The Panza Foundation Celebrates Its Five-Year Anniversary on Nov. 23 With a Benefit Concert at the Happy Dog

click to enlarge Punch Drunk Tagalongs - Jarrod Berger
Jarrod Berger
Punch Drunk Tagalongs
Back in January of 2012, local musician John Panza, a full-time English professor at Tri-C who’s played in a handful of bands over the past 20 years, received some particularly bleak news.

After a show at the Happy Dog with his indie rock act Blaka Watra, he felt sick and threw up. He woke up the next morning with a flu, went to the doctor and got a chest X-ray. They found fluid surrounding his lung and drained the fluids. The fluid kept coming back.

It turned out that he had cancer.

After three rounds of chemo, major surgery that involved the removal of his right lung, half his diaphragm and a rib and then radiation, he finally healed.
In the wake of his recovery, he formed the Panza Foundation five years ago with his wife Jane and local musicians Lauren Voss, Ed Sotelo and Fred Gunn.

The foundation gives money to local acts for recording and touring purposes.

“Before I got sick, Lauren [Voss] and I had talked about starting a musical arts collective,” says Panza. “It got complicated because we realized we just needed to give people money. We saw too many bands struggling to pay bills.”

Recently, Panza and Co. expanded and added Christa “Uno Lady” Ebert to its board. The talented local musician who bills herself as a “one-woman choir” received a grant from the foundation in 2018 and is the first grant recipient to become a board member.

“I was brought on to have someone that understands the process from the artist’s point of view and to be someone who can talk to and relate to the artists,” says Ebert. “I also have a lot of non-profit experience.”

Ebert says she likes the fact that grants have no strings attached to them, and that artists can use the money for whatever they want.

“I paid to get my record mastered through the Candyland Recording Studio in Kentucky,” she says when asked about what she did with the money she received from her Panza Foundation grant. “I also bought a camera, so I could start to make images that will project behind me while I perform.”

Unlike other organizations that provide grants to artists, the Panza Foundation doesn’t use an application process to determine its recipients. Much like scouts for major league baseball teams, board members attend local shows to see which acts leave lasting impressions.

“We just grant money to whomever deserves the money, and every board member thinks about it and thinks outside of our social circle,” says Ebert. “We consider a diverse group of bands. One of the criteria is simply if you feel like it’ll help the band to do whatever is next.”

To date, the foundation has awarded grants to 19 local acts. Bands such as Goldmines, Obnox and Ex-Astronauts have received grants, and by next year, the foundation will have given out a total of about $32,000.

“My favorite is always merch,” says Panza when asked about the various ways bands have used the money. “Bands make up T-shirts and can then profit from that. Fixing a van is another one of my favorites. We’ve done that twice. We fixed a broken window on a tour van and a steering column on another van.  You name it — the money has gone toward recording and mastering and buying people gear. [Obnox’s] Bim [Thomas] and I went to a pawn shop to buy gear. Every band has a different need, and those needs sometimes change.”

The foundation has also given money to the Lottery League, the event that randomly pairs Cleveland musicians with one another and has them play a Big Show.

To mark the foundation’s fifth anniversary, this year’s recipients will perform at an upcoming benefit concert that takes place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Happy Dog. The show will acknowledge the milestone, and it’ll feature performances by Harvey Pekar, Punch Drunk Tagalongs, Cotton Ponys and Joey Sprinkles.

At the event, the foundation will also announce 2020 grant recipients, and there will be a raffle for musical equipment. Some 32 items will be raffled off, valuing about $5000. Local studios and a local pilates studio have made donations too.

“As per IRS guidelines, each band has to do one charitable thing for the year,” says Panza. “This year’s bands are great. We’ll announce the bands for next year, and we have a special announcement about another project for 2020 will be in video form.”

Ebert sees the Panza Foundation as a way of filling in gaps for local arts funding.

“There is art support for local artists, which is great, but it doesn’t reach the DIY music scene,” says Ebert. “If you’re a band, you can’t apply to those single artist grants. We just want to fill in the blanks. The benefit is really fun. I had a good time playing it and performing at it, and I know that this year have a good time just hanging out at it.”

Panza Foundation Benefit with Cotton Ponys, Harvey Pekar, Joey Sprinkles and Punch Drunk Tagalongs, 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, Happy Dog, 5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474. Tickets: $5,

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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