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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Taylor Swift ticket raffle boosts spirits and Ledyard music program

    Taylor Swift performs at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Ledyard resident Hilary Evans attended but also donated two extra VIP tickets to the Ledyard Music Boosters program, which raised more than $24,000 by holding a raffle for the seats. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Evans)

    Ledyard ― A raffle of two donated VIP tickets to Taylor Swift’s concert this past weekend raised $24,160 for the Ledyard Music Boosters program ― and gave a Groton mother the chance to bring some happiness to her daughter while going through a difficult time.

    Jeanna Steele, 25, and her mother, Kimberly Steele, were among the 744 people from 22 states who bought raffle tickets at $5 apiece, according to data from Ledyard Music Boosters President Cari Barnes.

    Kimberly Steele said Jeanna told her she bought four tickets ― and then Kimberly bought another 20 without telling her daughter.

    Jeanna “was very close to her father, and we lost him in February, and I didn’t want her just to think of this year as the year she lost her dad, so I just wanted to give her something good,” said Kimberly, a Ledyard High School alumna.

    And when Barnes drew the winning number on May 17, Kimberly was the winner.

    As rain came pouring down at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, the Steeles stood four rows from the stage with ticket donor Hilary Evans of Ledyard and a friend.

    Evans said her friend knew she had a rough year and bought four tickets, saying she could do what she wanted with the extras, such as reselling them to fund her impending move back to her native Tennessee. Neither this nor inviting other friends or family panned out, and Evans opted to donate the tickets.

    She was inspired in part by her affection for her church sponsor at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, Josephine Cometa, whose daughter-in-law is Ledyard High School choral director Melanie Cometa.

    Barnes said she heard from Cometa that someone wanted to donate tickets, “and I think my jaw dropped to the floor.”

    At the end of the Small Ensembles & Faculty Recital at St. Luke Lutheran Church on May 4, Barnes announced the opportunity for people to fill in the blank space in the fourth row at Gillette. Barnes said there was a lot of excitement in the room, and she and Cometa were ready when the $5 raffle tickets went on sale at 10 p.m.

    They ended up selling 4,832 tickets, with most people buying more than one.

    “It’s hard to put it into words. It was amazing. It was a windfall that we needed but never imagined would actually happen,” Barnes said.

    Ledyard Music Boosters is not out of the woods from the financial impact of both the COVID-19 pandemic and losing the Ledyard Fair, where they ran a concession stand.

    This was beyond the wildest dreams of Barnes, who said her daughter Sarina has “taken advantage of pretty much everything Ledyard Music has to offer.” Sarina is graduating, and Cari Barnes is the outgoing president, so she won’t get to see how it’s spent.

    “But I sure am happy to leave with that kind of money in our account, so the next time the teachers ask us for something, we can say yes, yes and yes,” Barnes said.

    Also coming up for the Ledyard Music Boosters is the Reds, Whites & Blues fundraiser at Preston Ridge Vineyard on Wednesday evening, with wine tastings and music from the Ledyard High School Jazz Band.

    And the Taylor Swift concert?

    “Oh, it was incredible,” Evans said Monday. “I slept all day yesterday. It rained the whole time. There was hail. And I have never seen so many people wearing ponchos and dancing and singing and not mad at each other in my life.”

    Evans’ favorite song is “The Last Great American Dynasty,” about the history of the house Swift bought in Watch Hill. And in the spirit of being a controversial figure in town who is moving to Tennessee next week, Evans made sure to belt out the lyrics, “There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen.”

    Jeanna has listened to Swift’s music since elementary school, and her father knew how much of a fan she was, so she feels like he helped her win the tickets. And she cried a lot when she found out.

    Her favorite song this tour was “Marjorie,” which Swift wrote about her late grandmother, and the lyrics spoke to Jeanna. She saw Swift’s Reputation tour in 2018 but was in the nosebleed seats.

    Jeanna said of Saturday’s concert, “It was completely mind-blowing to me that I could even have this experience.”


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