Love, Music, and Joy: The Story of Core Demo

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It was the end of 2011 when my mom confided in my brother and I that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She knew months before, but kept it a secret because she didn’t want to put a damper on my wedding. It was an incredibly unselfish and loving gesture, and I made a vow in my heart at that moment to be with her every step of the way and help her beat this. After almost a year of doctor visits, family meetings, emergency room trips, chemotherapy, and countless miles traveling back and forth to her home, we were all tired. Mom wanted to throw me a birthday party and I knew it was an excuse for her to gather our loved ones around us to recharge our batteries. She also wanted to visit Hawaii before she passed on. Unfortunately, her health worsened, and that meant all plans fell by the wayside. I had another idea. I wanted to celebrate her life and join the fight against cancer in a more public way to make sure that one day no one else would have to suffer through the pain she was going through. With a group of friends, I was able to bring Core Demo to life.

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CORE DEMO 2012
Between running back and forth to mom’s and trying to organize family to make sure she was covered when I was unavailable, Dolores (my wife for those unfamiliar) and I would go to belly dance performances. A tribal belly dancer herself, we would go to support her friends, take part in competitions, or just get out. Her instructor Mae was in the process of establishing her own series of shows called The Glint which stressed a respectful but relaxing environment for the performers. Dee was all about that, and talking to her instilled in me the desire to create something positive for the community as well. Not to compete with Mae, never that, but to provide a space for the performers that we’d gotten to know to celebrate their geeky and nerdy fandoms. We decided to call it Core Demo (or Core/Demo if you’re fancy) to pay homage to the core demographic of our hobbies and… “core” also means “belly” (blame that one on me).

Shortly after, we decided to incorporate a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Without hesitation, Archie and Mike stepped up to help run the show. Brandon Chase designed the first logo while Mike and comic/artist Dave Losso teamed up to create artwork of our talent that would be gifted to them in the form of t-shirts. Bill Jones, then Editor-in-Chief of Pads & Panels, jumped at the opportunity to host. Dolores recruited Mae and they worked together to involve Anjelika Raks and sisters Jennifer and Melissa Jones. I didn’t know them well at the time, but I was a fan of the sprinkles of geekery they incorporated in their previous acts. A dancing Snow Miser & Heat Miser comes to mind… Cochise Soulstar and his group The Rebel Alliance rounded out the show and we were set. The next question was how to raise said funds.

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Some refurbished Game Boys flanked by Vitruvian Man inspired pieces of Mae and Jonsey by Dave Losso.

I began to scour Goodwill for classic games and consoles to refurbish. The idea was to give winners their prizes in life size Super Mario question mark blocks. Archie was able to throw in some incredible prizes from his time with Sony’s street team and agreed to give them away for his trivia segment. His depiction as The Riddler was a not-so-subtle nod to that. Bill Jones was not only the host, but stuck his neck out to help get some donations for the silent auction. Because of Bill, we were able to auction off items from Valve Software, Out of the Box games, Sandbox Strategies, and Mindzeye Studios with an amazing Gears of War Marcus Fenix bronze statue. Something else he did, which I didn’t discover until I began to write this piece, was reach out to the Chicago Nerd Social Club well before I was a board member or I even knew who they were. (Here’s the piece in question.) His foresight planted seeds that put me in the path of some of the most talented, driven, and kind people that I’ll ever know.

Elastic Arts Theater was gracious enough to host us and give us complete run of the venue. Even assigned us a sound tech for the evening. Having worked as a bouncer and hearing tales of many belly dance performances gone wrong, I was determined to make at least two things happen: provide a safe, clean, and comfortable changing area for the performers and secondly make sure the music cues were on point. It was a little hairy, but we got it done. It couldn’t have happened without everyone’s generosity and willingness to work with a rookie show promoter like me. We were able to donate over $1000 to the ACS from the show alone, and raised even more in online donations through their website.

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My day job co-workers who came out to show support.

Almost a month later, after the money was counted, after the attendees and performers made their ways home on the bus with the giant question mark blocks, after the music and dancing died down… reality set in again. The doctors found that the cancer was back aggressively and had spread to her brain. Needless to say I was devastated. Before she passed on, I was able to tell her how the night went and she seemed receptive. I found myself falling to old habits, and when she got confused, I drew little comics to help explain what I was saying. At the very least, I got a smile out of her. Even though she didn’t get to see Core Demo, I eventually accepted that she would have been proud of how we came together that evening for a good cause and for love.

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CORE DEMO 2014
When asked about doing a show again in 2013, I was still getting over losing mom. It was selfish, but I poured myself into my day job and Mighty Ink. I needed to fill the void left since taking care of her was no longer necessary. Besides, Raks Geek was filling the need for geeky belly dance while adding in burlesque and fire spinning to the mix. (Seriously, they’re great. They have a Wookie. Check out their next show.)

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what snapped me out of it (having a consistently supportive wife at home definitely helped), but a big factor was WWE agreeing to donate a prize for the event. I took a shot in the dark reaching out to them, and their team quickly got back to me stating that they were more than happy to help. A similar response from singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton sealed the deal. I HAD to use these prizes to get a fundraiser going for ACS. The donations kept coming. DC Comics gave us a stellar Batman prize pack. Derby organizations Windy City Rollers, Chicago Red Hots, and The Chicago Bruise Brothers represented well. Jamie Robinson of Monolith Comics personally handpicked items to offer to raffle winners as did Warner Bros. pictures. King Bone Press and Ray Wegner offered some amazing comics for bidders. Last, but not least, alternative metal band Helmet who were playing a sold-out show in the club next door stopped by to give us some autographed vinyls to auction off.

