On a Saturday night in July, John Vento and a handful of other musicians are shoe-horned into a corner of the Penn Hills Public Library. As part of the Penn Hills Arts and Music Festival, they work their way through a set of rhythm and blues, soul, funk and rock for an audience of about 35 people, most of them seniors and friends of the Penn Hills Arts Association.
It’s not the hippest audience or the most glamorous venue, but Mr. Vento is comfortable, not trying to be bigger than the moment. Between songs, he tells a few stories and mentions that another of his bands, The Businessmen, will play a benefit concert on Sunday at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club. Then he explains why.
“My mother died from Lupus when she was 36,” he says. “It is a cause dear to my heart. If you can make it, we would really appreciate your support.”
As they have for nearly 20 years, Mr. Vento and the Businessmen will donate the proceeds from Sunday’s benefit concert at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club to the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania in the name of his mother, Mary Ann Vento. Since 1997, the band has performed charity concerts for a wide range of organizations and individuals. In more than 200 performances, they have raised more than $250,000.
Lupus is a sometimes fatal autoimmune disease in which the immune system won’t turn off, causing antibodies to attack healthy organs. There is no known cause and no known cure. Nine of 10 people with Lupus are women. According to Deb Nigro, executive director of the Lupus Foundation, state funding for the nonprofit has been eliminated in 2014-15, making the efforts of fundraisers like The Businessmen even more important.
“John and the Businessmen bring us awareness. He reaches a whole audience we could never reach,” she says. “And John has always reached out to individuals to provide help when someone is struggling.”
Another longtime Lupus supporter is former Steeler Jack Lambert, who now lives in Worthington, Pa. Ms. Nigro regularly sends him a few footballs and jerseys to autograph. Some will be raffled off at Sunday’s concert.
Over the years, the Businessmen have made music and money for Children’s Hospital, Family Resources and the United Way, but it is the smaller groups that seem to appreciate them most. One of Mr. Vento’s favorites is Jamie’s Dream Team, started by Jamie Holmes, 26, of White Oak. She says the charity aims to help “people of all ages who are suffering from serious illness, injury, disability or trauma.” Since she met Mr. Vento in 2007, he and the Businessmen have done four benefit concerts to support her work.
Two nights earlier, Mr. Vento and his regular group, the Nied’s Hotel band, played at the Rivers Casino. Though he is now established as a singer and musician and his band has a following, the Penn Hills native says it was a struggle.
“When I was a teenager, I was lost. I had no self-confidence. I had no interest in being a singer or in a band. My mom died when I was 17 and by the age of 19 I was working for Westinghouse in Grand Rapids, Mich.”
At age 30, prodded by a buddy to try his hand at karaoke, Mr. Vento joined a rock band. He quit after three years but eventually found his way back. Now the boy who always dreamed of being a successful businessman is one -- with a capital B.
The Businessmen will perform from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Baja Bar and Grill in the Fox Chapel Yacht Club, 1366 Old Freeport Road, O’Hara (15238). Suggested donation is $10. Information on the Lupus Foundation: 412-261-5886 or www.lupuspa.org.
Tim Means is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.