Concert raises $62,000 for Warren's Natalie Swift

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Natalie Swift couldn't believe her eyes.

There before her at Burr's Hill Saturday evening were hundreds of friends; actually, make that thousands.

Her sisters drove up for the concert held in her honor, one from upstate New York and one from North Carolina. Her classmates from her days at St. Philomena's School were there. Hundreds of her friends from around Warren and Barrington stopped by to say hi. And beyond that, more than 1,000 others, many of whom she's never met, were there as well, all for her.

"It was phenomenal," Mrs. Swift said. "We live in such a wonderful place."

Saturday marked a joyous chapter in what has been a hard local story. Mrs. Swift, the mother of six and married to Warren contractor Neil Swift, was diagnosed last autumn with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. She has been fighting the disease for the better part of a year, but has never gone it alone. Between her faith and her wide network of friends in Warren and Bristol, where she grew up, Natalie and her family have had a large support system at their backs.

But she was blown away by how big the turnout was Saturday. Jim Harper, who helped organize the event with co-chair Karyn Harper and "Team Natalie, a group of more than 50 volunteers, said 2,100 tickets were sold to the fund-raiser, and another 500 to 600 children were admitted free. While they were not there all at once, Warren Deputy Police Chief Joseph Loiselle estimated the crowd was an easy 1,500 people through the course of the night. Through it all, he said, the event went without a hitch.

"We did not receive a single complaint for noise, nor did we receive a parking complaint," he said. "It went without a hitch; it goes to show you what kind of people we have in this town."

They certainly were generous. Three bands — Worlds Collide, Juniper Hill and Neal and the Vipers — played for close to five hours, and concert-goers were treated to a raffle and silent auction. Luxury box New England Patriots tickets sold for $800, artwork by a local artist brought $1,000, and countless other auction items sold too. In all, she said, the silent auction alone raised $11,000; in total, the concert raised $62,000 for the Swifts.

"I could never begin to thank all the people who donated and volunteered," Ms. Harper said. "But everyone was so generous and deserve our thanks; everyone was great."

Meanwhile, food was served by Amaral's, Balasco's and more. There was a beer garden and games for the kids, too.

There are already plans for the $62,000.

Mrs. Swift's ALS is progressing, and it is becoming difficult for her to get around. A family friend plans to modify a large van for her, so she can get her scooter out and about, and also have enough room for all the kids and husband to go along too.

"That would be great," she said. "It would make a big difference."

Mrs. Swift's strong faith has kept her going through what has been a tough year, and the outpouring of generosity she saw Saturday did nothing but strengthen it.

"It was perfect," she said. "I'm so thankful."

Natalie Swift

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.