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After that, pieces began to fall into place. I was so excited that I created a “Mighty in the Bank” briefcase as an homage to WWE’s Money in the Bank. This was the first year that Mrs. Melissa Kirk (managing editor of Mighty Ink at the time, full time wife and mother, moving company wrangler and roller derby official) helped solicit prizes for the event and also had her first performance live on Reggie’s stage. She even negotiated a great price with the venue, so it was kismet. She was a huge help setting this up, and it couldn’t have been done without her.

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Archie was back to help with the raffle and Jacquinete Baldwin was a superstar helping out with the auction table AND design a physical flyer to be handed out. Jean-Pierre Vidrine assisted in ways that would terrify a mere mortal. Joe Martin was kind enough to help design both the logo for the case and for our new robot mascot, CorDem. Michael Wilson deserves praise and applause for the tremendous job he did capturing these moments on film.

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Our performers this time around were returning dancers Mae, Jonsey, and Avarice while newcomers the aforementioned Mrs. Kirk, Penny Dreadful, and Kamrah stepped in to round out the team. The enigmatic surf rock band The Alder Kings rocked our faces off with original tunes and their cover of the classic Ghostbusters theme. During the show, Mike manned the door once again while Pat “The Enforcer” Chidley wandered the room shaking down patrons to drop a buck in the donation jar. It wasn’t as intimidating as it sounds as Pat is a good-natured guy. Of course, simultaniously hosting and producing the show was no easy task. Frankly, I don’t know how Kermit the Frog does it. Bill Jones’s hosting prowess was definitely missed, but new friends stepped up to help out. With their support, we raised a combined total of $2500. It was actually $2495, but I like round numbers so I kicked in an extra $5.

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CORE DEMO 2015
The year Core Demo grew up. Thanks to the outpouring of support in previous years, we were ready to take the next step. Core Demo officially teamed up with Mae’s The Glint (finally) and some of the performers from Raks Geek offered to work the show. This was the largest crowd by far, and the room was absolutely electric. Old friends showed up with new friends in tow. There was a lot less to do this year as Mae’s Glint was and IS a well-oiled machine.

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The celebration was held at The Orphanage Theater on the South Side, and the show’s theme was, appropriately, Gods and Myth. Performances were fast paced and varied. A genie appeared. The deity David Bowie fought a unicorn. A TARDIS whirled and twirled. Also, someone got incredibly excited about a rubber ducky. Mae and Jonsey hold the distinction of performing at all three Core Demos. I mentioned it was packed, but many of these performances I didn’t even get to see because everyone was on their feet and blocking the doors, completely enraptured in what was unfolding before them. Thankfully, photographer Chris Pappas was able to catch it all on film.

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One of the best moments of the evening was when Christine presented Mae with a birthday cake and a giant card as we were in the middle of co-hosting onstage. The entire room sang happy birthday to her as she fought through tear-filled eyes to keep the show going.

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Speaking of growing up, our prizes this year were a little more mature. Chicago Red Hots, Windy City Rollers, and WWE were thankfully joined by Cards Against Humanity, Volition (publishers of the Saints Row series of games), Dark Matter Brewing, a silk scarf designed by Beloved Freya and much more. Raffle prizes were a combination of belly dance costume jewelry, classic comics, free movie screening passes and collectible movie posters. At the end of the evening, sticking with the tradition of The Glint, all the talent was offered payment. Mae looked at me and said, “everyone turned it down. They want to donate in honor of your mom.” I was speechless. On top of that, a combined $3000 was raised and donated.

To date, this was the last Core Demo. Life got incredibly busy as the team and I went on to work on other philanthropic and personal endeavors. Mae was busy bringing a new life into this world, and from what I understand that requires a lot of work and concentration. Dolores was approaching a necessary surgery that would leave her immobilized for an entire month. What was supposed to be a planning dinner for the upcoming event became a realization that, after years of pushing forward, fighting, and fundraising, it was time for some self-care. It was time to care for those important to us that are here now and soon to be here.

I don’t think the fight against cancer is done, no, not by a longshot. In addition to the dent we made, many others are encouraging, working, training, researching, and fundraising all in the name of love. I appreciate every single person that got us this far. Everyone who donated their time, their money, and their talent, sincerely, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Cancer scars so many lives. No one should be robbed of their health like this. No family should have to go through what mine did, and I’m confident that, one day hopefully soon, cancer will be a distant evil in our rearview.

There’s a video mom recorded for me to play at the first Core Demo. She wanted to attend, but she was losing her voice and had very little mobility. Even now, I can’t bring myself to edit the footage or even watch it again. It’s probably the last time she was on film. She would have loved the outpouring of support and generosity that everyone has shown. She would love the fact that so many friendships have begun and become solidified at these events. The laughter, the music, the joy… Core Demo, like my mother, was all about love.

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Her name was Regina Hayes. She was a beauty queen, a gospel singer, a strong, intelligent black woman, and she was my mom.

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