Blues master Mac Arnold and his band, Plate Full O’ Blues, will once again headline the Bids & Blues event to benefit the Hendersonville nonprofit organization Thrive. For the first time, the show will happen outdoors, at the Highland Lake Cove Retreat and Learning Center.
Arnold, who was recently awarded an honorary Doctoral Degree in Music from the University of South Carolina, has performed with B.B. King, Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker, The Temptations, and other soul and blues luminaries.
He grew up near Greenville, South Carolina, learning to play guitar as a child using a homemade instrument his brother fashioned out of a gas can, a piece of lumber, and wires pulled from a window screen. The first band Arnold played in while in high school included James Brown — that James Brown — on piano. Then in 1966, at age 24, Arnold moved to Chicago and began to record and tour as a member of the legendary Muddy Waters Blues Band.
“That was a great time,” he recalls. “We were playing every night of the week.” His next career destination was California, where he helped produce the groundbreaking Soul Train TV show — before returning to the family farm in the 1990s. He still lives on that farm today, growing and selling organic vegetables that are on the menu at his newly launched Dr. Mac Arnold’s Blues Restaurant.
Bids & Blues, a ticketed event, is Thrive’s signature fundraiser, and in addition to live music, the event features a silent auction; a reception with beer provided by Sierra Nevada and wine from Metro Wines; and gourmet picnic fare from renowned Chef Larc Lindsey. Auction items include weekend getaways, golf packages to area courses, and the chance to drive a brand-new Jaguar for a weekend.
“This year, more than ever, our annual Bids & Blues event carries significant importance to our organization and the people we serve,” says Kristen Martin, the group’s executive director. That’s because Thrive’s budget was cut by $100,000 this year due to changes in priorities for the United Way, as well as realignment of state-funded programs to help the mentally ill.
“We have been fortunate each year to increase our dollars raised at the Bids & Blues event,” she says, optimistically. “We’re confident the community will come out once again to support us.”
Thrive, whose motto is “moving people from surviving to thriving,” has been consistently filling the gap in mental-health services since 1983. The agency assists individuals who are experiencing mental-health symptoms get back on their feet. Thrive’s programs teach coping, social, independent living, and vocational skills. The organization also helps those it serves to find meaningful employment and opportunities to contribute to their communities in positive ways.
“Thrive is what I call a safe haven for people,” says Arnold, who has headlined the event every year. “They help people who don’t have any place else to turn. These days, there are so many people who need a helping hand, and we could use more groups like Thrive. There is a lot of depth to Thrive’s agenda, and I do anything I can to support them.”
Arnold also sees similarities between the work done by Thrive and the aims of his own organization, the I Can Do Anything Foundation.
“My foundation runs a program called Blues in Schools,” he explains, “which promotes the preservation of musical arts in public schools. We encourage children to stay in school and get an education, and we have established a scholarship program to help young people go to college.” In a word, thrive.