Verse program participants and up-and-coming songwriters will perform, followed by the Songwriters in the Round concert. The concert will feature songwriter and producer Manuel Seal, songwriter Steve Dorff, voice coach Jan Smith, Stella Parton, Katie Deal and others.

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the John Jarrard Foundation benefit concert, and organizers have a major goal in mind.

"The last two years we made right at $100,000 each," said Jody Jackson, executive director of the foundation.

"We're hoping to break the $1 million mark this weekend."

The money comes from ticket sales and an auction. With the concert becoming a two-day festival this year, the foundation has already raised almost as much as it did last year.

"We're at about $70,000, and that's before any of the walk-up ticket sales and the auction Saturday night," Jackson said.

Charities "near and dear" to the heart of Gainesville-raised country songwriter John Jarrard will benefit: Good News Clinics, Good News at Noon and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. This year, Challenged Child will also be receiving some of the proceeds.

The event kicked off Thursday with Dolly Parton's younger sister, Stella, hosting a public "master class" at Brenau University to teach students about her experiences in TV, movies and Broadway musicals. Parton also signed copies of her new book, "Tell It Sister, Tell It" for attendees.

Area songwriters including John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band and Atlanta-based Blackberry Smoke will perform tonight. Saturday is for families, with a songwriting seminar, arts and crafts, face-painting and local artists playing. That night, however, is the traditional main event featuring songwriters Steve Dorff, Manuel Seal and Jan Smith.

"This year the festival is going to be awesome," said Kimberly Clark, assistant to the dean of the College of Health and Science at Brenau University, where the event will be hosted. "It's been the vision to turn this into a weekend thing and showcase local talent. We want to keep it this way."

Clark is also a songwriter. She's looking forward to performing along with the likes of the "tremendous talent" of Saturday's acts and attending the songwriter seminar.

"It's going to be an opportunity for people to come listen to how all of these No. 1 hit musicians approach songwriting," she said.

Jarrard was one of those hit musicians. His songs were sung by country stars including Alabama, George Strait, Reba McEntire and Pam Tillis.

The concert was created to "keep his name alive" after he lost his lifelong battle to diabetes in February 2001, Jackson said.

"Over the last nine years it's become a songwriter show and we do kind of an in-the-round, Blue Bird (Café, in Nashville) style show," Jackson said. "It's a direct representation of the man John Jarrard was."

Bruce Burch, director of the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program at Kennesaw State University, founded the John Jarrard Foundation after Jarrard's death.

"John and I went to school together from second grade on," Burch said. "John was the first person I met on the playground."

As they grew up in Gainesville and went on to college, Burch said they both became interested in songwriting at about the same time. Burch moved to Nashville first and took a job as a hotel clerk at the Hall of Fame Motor Inn. Jarrard followed him several months later and took over the hotel clerk position after Burch got married and decided he needed some additional income.

"We would go and see shows, write songs and play them for each other," Burch said. "We sort of fueled each others' fire. I think I would not have done it if he hadn't been there."

Jarrard, who had diabetes all his life, lost his sight after moving to Nashville. He underwent kidney and pancreas transplants and eventually lost both of his legs below the knee to the disease, Burch said.

But he never lost his spirit.

"Even when he was in the hospital, he would have co-writers come up," Burch said.

After Jarrard passed away, Burch created the foundation in his memory and started the first concert. That first year, they sold 30 tables of eight people. Since then, the concert has grown to fill Brenau's lawn.

"We'd been doing it at the train depot and Brenau came to us," Burch said. "(Ed Schrader, Brenau president) is a huge music fan. He's the biggest Jimmy Buffett fan I've ever seen, and he wanted to be a part of this."

Burch said there had been big plans for the first event, and the dream hasn't stopped growing.

"We're trying to take it to the next level now," he said.

"It's just a special event to honor an incredible man."