By: Samantha Sinclair
Lee Alverson is a talented piano player in his own right, but Friday night, like many other nights, he stepped out on stage at McGuire’s Millrace Farm in Peachtree as Billy Joel.
Wearing sunglasses and a black suit with a black T-shirt, he played the opening notes of “New York State of Mind” and brought the room full of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County supporters to New York with him.
”That song just takes you away,” said Cindy Carrington, who visited from Mineral Bluff, Ga., for the gala.
Alverson started to show just how talented of a pianist he was during “River of Dreams,” the third song in the set, as his fingers quickly dancing across the keys brought the crowd to applause several times. When started freestyle playing between songs, he impressed the crowd with tricks, like playing the keyboard while standing with only one foot on his stool.
The musical theatrics caused Cal Stiles of Andrews to comment that Alverson could be a good Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator, too.
It was the third year of the dinner and show to benefit the local nonprofit. Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel has sponsored the event each year, allowing much of the money raised to support the organization’s mentoring efforts.
In addition to tickets sold, this year’s fundraising efforts also featured a live auction, with Bob Grove of Brasstown as auctioneer. The auction raised about $4,300, while the event grossed an estimated $22,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
For most of the first act of Alverson’s performance, Carrington stood by her seat, watching as she swayed to the music.
“He’s just fantastic,” Carrington said. “I love watching his hands. I’m mesmerized by that.”
“He’s so great, he really is,” said Phyllis Butler, who once lived in Long Island, N.Y., and was very familiar with Joel’s music. “I was surprised by how good he is.”
For the second act, there was another surprise.
“The bad news is Billy Joel had to go meet another ‘Uptown Girl,’ ” announced Tom Spencer, chairman of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Advisory Council. “The good news is, I found another performer.”
Alverson entered the room wearing black jacket with silver sequined stars, a purple scarf worn as a tie and sparkly purple glasses. He was now another piano man – Sir Elton John.
After the first song, “Tiny Dancer,” Roz Barnett approached the stage to get a selfie with the performer. By the time Alverson got to playing “Philadelphia Freedom,” Doug Brown asked Barb Prater to dance with him.
“I was sitting and tapping my hands all night,” Brown said. “I just wanted to dance.”
Six couples were inspired to dance for the final number of the evening, “Your Song.”
“I was waiting for something like that to happen,” Alverson said after the show.
While he has performed at many fundraisers in his career, this was his first for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I love doing fundraisers,” Alverson said. “I usually just jump at the chance. I just like doing things that help.”
Alverson, who is from western Pennsylvania, started his career in 1990 as a piano player. Around 2000, in light of all the Elvis impersonators, he thought it would be fun to do something like that, but different. He searched, and found there were only two Elton John impersonators.
“I already knew all the songs as a piano player,” he said.
Alverson planned on performing as John only every once in a while, but his act has become so popular he performs more as John and Joel than himself these days. And, yes, he has fit in performances as that other famous piano player, Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I never believed it would as big as it is,” he said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County was started eight years ago with five children in the program. Today, the county has more than 55 children in the program, mentoring 824 children in that time.
Robin Myer, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina, presented tokens of appreciation to Spencer and Don Slifer, who retired as program coordinator in May, and introduced the new program coordinator for the county, Gloria Dockery. He then presented Cherokee County Schools Superintendent Jeana Conley with a 2018 Little Champion Award, saying the school district is the most responsive of the 10 he works with.
Spencer said the organization needs more volunteers, both as mentors and advisory council members. Over the years, Spencer himself has mentored two children. He beamed while talking about his second Little, who is now 17.
“They desperately need positive role models,” Spencer said.
Teachers in the audience agreed.
“It’s a lovely program because it has helped a lot of kids,” said Mahzabeen Adam, a teacher at Murphy High School. “It makes kids feel important, and they need positive motivation.”
David Ladouceur, youth pastor at Shepard of the Mountains, was a Big Brother while attending school at Western Carolina University.
“I enjoyed it, I thought it was great,” he said. “Obviously, our youth need role models today.”
Ladouceur just started at the church in February, and said getting back involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters is on his list of things to do. He helped with the sound system for Friday’s show.
For details on becoming a mentor, contact Dockery at email@example.com, or 361-0989. For details on becoming an advisory council member, contact Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 644-4111.
Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, email@example.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.