‘Marco Strong’: Islanders gather for Patriots party to benefit storm relief

Lance Shearer

It would have been ironic if the hurricane party had been cancelled for bad weather.

The forecast called for rain all weekend, but organizers stuck with the plan for a “Marco Strong” benefit concert and community party Sunday at the Esplanade, and no rain fell on the event. An all-star lineup of local musicians, what the event poster called “a once-in-a-lifetime collection,” played in a rotating format that had the pickers backing up each other’s performances.

Laura Metroka celebrates her winning bid of $2,500 for a Marriott vacation package. A concert and fundraiser was held Sunday at the Esplanade to honor those who helped the island deal with Hurricane Irma, and generate more cash for their efforts.

Longtime Marco music scene stalwart J.Robert Houghtaling served as impresario for the music, as well as adding his fiddle to many of the tunes.

“These musicians have lost gigs from the storm, but they all said sure, they would come here today and play for free,” he told the crowd.

More:Texas and back again: Marco Patriots collect funds, relief supplies to help storm victims near and far

More:Hurricane Irma: How Marco Island weathered the storm

Marie Nofsinger sang original compositions about hurricanes, including the devastating storm of 1928, and mentioned this was her sixth hurricane, presumably not including that one. Mark Wesley sang a song with the refrain, “If the snakes don’t get you, the alligators will.”

It was standing room only in the courtyard at the Esplanade, with people clearly ready to kick back and have a good time. While many are still dealing with major repairs to their homes and businesses, Sunday’s event was a chance to compare notes with neighbors, thank first responders and volunteers, and raise funds to help keep their efforts moving ahead.

The event was organized by the Marco Patriots, the ad hoc relief group that sprang up in response to the recent hurricanes, first Hurricane Harvey and Texas, and then followed by Irma hitting close to home.  Stephen Barker, coordinating the GoFundMe campaign to raise money online, reported that the effort had brought in nearly $79,000, and contributions were still coming in.

CJ’s on the Bay created two signature drinks for the event, giving the bulk of the proceeds of the “Marco Strong” and the “Eye of the Storm” for relief efforts, and also contributing everything above their costs from the buffet. That included a pasta dish that included 35 lbs. of Wild Jimmy’s sweet Italian sausage, donated by Jimmy Downey.

Island banker Tom Wagor took on the role of auctioneer between musical sets on Sunday, raising thousands more, with auction lots including an oil painting by Jo-Ann Sanborn and several vacation packages donated by the J.W. Marriott. Laura Metroka exulted after winning a New York vacation for $2,500, and the folks who helped bid up the price felt good, too.

Mike Jones took the mic to serve as auctioneer for two boating packages, including a catered cruise aboard his own 80-ft. yacht “Kismet,” with food from Chop 239, and another aboard “Volo.” In a few minutes of spirited bidding, he sat back down, having brought in $17,500 for the Marco Patriots relief efforts.

The crowd throngs the courtyard. A concert and fundraiser was held Sunday at the Esplanade to honor those who helped the island deal with Hurricane Irma, and generate more cash for their efforts.

Erin Milchman of the Marco Patriots group also exhorted the group to buy raffle tickets and t-shirts.

“There are still people suffering, living in mud, living in bacteria,” she said. “We’ve raised almost $80,000, and we hope to double it.” While a tally of the proceeds was not available by press time, it was clear that islanders had rallied to the cause. Everyone was ready for some hurricane relief.

You can donate by going online to gofundme.com/marcopatriots.