A Brief History of Tonic Ball

Tonic Ball began as a grassroots fundraising event in 2002, when a small group of do-gooders decided they wanted to put on a show to raise money for a good cause.

The show they had in mind had a unique format: for one night, they’d assemble an eclectic group of local musical acts and ask them to cover songs by a single artist. The Tonic Ball organizers chose to honor the songs of Gram Parsons and picked Second Helpings as the recipient of any money they raised.

Tonic Ball has since become an annual tradition and one of the most highly anticipated events on the Indianapolis music calendar. Each year it’s gotten bigger and raised more money for Second Helpings.

Here’s how it’s happened over the years:

Held November 22, 2002, at Radio Radio, the first Tonic Ball was a success by virtually any measure. But what surprised nearly everyone was that, in spite of having to get 12 bands on and off the stage in only four hours, the show ran on time all night long. Best of all Tonic Ball raised about $4,600 to support the work of Second Helpings.

In 2003, Tonic Ball II featured the songs of Elvis Costello. Tonic Ball III featured memorable covers of the songs of Neil Young, and 2005′s show featured songs by the Rolling Stones.

By 2006, Tonic Ball had gotten so popular that the organizers faced a decision: find a bigger venue, or come up with another idea. Because they wanted to keep the show in Fountain Square, the committee decided to add a second stage in the Fountain Square Theatre, right next door to Radio Radio. It was a risky move that paid off: Tonic Ball V, featuring the songs of the Talking Heads and Prince, was another big success that raised more than $25,000 for Second Helpings

Tonic Ball VI broke new ground, too: for the first time, musicians covered a female artist, as they paid tribute to the songs of the Clash and Madonna.

Tonic Ball VII, or The King and the The Queen celebrated the music of Elvis Presley and Queen. Tonic Ball VIII carried on the tradition of celebrating some of rock’s biggest icons with Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.

The Tonic Ball committee had waited years for Tonic #9…#9…#9 and brought Beatlemania to Fountain Square for one night. Also introduced at Tonic #9 was Tiny Tonic, and all-ages, kid-focused show featuring kids’ crafts, food and music by Ruditoonz.

It was obvious that the annual show was continuing to outgrow its confines, so Tonic Ball X expanded to a third venue, the White Rabbit Cabaret. Tonic X featured the music of Michael Jackson, REM and David Bowie.

For Tonic XI, we covered the music of The Kinks, Stevie Wonder, and U2. It also marked the first year we blocked off Virginia Avenue to make the party easier to navigate—and safer for pedestrians. We raised more money than ever, and much of that is thanks to the hard work of our new chairman, Matt Mays.

At Tonic XII, featured Tom Petty, the Pixies, and The Grateful Dead. The 2013 edition of Tonic saw our biggest and most successful year to date. Over 1,600 music fans, artists and musicians descended on Fountain Square for a beautiful evening of rock n’ roll. Tonic 12 featured over 45 bands, rocked three stages for over six hours and raised more than $50,000 for Second Helpings.

Tonic XIII added a fourth stage at the Hi-Fi, which gave us the room to celebrate the Velvet Underground, Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Another stage meant bigger audiences, so we shut down Prospect Street and popped up signs to direct folks to our newest venue on Virginia Avenue. In other words, we added a second street. Big time.

Tonic Ball got even bigger in 2015, when we had our sixth straight sold out event AND more than $100,000 for Second Helpings. Tonic XIV honored Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Beck and Tina Turner.

By 2016, Tonic Ball was 15. It was time for some greatest hits. With a fifth venue, Pioneer, bands covered the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, David Bowie and Prince. In 2017, Tonic Ball XVI featured James Brown, Simon & Garfunkel, Dolly Parton, the Cure and Wilco. We raised just shy of $150,000 that year, thanks to about 2,500 concert goers, amazingly generous sponsors and talented musicians.

All in all, thousands of fans have experienced a series of superb shows featuring memorable performances by some of the area’s top rock, pop, country, folk, jazz, and blues artists. Most important, Tonic Ball has raised plenty of funds to support Second Helpings. It’s an amazing example of what can happen when people work together and play together for a great cause.