On most weekend nights, Ben Walz would be playing his guitar and singing in front of audiences at places like Elk Creek Winery, Verona Vineyards, or JerZees pub.
But with bars and restaurants closed during the pandemic lockdown, Walz turned to social media as an outlet for his musical talent.
“It started as kind of a whim,” he says. “I saw a couple other people try Facebook Live, and someone suggested I try it.”
On his first attempt, he thought maybe a hundred people would tune in, and he figured any tips sent his way could be donated to the Survive and Thrive Foundation, a Northern Kentucky nonprofit that runs a summer camp for abused and neglected kids.
Turned out 400 Facebook accounts tuned in, probably twice that many people, and after playing for an hour and a half, he had garnered about $3,000 in donations.
“Everybody loved it and I got tons of messages about it,” he says.
So, a couple weeks later, he did another Facebook Live concert, this time promising to send any donations to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s COVID-19 relief fund. He collected about $5,000.
Two weeks later, another Facebook concert, and more donations rolled in, this time about $4,000, which will be sent to Survive and Thrive.
Last weekend, Walz performed another Facebook Live set, this time collecting $3,700 in donations, which will be sent to the Jeff James Foundation, named after a Bellevue resident with Down syndrome.
That’s nearly $16,000 in donations to charitable organizations in a few hours of playing from his home for a Facebook audience.
“I can’t believe how generous people have been,” he says. “This has been something that I’ll remember.”
Walz grew up in Bellevue, the youngest of seven children. The family often entertained themselves with homemade music, and the gift of a used guitar launched Ben on the path of playing and singing.
His “day job” is at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and by night he plays music, something the 45-year-old has been doing for 25 years.
He says he’ll keep playing for charity on Facebook as long as the bars and nightspots remain closed.
Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.