Each December, Jodi Peterson, director of marketing and sales at Sustainable Futures, helps throw quite a party.
"It is the holiday event that everyone waits for," she said. "It's the hardest ticket in town to get. It is irreverent. It is full of talent. It's a bird's-eye view of how lucky we are with our performing arts."
But the Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza--an annual variety show headlined by Curtis Stigers [this year slated for Sunday, Dec. 16 - Thursday, Dec. 18]--is much more than a showcase for local artists. All of the event's proceeds are donated to Interfaith Sanctuary. Last year's Xtravaganza raised $71,000 for the shelter.
"Because it's 'interfaith,' it tends to be overlooked for a lot of funding," said Peterson. "People give to their [own] religion so Interfaith has struggled more than others. We are their fundraiser. The difference between Interfaith and any other homeless shelter is they keep families together, which is why we selected that nonprofit. We've worked with them for seven years now."
Peterson and Stigers organized their first charity event in 2005 as a benefit for Boise State Public Radio's Victor Pacania, the longtime host of A Private Idaho, who struggled with pancreatic cancer before his death in 2007. That benefit went well enough to inspire Stigers to approach Peterson with the idea of a holiday concert benefiting a local nonprofit.
The first Xtravaganza, held at the Knitting Factory in 2006, raised $18,000. The event is now held at the Egyptian Theatre and has grown in popularity each year. In 2009, it became a two-night event, and in 2011 was expanded to three nights to accommodate sold-out audiences. Even with the addition of the third night, Peterson says tickets sell out quickly. In fact, tickets for both the Sunday, Dec. 16 and Monday, Dec. 17 shows are already gone.
Last year's $71,000 was "a gamechanger," according to Jayne Sorrels, Interfaith Sanctuary's executive director.
"Without it, I don't know what we would have done," she said. "We would have had to cut back. We could not have done what we did without it. There's no doubt about that."
Interfaith Sanctuary's annual budget is about $400,000 and the money raised by the Xtravaganza represents a large percentage of the shelter's funds. On any given night, Interfaith provides housing for 160 of Boise's homeless.
"We're a very grassroots organization and keep things simple," Sorrels said. "We put a focus on the people we serve, so we're not in the fund-raising-event business. This is the one event we have each year. There's something that's very special about this event. That certainly begins with the talent of the people who are performing. Because people come together for this as a benefit, it's like there's a different energy about the performance. They want to be there; not only to perform, but also to support the work that we're doing. It's become a community."
This year's Xtravaganza will help fund a new job-training program that will be a collaboration between Interfaith and Peterson's nonprofit, Usful Glassworks [formerly Sustainable Futures]. Usful recycles glass bottles by making them into glassware such as pitchers and drinking glasses. Employees include refugees, former inmates and veterans, learning inventory, marketing and distribution skills. The first four homeless trainees from Interfaith entered the program in November.
"Xtreme this year will educate people on the new job programming, and some of the proceeds will go directly to helping us do more for the homeless population, which is very exciting," Peterson said.
In addition to providing marketable skills and building up employment histories, job-training programs like the one at Usful Glassworks help Boise's homeless feel like they are contributing to the community in new and important ways.
"I think it's going to be so impactful, not just because it gives them a place to be in the cold weather, but it makes them feel super useful," Peterson said.
All of the Xtravaganza's proceeds go directly to Interfaith and, according to Peterson, she and Stigers only pay for what they can't get donated, like the rental cost for the venue and a sound system. All of the participating artists donate their time, and a silent auction raises further proceeds for the shelter. This year, Peterson hopes to give more to Interfaith than ever before with a three-night event and higher ticket prices.
"This year, we raised the ticket price from $25 to $30," she said. "The reason we did that is the more money we can raise for [Interfaith}, the better. Their situation keeps getting more challenging. We have a lot of homeless. We figured, based on the fact that people keep coming back every year, that they wouldn't mind if we asked for an extra $5, and no one has batted an eye."
With two nights already sold out and the third selling fast, it looks like Peterson might get her wish. Attendees at this year's Xtravaganza can expect to see favorite acts from previous years, including Stigers, Frim Fram 4, Hillfolk Noir and Andrew Coba on each of the three nights. Other acts rotate, making each night a little different. The one thing that will be the same, however, is the giving holiday spirit of the artists and concertgoers, one that Peterson says is unique to the Xtravaganza and keeps families coming back year after year. That environment, she said, is difficult to describe but stays with attendees and makes the Xtavaganza more than just a holiday concert.
"It is a familiar, safe, happy place to be," she said. "Everyone feels so good because they know exactly what it does. You just have to go and feel it. It's unreal. There's nothing like it."