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Virginia Coalition To Raise Funds for MS

Alexandrians and T.C. Williams alumni who love rocking out to local band Virginia Coalition will soon be able to do so for a good cause.

Virginia Coalition, made up of four T.C. Williams High School graduates, will play Sunday, Sept. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., where they will hold a raffle to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The concertgoer holding the winning raffle ticket will receive an autographed guitar, hang out with the band and have his or her picture taken with band members.

The raffle will help the band's friend and fellow T.C. alum Laura Casey, who is participating in the MS Society’s 50-mile challenge walk with her mother and three family friends, raise money for the friends’ mother, Jan Cogut. Cogut was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year. The team needs to raise a minimum of $7,500 in time for the walk, scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 30.

“WE WERE TRYING to think of creative and fun [ways to raise money] rather than strictly asking for donations,” Casey said.

Casey, whose sister, Sara, attended T.C. Williams at the same time as the band, called band member Paul Ottinger about incorporating a fund-raiser for multiple sclerosis in one of their concerts. But it was Trish Angelo, the manager of the Virginia Coalition “Street Team,” a fan club, who came up with the idea of a raffle, said Ottinger, who plays keyboards and bass.

However, if the raffle does not generate enough funds, a local bar may. Concertgoers 21 years and older will be invited to an after party at Del Merei Grille, 3106 Mount Vernon Ave., owned and run by two friends of the band, Mary Abraham and Eric Reid, also T.C. Williams alumni. About 10 percent of bar sales will go toward the MS Society.

“The whole band has been high school, middle school friends of ours,” Reid said.

Casey said she thought a Virginia Coalition concert would be the perfect venue for the community to show its support for the Coguts and others who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The band’s shows have always attracted members of the Alexandria community.

“Every time they play the 9:30 Club, it has become a sort of T.C. alumni reunion,” Casey said.

ALL FOUR MEMBERS of Virginia Coalition graduated from T.C. Williams between 1992 and 1995. They met while in the Alexandria school system’s music program.

Ottinger described Virginia Coalition’s sound as a mixture of everything the band mates listened to while growing up, including bluegrass, classic rock, rap and Go-Go. Some people, Ottinger said, call it “soul rock."

“We offer something different musically: the way we write, the style of lyrics and our overall sound,” Ottinger said. “You can’t really classify it, and I think [the fans] really enjoy it."

VACO, as their fans affectionately call them, will be taking a pit stop on its usual tour schedule, promoting the 2004-released album “OK to Go,” to play at the Birchmere. Ottinger explained that the band usually plays at the 9:30 Club.

The Birchmere “has such unique rooms,” said Ottinger. “We’ve always wanted to go there.

At this unique location, the “loud rock band” will play an acoustic version of its usual set.

“That kind of decibel level doesn’t necessarily fit at the Birchmere,” Ottinger said. “It’s better to do a sort of stripped-down version of what we do."

The quartet has played more than 150 shows this year, Ottinger said.

“We’re more of a touring band than a radio or studio band,” he said.