In 2010 Shannon Thompson had a vision for her birthday celebration: she wanted the North Haven-based band Toughcats to perform. After considering options to facilitate the show Thompson said she came up with an idea.

"Why not make it a benefit?" she said.

Thompson said she realized a performance by the popular band could draw a crowd and found a way to have her proverbial cake and eat it, too, selling tickets and ultimately donating more than $3,000 to Partners in Health to benefit victims of the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti just two months prior to her March 12 birthday.

Thompson said the event was successful and has catalyzed a tradition — she's celebrated her birthday in the spirit of helping others almost every year since. On March 16 Thompson will ring in her birthday with a contra dance at Rockport Opera House to benefit The Rig, a Camden-based teen organization.

The band headlining the contra dance — Perpetual E-motion — hails from Maine. Thompson lauded them as "one of the best contra bands in the country."

"They're totally innovative, they're just really incredible, it's worth coming just to listen to the band," she said of Perpetual E-Motion.

Thompson said her 2011 birthday benefit took place at Echo Hill in St. George with a local funk band performing. Proceeds that year benefited a community member struggling with illness. In 2012, she took a break from the tradition.

"I didn't do it last year [2012] because I like to travel on my birthday also," Thompson said with a grin.

In addition to the contra dance, a taco bar prepared by Cafe Miranda chef and owner Kerry Altiero will be available for ticket holders and a contra basics workshop will also take place before the official 7 p.m. start of the dance, which is slated to continue until 10 p.m.

"[Altiero] is so generous, he does so much for this community," said Thompson, adding when she approached Altiero about catering the event, he agreed enthusiastically.

Thompson said the food component adds incentive for would-be attendees and members of the local contra community.

"It's also a good opportunity for people who have been curious about contra to come try it," she said.

A raffle, which Thomson said was spearheaded by her friend Kate Mcmorrow of Thrive Wellness, entices with a prize package valued at more than $1,000. Thompson said the package features gift certificates for local, wellness-oriented services donated by local practitioners.

"We're calling it 'a year of wellness' even though there are actually 13 [services]," Thompson said.

A diverse range of services include massage, acupuncture, body rolling and reflexology. Thompson said the gift certificates can be used by the winner of the raffle prize or given as gifts to others.

Choosing a beneficiary always poses a challenge, Thompson said. She chose The Rig after some deliberation.

"There are so many deserving organizations, I like the fact that [The Rig] is really youth-driven, they're so grassroots and they operate on a shoestring budget," she said.

Thompson added the fundraising goal — $3,000 — could make a significant difference to The Rig, and the funds directly benefit the local community.

Thompson said word has caught on about the upcoming benefit.

"People I don't even know are stepping up to volunteer," she said.

Will Mentor, who will call the contra, is traveling from out of state and Thompson said Lord Camden Inn volunteered a room for him to stay in.

Another cause close to Thompson is cancer in children, she grew reflective for a moment as she remembered her niece who succumbed to the disease in 2011. She said a future benefit will likely raise money for a related cause.

Thompson said she designed the tickets — and eye-catching posters — herself.

"That's part of the fun for me," she said.

Tickets are $25 in advance for the dance and taco bar or $15 for the dance alone. Tickets are available at HAV II and Zoot Coffee in Camden and Rock City in Rockland or online at

Raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20 and can also be purchased at the above locations.

All proceeds will benefit The Rig.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at