Blasting Echo performs at last year’s Concert for Autism. Credit: Laura Hunt Little

The Coachella Valley is rich with musical icons, bands and charities—and the Concert for Autism melds all of those together each year into one of the area’s cornerstone events.

Local musician Josh Heinz’s charity/music-meeting place is back for a 15th year, again raising money for the Desert Autism Foundation. The 2022 event is spread across four different shows: Friday, Sept. 30, at the Big Rock Pub; Saturday, Oct. 8, at The Hood Bar and Pizza; Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co.; and Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Tack Room Tavern.

Nearly 30 local bands will perform over the four shows, including Fever Dog, Pescaterritory, Mark Gregg, Whiskey and Knives, and Daytime Moon. (Full disclosure: I am performing at the Oct. 8 show.)

After a virtual event in 2020, and a downsized one-night concert at the Big Rock Pub in 2021, the Concert for Autism’s main event is returning to the Tack Room Tavern, its pre-pandemic home—but for just one night instead of two.

“After COVID, and even before COVID, Linda (Josh’s wife and bandmate in Blasting Echo) talked to me and was like, ‘Doing back-to-back nights at the Tack Room is really hard.’ And she’s right,” Josh Heinz said during a recent phone interview. “We’ve got the whole family here. We take care of her son, Christopher, who’s autistic, and it’s a whole lot of work for us and for everybody who helps us. They’re all volunteering, so you’re asking people to work their day jobs on a Friday, and then help you set up and then work all day, and then come back on Saturday and work all day again.”

That’s not to say this year’s event won’t be big, seeing as Heinz and co. are putting on a show during four straight weekends.

“This year, coming back after all the COVID stuff, I wanted to make it bigger,” Heinz said. “There are so many bands and musicians who want to play, and then I, in a way, want to do thank-yous to the venues that have supported us. We did the big show at The Hood out in their parking lot years ago, and then last year, Big Rock Pub helped us out, so it’s kind of fun to get everybody that’s been a part of the event and have a show at each of their venues. … Certainly, from a fundraising standpoint, having four shows hopefully helps us generate more money for the Desert Autism Foundation.”

Heinz said the event’s continued success is due to the Coachella Valley music community.

“All the wonderful musicians who play each year donate their time and talents, and many also help us with setup and breakdowns,” Heinz said. “Some go out and get donations for the silent auctions and raffles. Mark Gregg, who has a personal connection to the cause, is not only playing; his new 3M Studios is one of our sponsors.”

3M Studios is a one-stop shop where bands can practice, record and produce music.

“I think what he is doing with 3M is great, and has been a long time coming here in the valley,” Heinz said. “We are certainly grateful for this.”

Heinz said the music community is so supportive that he has to turn bands away.

“I get contacted by a lot of bands and a lot of people, and I can’t fit them all in, even with four shows,” Heinz said. “I feel bad, especially when my focus is to create the best show, get the most popular acts, and to try to get the most people there over the years. I still want to do that, but I also want to foster new talent.

“When a musician comes to me and says, ‘I have a son on the autism spectrum,’ or, ‘My sister is diagnosed,’ that means a lot to me, because I’m a father and a stepfather of individuals with autism. I started this whole thing simply because I thought, ‘Well, shouldn’t we do something?’”

Heinz said even though fundraising is the main idea, awareness is just as important.

“It sounds kind of trite to say, but if we made $1 for the organization, then we did good,” Heinz said. “It’s easy to get into that thing of like, ‘Well, we’ve got to do better than we did last year,’ and, of course, with COVID, that kind of changes your perspective. Every year up until COVID, we made a little bit more money than we made the year before, but that’s not the goal. Yeah, you want to raise more money, but just raising money and bringing awareness to the issue is a great thing.

“As a parent with a 22-year-old who’s on the spectrum, and a stepson who’s severely autistic, autism is in my face every day. It’s interesting every year that I get people coming up and saying, ‘Because of this event, I researched a little bit more about autism,’ or, ‘I learned some things about autism that I just didn’t know.’ … Awareness is a big deal. It’s about making people aware of what autism is, and how to better deal with individuals who have autism.”

The Hellions perform at last year’s Concert for Autism. Credit: Laura Hunt Little

Hands-on activities for children will return to the event, as will the raffle and silent auction, for the first time in three years.

“Everything we had in 2019 will be back,” said Heinz. “Obviously, COVID is still out there, but hopefully people have taken precautions as far as vaccinations. If people are still concerned about it, they can certainly wear their mask. I think at this point, it’s OK to have those activities. It’s great for neurotypical kids, and it’s great for kids on the spectrum.

“One of the fun things about the event is that, for parents who have children who are on the spectrum, we encourage them and welcome them to come to the event. Their kids get to experience a music event, which they very rarely get to experience. It’s always nice to have parents who have kids on the spectrum come up and say, ‘Hey, thanks for having the autism benefit concert, because we were able to take our son or our daughter out to an event, and they got to hear live music.’ When you have a child on the spectrum, and you’re unsure about how they’re going to react, you’re afraid to take them to some places. So, hopefully, our event has been positive for families with kids on the spectrum. Families feel like this is a safe place, and I’m glad that we’re able to provide that.”

The return to the Tack Room Tavern for the main event feels like a homecoming for Heinz, he said.

“I love the Big Rock Pub and love how they supported us last year, and again, that’s why they’re doing the big kickoff concert, but the patio is so big at the Tack Room,” Heinz said. “It gives us so much space to have the two stages and have all the raffles and silent-auction tables, and to have the tables for the kids. It’s really ideal for what we do.

“If you’re into having volume while you’re watching a live band, you can be up close, or you can sit further back where it’s not as loud. It’s so spread out that people can sit to their desired taste of volume. They can even get up and dance if they love it.”

The Concert for Autism’s Kickoff Event will take place at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, at the Big Rock Pub, 79940 Westward Ho Drive, in Indio. The Lead-Up Event will take place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert. The Acoustic Afternoon for Autism will take place at 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16, at Coachella Valley Brewing Co., 30640 Gunther St., in Thousand Palms. The main event will take place at 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, at The Tack Room Tavern, 81800 Avenue 51, in Indio. A donation is requested. For more information, visit concertforautism.com.

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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