The inaugural three-day Elephants for Autism Music Festival will feature over 100 bands on four stages at two neighboring Atlantic City nightspots.
ATLANTIC CITY — Probably the only issue Jerry Ryan is more passionate about besides promoting local, original music is helping autistic children interact more effectively with others and live more enriched lives.
Both are subjects close to his heart, the former because he’s long been consumed with instilling Atlantic City’s music scene with more originality and creativity, the latter because he is personally raising a son diagnosed with autism, a disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication skills.
This Friday through Sunday, May 18-20, Ryan will blend both ambitions into the inaugural Elephants for Autism Music Festival — an event that partially takes its name from the Elephant Talk concert series and online indie-music magazine Ryan produces. The festival will take place at The Boneyard and Le Grand Fromage (two A.C. venues within short walking distance of one another), and include more than 100 bands, poetry readings, and appearances by Miss Teen New Jersey and mentalist Lucas Simmons. Among those performing are Position 9, the Deafening Colors, Juggernaut Drunk, Zebras and Bulls Fight Tonight, Deardarkhead, Soul Pole, The Mahlors, and a power trio from Belgium called Pandora’s Bliss.
Pictured left: Jeremy Ryan, son of event producer Jerry Ryan.
“I have a nine-year-old son named Jeremy with autism and he’s the driving force behind what I’m doing, not only with this festival but in everyday life,” says Ryan. “This kid has inspired me every day, and his hard work and love of music are parallel to mine. Music is a major part of our everyday lives, and our bond has grown so deep through it that we are almost like the same person. Music is not only healing my son, but also healing me at the same time.”
All of the proceeds from the festival will be applied toward creating free music programs for autistic children. Ultimately Ryan would like to establish a school or expand existing facilities that aid autistic children through music therapy.
“It’s probably all going to be done through the organization FACES in South Jersey [Families for Autistic Children Education and Support, a non-profit autism support group. See faces-autismsupport.org]. We’ll probably put the money into an account and then determine how to best use it.
“There’s a new music studio in Galloway for autistic kids run by a lady named Faith Ozan,” adds Ryan. “She’s great, and does these storyboards of the songs that make it easier for [Jeremy] to understand. She’s studied at Berklee [College of Music in Boston] and has years of experience working with autistic kids. I’d eventually love to help expand what she’s done, but for right now the goal is to start small and just try to generate as much money as possible for free music programs.”
Right: Members of A.C. band Position 9, Nabid Chowdbury (left) and Chris Meckes, who will be among the 100+ bands performing this weekend.
The rhythmic component of music has proven, says Ryan, to have an organizing force in the sensory systems of individuals with autism. As a result, improvements can be made in areas like auditory processing, fine- and broad-range motor skills in those stricken with autism.
“Music can be a very powerful medium for altering anyone’s state of being and changing how we actually feel,” he says. “More specifically, music can be very effective in producing a very deep healing state of relaxation and, in the process, reduce stress, promote sleep and more.”
In the case of an autistic child, music has been shown to assist in improving self-esteem and furthering personal growth and development. It can help reinforce desired responses, assist in reducing negative responses, and increase participation in socially accepted ways.
“As well as being one of most talented bands I’ve ever seen, what makes [Out of the Beardspace] really great is their commitment to making this world a better place. They’re involved in countless grassroots organizations like this one, and have inspired me to do everything humanly possible to give back in every way.”
All money raised through a $10 cover charge will be divided and dispersed among two non-profit organizations — the Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the Ocean City Repertory Theatre — each of which was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
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