An exhilarating atmosphere filled The Wooly on Friday night as about 200 attendees sang and danced while local bands rocked out under the dim red glow of stage lights.
Although the crowd was cheering all night, it roared with excitement when it was announced the attendees had raised an all-time high of $25,000 to end homelessness in Gainesville.
Tech Battle of the Bands, an event hosted by startGNV and GRACE Marketplace since 2014, marked its return in 2022 after a COVID-induced hiatus since 2019. The annual event raises money for GRACE Marketplace, a non-profit homeless resource center that provides every service needed to get Gainesville residents out of homelessness, including food, shelter and job training.
At the event, four bands – each comprised of local technology company employees – performed and competed to raise money for the cause. StartGNV, a non-profit organization that supports innovators in Gainesville, set up this event to connect the technology community and help end homelessness, Vice President Christine Caven said. The event also raises awareness about the impact of technology on affordable housing, she said.
“With new tech companies coming into town and startups going, oftentimes that increases the probability that there will be homelessness,” she said. “With new development, people get moved around from different housing situations.”
GRACE Marketplace Executive Director Jon DeCarmine said technology companies bring higher-paying jobs to cities. An abundance of these jobs creates areas of opportunity, driving people to those areas and consequently raising rent. At the same time, it forces others out at the hands of gentrification, he said.
“The local tech community wants to be proactive,” DeCarmine said. “They understand that if they are going to have that kind of impact, they should also be a part of a solution to it.”
The $25,000, raised through ticket sales and bids on auction items, goes directly to GRACE Marketplace to cover the costs of meals, housing placements and other basic needs, he said. The organization operates about 140 emergency shelter beds, serves 150,000 meals a year and operates about 40 affordable housing units throughout Gainesville, he said.
Tech Battle of the Bands not only raises money to end homelessness, but it also unites Gainesville over its love for music.
Members of the bands played everything from the keyboard to the cow bell, and performances included songs such as “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles and “Can’t Stop” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The four bands included musically talented employees from Infotech, Feathr, IC2 and Gainesville remote workers from DuckDuckGo, Tangram Vision, Elaborate and Zapier. The winner of the battle of the bands was Feathr, a digital marketing company.
Feathr employee Kaitlyn McGowan, 31, is a retuning attendee who was proud to support her fellow coworkers and GRACE Marketplace, she said.
“This event marries the talent in the tech community with raising awareness for homelessness,” McGowan said. “It brings this issue to the forefront of the community.”
The company band that closed out the event was Infotech, a software development business for road construction and consulting firm that has been in Gainesville for over 45 years, Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Lacey Jones said. This event allows technology companies to engage in friendly competition while promoting Gainesville as technology hub, she said.
Jillian Dinius, Infotech band member and the senior talent specialist of the people, culture and communications team, said charity concerts like Tech Battle of the Bands take advantage of music because it is a universal language.
The 33-year-old has been passionate about music since she was a child and has always wanted to be in a cover band, she said. Opportunities like the battle of the bands allows employees to bond over their shared passions and creates a more connected workplace, she said.
“It’s been a dream of mine to just make music and sing,” she said. “But I’ve never really done anything to work on that. So, is music in the cards for me? Maybe. Is it in the cards for me Friday? Yes, it is.”
Dinius said she may have never met 50-year-old Travis Tooke, who does design and development for construction management software at Infotech.
Tooke said the battle of the bands gives him a chance to pursue his passion for music while also giving back to the community alongside employees of other Gainesville technology companies.
“What aligns beautifully in my own heart is that we do this through excellence,” he said. “Not because we want to dominate the competition. You don’t go into a sport and say, ‘I want to beat down the person that I’m agreeing to participate with.’”
The power of music moves people to donate in support of GRACE Marketplace and evokes compassion in everyone, he said.
“The connection, the empathy and the understanding that you get from music can inspire,” he said.