John Legend draws large crowd, preaches love at ASAE fundraiser

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Jenifer Grady has attended many American Society of Association Executive meetings on behalf of Tenn-Share, a Nashville organization that helps libraries save money.

But when it comes to attending The Classic, an annual fundraiser for the ASAE Foundation, Grady usually passes.

Not this year.

“I usually don’t press the button for The Classic, but this time, I didn’t even hesitate,” Grady, 50, said. “John Legend is performing. That’s it, no other reason.”

Grady was among nearly 2,250 attendees who filled the floor of Nationwide Arena on Monday night for The Classic, a sold-out fundraiser concert by Legend that was a part of ASAE’s three-day annual meeting in Columbus which ends Tuesday.

Replacing the ice where the Columbus Blue Jackets play, the floor of Nationwide Arena was outfitted with food and beverage stations, catered by Cameron Mitchell restaurants.

Thomas Nordby, 47, of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP in Arlington, Va., took a particular fancy to the fried chicken sandwich with a donut replacing a traditional bun.

This was Nordby’s first time in Columbus, and he was struck by the city’s accessibility. He has attended more than 20 ASAE annual meetings and makes it a point to attend The Classic because “it’s more than just a party.”

“It’s the best event of the conference,” he said. “Regardless of your age or background, everyone can appreciate good performers. And John Legend is a big draw.”

In advance of Legend’s performance, Columbus entertainers got the music flowing. The Fabulous Johnson Brothers performed a set during the VIP reception at Nationwide’s Bud Light Terrace, and DJ AXCESS spun upbeat tunes as people circulated the floor. 

The decibel level in the arena dropped as The Classic attendees took notice of drumline members standing on the pair of side stages, dressed in white. As the silence began to break, the drumline began rhythmically thumping and chiming on their instruments.

Just as the drumline concluded their set, Amber Knicole, the frontwoman for Columbus band MojoFlo, emerged from the center of the floor, drawn upward dangling from a white hoop. Joined by four other aerial performers, Knicole belted Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” from above the crowds. The pre-headliner entertainment concluded with a brief performance by BalletMet, set to “Hallelujah.”

Then it was Legend’s turn to dazzle the crowd. He opened with “Higher,” prompting a loud cheer from the crowd.

Legend threw it back to his very first album with “Used to Love U,” having attendees sway in the air the color-changing LED bracelets they received upon entering. In the middle of singing “Slow Dance,” he brought one of the attendees up on stage to dance with him, provoking cheers from the crowd.

Throughout his set, Legend focused on love. Before launching into “All of Me,” the Springfield, Ohio, native paid homage to his home state and mentioned spending time Sunday in Dayton, where he urged politicians to take action to prevent further mass shootings.

The Harmony Project, a Columbus choir that brings together voices of all talent levels, joined in with Legend for his last song — “Glory” from the movie “Selma” — and then concluded the concert with its own version of “Everyday People.”

Experience Columbus covers the entire cost of the concert, with 100% of the sales from the event benefiting the ASAE Foundation, which advances association and nonprofit leadership. Susan Robertson, ASAE’s interim president and CEO, said Monday the Columbus event will likely be the most profitable Classic fundraiser ASAE has ever had, conservatively estimating $360,000 in proceeds for the foundation.

The ASAE convention wraps up Tuesday. The closing celebration Tuesday night will highlight Columbus’ fashion and music scenes and features Brad Paisley at Express Live!

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