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The History of Maximum Donordrive, A Rock Band Party with a Purpose

Austin Lindstrom played bass guitar for Motion City Soundtrack, 1999 - 2002. He is the founder and organizer of the Maximum Donordrive, a charity music games party. The Rock Band band above is Maximum Bonerdrive - Austin, Eric, Jordana, & Dr. H. Austin notes that Dr. H has over 2,500 Rock Band DLC tracks. Also, he seriously looks exactly like that.

What would eventually become known as Maximum Donordrive started off with just a few people playing Guitar Hero II and eating sandwiches.

In the fall of 2007, a friend introduced me to Guitar Hero II. I am a lifelong gamer and a former musician, so one would think this game would've interested me. but I had previously written it off as sounding lame. Well, after giving it a go at my friends house, I went out and bought it the next day. A couple weeks later we had a gathering over at my friend Eric's house, and we made it a Guitar Hero throwdown with a sandwich-making competition.

Just a few weeks later, a new, bigger game called Rock Band was set to release. It was developed by the same geniuses behind Guitar Hero, so expectations were high. On launch day (November 20th, 2007), I waltzed into the local mega-store at 8:00 am and walked out with the Rock Band bundle on my shoulder. Rock Band came out just a few days before Thanksgiving, so when the holiday rolled around and we had a few extra people in town, my friends and I finally got a crack at the full-band experience and played from sunset to sun up. My friend Eric's sister, Gail, was the showstopper of the evening singing "Maps" (and more) half a dozen times (remember how it wasn't really obvious how to unlock more songs at first?).

That first full Rock Band night got me to thinking about something bigger. Bands often do benefit concerts around the holidays, where a minimum donation counts as admission to the show. I came up with the idea of having a "Rock Band concert" where everyone could come play the game, have fun, drink, munch, chat, but with a charity component tacked on. To gain entry to the "concert," you had to bring a donation of 2 non-perishable food items. I dubbed the party "Festivus Fest," and it benefitted the Emergency Food Shelf Network of Minnesota. The reason I chose a food drive was as a kid, although I was certainly never poor, there were some tight times. The one I remember most was in 5th grade my dad was in the hospital to have open heart surgery after missing a lot of work due to his health, so we didn't have a lot of money at the time. My mom took my brother and I to the hospital cafeteria for some lunch the one day, and I remember foregoing a grilled cheese sandwich because it cost $2 or $3 (this was 1985). I guess I was smart enough to realize I could wait and that hospital food sucks.

The invite featured our made up bands, our organizer-band was dubbed "Maximum Bonderdrive" (officially not classy enough for the Rock Band servers) [Ed. note: The "classy" indication actually happens on the console side, not on the Rock Band side.]. My friend Jordana likes to refer to her friends as "boners," a la Sweet Dee on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. "Gail Force" (featuring Gail), and "Neighborhood Watch" were also in the lineup. Festivus Fest had short notice and only a handful of people, but it raised 140 pounds of donations.

The next year, Rock Band 2 was set for a holiday launch. By this time the music game craze was in full swing, and there was enough word of mouth based on fun and a good cause that people started asking us when the next party would be. As I was cooking up the invite, the new name struck me: Maximum Donordrive. This would be the first official Donordrive party. I take particular pride in crafting the invites. The party grew a good bit in bodies and raised over 200 pounds of food in donations.

As the holidays of 2009 drew near, people started asking about Maximum Donordrive again. We had an actual "thing" on our hands, something people enjoyed and supported. Maximum Donordrive III was a huge success. We rocked out with Rock Band 3 and raised over 300 pounds of donations, so I packed my Mazda wagon full of canned goods and dropped them off at the food shelf. This was probably my favorite MB memory, it was a cool experience seeing it get weighed, the smiles and comments from the employees when I told them what we do, and the part that really got me was seeing people walking into the facility that were obviously there to receive a donation. It takes so little to provide something big for people that need it.

Maximum Donordrive donation

After MD III, it became clear that we needed to come up with a new hook to keep Donordrive growing in size and donations. The music game craze was waning, and our circle appears quite fickle on top of that. Luckily, a new craze from Harmonix was right around the corner.

Maximum Donordrive IV featured Dance Central and the Kinect. I got in touch with HMXHenry of Harmonix and explained we had been doing a Harmonix-game based charity party for a couple years, and was wondering if HMX would support us with a copy of the game. Anything that keeps party costs down goes directly into providing more donations. Well, "Hank" fired off a copy (on very late notice) and it helped create the most successful Donordrive to date, raising over 400 pounds of donations. As a hearty "thank you," I sent HMXHenry an old "Maximum Bonerdrive" t-shirt, one of only two dozen in existence (aka eBay gold), which I understand he displays proudly in his office.

HMXHenry displays his Maximum Bonerdrive shirt

Maximum Donordrive donation

This year I again reached out to HMXHenry for a copy of Dance Central 2, and besides making good on that request, he sent over some HMX swag and a few copies of other HMX games. We used some of these as prizes and I've donated a couple to families I know. Our party competed with several other holiday parties this year, but the donations were really strong per person. I had hoped for 500 pounds to keep trending upwards. I don't think we made it, but it did look like we cleared 400 pounds.

Maximum Donordrive donation

That is the story of how some silly video games, the nice people at HMX, and a few big grown up kids can make a difference. Maximum Donordrive isn't a "real" charity, it's just a party with a purpose. I hope this idea inspires others to think about how they can help support their favorite causes in a fun way. In our 5 years, we've donated around 1,500 pounds of food. Not bad for a bunch of "boners."

Maximum Donordrive is:

  • Austin Lindstrom - Founder, Organizer, 2007 - present
  • Eric Anderson - Co-founder, Host, 2007 - present
  • Cookie Walker - Co-organizer, Co-host, 2010 - present

Check out more pictures from Maximum Donordrive at the Flickr set.