They Might Be Giants Stoops to Rock the Haunt

Thanks to The Arc of Loudoun's Giant-Hearted Friends

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Jon Uleis, They Might Be Giants, the Arc of Loudoun

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

With the Carlheim Manor on the Paxton Campus undergoing renovation, The Arc of Loudoun's annual Shocktober fund-raiser needed to be reimagined, so the Arc of Loudoun has called in some Giant-hearted friends.

In search of an alternative, the Arc’s legendary creativity ignited. The Arc’s Development Committee led by Chief Development Officer, Denise Daffron, had roughly six months to try to re-imagine Shocktober somewhere else. As a member of the Committee, Chad Hamel suggested that maybe a concert would be a great alternative to a haunted house. Chad and his wife Ellen (owners of theCoderSchool - Ashburn) have long been supporters of services for children with disabilities, and have donated coding lessons to students of the Arc’s Aurora School. Their own son Cooper experienced challenges early in life, and both his cognitive and communication capabilities were enhanced by coding. 

But caring for kids runs even deeper in the Hamel family. Ellen’s sister Michelle and her husband Danny Weinkauf met in physical therapy school in the early 90’s. Michelle has been a pediatric physical therapist full time since then, and Danny does the same part time, both having long and dedicated careers working with kids with autism, Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy in the Long Island and New York City school systems where they live. The rest of the time, Danny plays bass for the twice-Grammy-winning alternative rock group They Might Be Giants.

Those familiar with the eclectic indie band may know that Danny wrote and sang the song, "I am a Paleontologist" and was “Number Two” in Here Come the 123’s. But they may not know that Danny’s solo music career includes a half dozen children’s albums on topics from science and dinosaurs to letters and other random topics (see Dannyweinkauf.com). His music has been called “clever, catchy and sometimes educational,” but, like that of TMBG, hardly ever takes itself too seriously. Over the years, he’s also played with many other artists like Fountains of Wayne, Mike Viola. And Candy Butchers,

Endlessly prolific, his commercial and TV work spans shows like Sex and the CityMalcolm in the MiddleQueer Eye for the Straight GuyJon and Kate plus 8ABC Wide World of Sports, HBO, CBS Sports, ESPN, Resident Life, History Channel, MTV, Food Network, and A&E, and his commercials back Mercedes Benz, Saturn, Burger King, McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Radio Shack, Big Brother/Sisters, Elmer's Glue, Kohls, and many others.

He admits, “The music sometimes feels a little selfish.... I enjoy it tremendously and it's creative and everything but there's part of it that seems self-indulgent because I'm missing my family.” Making music is a creative response to the often slow and very incremental progress he sees in his special needs patients. Instead of the cheers of crowds, he may be rewarded by the reaction of a parent he has called to say, “hey, your son or daughter took their first steps today,” Danny says.

Knowing Danny’s heart for kids, it was an easy ask for Chad to see if They Might Be Giants would consider performing for a “Haunt” show in Leesburg to benefit the Arc. Despite the fact that TMBG’s John Flansburgh broke seven ribs in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and is still recuperating, the answer was an unequivocal yes. The band often plays to benefit schools in the New York City area and for other causes, though it does so in a very low-key way, Danny says.  

The concert, now scheduled for October 8 at ION calls for the transformation of the venue in just seven days from an Oktoberfest into a mildly scary, “PG-13 extravaganza” featuring “all your favorite music plus a few surprises.” Danny couldn’t enlighten us much about the latter, but, life and all its challenges has always been fertile ground for the band’s musicians. TMBG’s very name comes from the 1971 film of the same name, which itself references Don Quixote’s justification for tilting at windmills. Whatever the origin, its music often reduces things that kids find scary to something they can laugh about.  

There’s no doubt they’ll rise to this challenge as well, he adds. Working with They Might Be Giants “is always exciting because it’s always something new.”

Tickets to the Haunt show are available at https://shocktober.org/.

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