DeKALB – Despite the warm weather Sunday, it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas for Gary Mullis as he listened to the songs he has come to love over the past 40 years.
It was not the traditional Christmas classics that conjured up images of gift giving and celebration for Mullis, but the sounds of banjos and bluegrass that he has brought to the House Cafe for 43 years.
Mullis, coordinator of the 43rd annual Country Music Show Toy Drive, was in the Christmas spirit Sunday as he saw his friends on stage and community members donating toys for area children in need. By 3 p.m., there were more than six boxes filled with toys – all of which will go to The Salvation Army. Organizers expected about 15 boxes to be filled.
After 43 years of collecting toys for children in need, charity has become as much of a passion as bluegrass music for the award-winning artist.
“People enjoy the music and bringing toys for a good cause,” Mullis said. “I didn’t know it would be going on for 43 years, but I want to keep it going.”
Mullis also started a back-to-school music festival at the House Cafe that collects supplies for families who cannot afford them. That event is set for its fifth installment this summer.
Matt Clark, owner of House Cafe, said Mullis’ events are an important part of his restaurant’s mission to be a tool and resource for the community. And after about five years of hosting the Christmas toy drive, Clark said the holiday season would not feel complete without the sounds of banjos and harmonicas.
Clark said Mullis always has been a supporter of the House Cafe and it is great to be able to help with his event in return.
“Gary is a breath of fresh air,” Clark said. “This is something we look forward to every year and it’s great to see the big smile on Gary’s face from beginning to end.”
Lynne Beauprez of Oak Park has been coming to the show for the past 30 years. She said the toy drive is the kickoff to her holiday season and the House Cafe has been a great venue for the event, which used to be in Cortland.
“Gary is an amazing man for doing this every year,” she said. “It wouldn’t be December without this.”
Meghan Sabatino, an Northern Illinois University graduate who came to the show from Westchester, said Mullis had invited her in the past but this was the first year she could attend. As a bluegrass and country fan, she said the show exceeded her expectations.
“I’m happy to finally be able to come out here,” she said. “I actually really like this type of music. ... It has been great.”
One of the many musicians who Sabatino enjoyed Sunday included John Thorn, who has been playing at the event for almost 15 years. Thorn, with his band of brothers and friends, said Mullis’ event is a great way to meet up with old friends and help a worthy cause.
“I think it’s a staple in DeKalb,” he said. “It’s always a lot of fun.”