By Frank Krolicki
Many 16-year-olds haven't even gone to their first concert, but at that age back in 2007 Lauren McClusky had already organized one. And she's continued to do it every year since then, raising money to support the Special Olympics via Nelarusky (formerly known as McFest), which became an official Lollpalooza pre-show in 2010. After a successful concert last year featuring Cold War Kids, this year's benefit is about to keep the momentum going on Wednesday, August 1st with a sold out show at Metro featuring Alabama Shakes, First Aid Kit, Dry the River and Filligar. Check out our Q&A with Lauren below to get to know more about her and her efforts with Nelarusky.
WCR: How did Nelarusky come about, and what drove you to begin supporting the Special Olympics in particular?
LM: It all started when I was a junior in high school and was friends with local band The Days. They had a desire to put on a benefit concert, and when they came to meet with my dad (who owns JMA--the music promotion & marketing company in Chicago--he suggested that I work on making that happen for them. With the help of our good family friend and Metro owner, Joe Shanahan, we got started. Calling it McFest, we gathered a bunch of our friends in local high school bands that first year and had 800 students attend. Even though I had no idea what I was getting into when it started, it was a great learning experience, a lot of fun, and very successful. That's when I knew that I wanted to continue it each year.
Special Olympics has been very close to my family since I was little, and I have traveled all over the world volunteering at the various S.O. events.
What’s the significance behind the name Nelarusky?
In the third year, McDonalds filed an opposition against the name "McFest." After a long battle, we agreed to settle. We changed the name from McFest to Nelarusky (a combination of letters in my name) in exchange for a 2 year sponsorship. That was the same year C3 took it under their wing as an official Lollapalooza pre-show.
How did putting together this year’s show compare to past years’ efforts? Aside from the music lineup, is there anything different or new with this year’s benefit?
We have a lot of new sponsors this year, so we're excited to have companies such as Pop chips and Vitamin Water that will be handing out product. We've also largely expanded the demographic. It used to be a high school students' concert, and now it's much broader!
Can you think of any specific moment or accomplishment that stands out since first starting the benefit shows in 2007? Anything you’re especially proud of?
Standing on stage last year with Barbara, who is a great friend and Special Olympics global messenger, as she gave her speech to the sold out crowd...watching her happiness and their support of her was very rewarding. She would pause every so often to listen to everyone cheering. Also having it sell out in one minute this year was incredible!
What would you like to see for the future of Nelarusky?
I'm not entirely sure what I'd like to see in store for Nelarusky--I'll figure that out after Wednesday!