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Jingle Bell Jammin'

ALBANY -- Don't expect to hear Christmas tunes, but the holiday spirit should be in full swing at the State Theatre on Dec. 3.

That Friday night, eight bands will hit the stage to help raise money for families with children who have autism.

Diane Blocker, founder and director of the Albany Autism Center, said the benefit concert and auction will be headlined by Running Down Romance. The funds raised will benefit the center and Bridgewood Academy for Special Needs Children

"Every other year we've done it, we've just had one band," said Blocker, whose young son Garrett has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. "One year Bo Henry did it. Last year the Kinchafoonie Cowboys did it. The first year we did it, we had a whole bunch of bands. And now this year, we're going to try that again.

"Chosen is a the first band and that starts at 7:30. They're a religious rock band. Then Faith Jackson will ... do an acoustic set. Not Yet Felons, Landis Frier, Ryan West ... those are country or old rock and roll. ... Cole Taylor, then Running Down Romance takes the stage. It's like the '70s rock and roll and country ... something that people can dance to."

The Southern rock Running Down Romance has guitarists Dan Crowder and Jamie Free on vocals, with Matt Culpepper on bass and Jon Nijem Jr. on percussion.

The doors at the State Theatre will open at 6:30 p.m. with a silent auction, which will be followed up later in the evening with a live auction. Admission to the concert is $20 per person and a cash bar will be available.

But don't let the holiday theme fool you. There won't be any Christmas carols coming from the stage on this particular Friday night.

"This is our fourth year doing a Christmas concert," Blocker said. "We just say Christmas because it's in December. It's not Christmasy ... it's a party."

When co-organizer Traci Henry, a member of the center's board of directors, told her about plans for eight bands to play, Blocker said she wondered aloud whether the fundraiser was turning into a weekend-long event.

"She said no, we're just doing 30-minute sets, keep people coming and going," Blocker said. "Luckily, the Junior League has taken us on for their signature project, so we have some of the girls from the Junior League helping us organize that night. We have a lot of volunteers."

"Running Down Romance should take the stage by 9:30."

Last year's Jingle Bell Jam netted $3,500 for the Autism Center. Blocker says she always wants to grow an event while maintaining realistic expectations. Still, she can't hide the hint of optimism here at the cusp of the season of hope.

"I always try to beat what we did last year with this same type event," she said. "So, personally I'm shooting for $5,000, but the way I look at it is anything's better than nothing.

"I try to plan four big things every year and the last one we did, the Bid for Bachelors, raised $20,000. I don't see this being that huge, but I never ever would have expected Bid for Bachelors to bring in that much money either."

With another autism facility opening in Albany earlier this year, Blocker's organization, which had 10 children in its summer program, referred families to that program when the school year started. Money raised at the concert and auction will be used to help families with autistic children get the help and therapy they need.

"Right now we're doing resource and referral type things," she said. "We're trying to raise money to give scholarships and buy equipment and things like that. That's what all the fundraiser will go for -- the school supplies, therapy supplies and scholarships for these families."