Fort Worth natives Bill Jacobs and Michael Karol spent their formative years traveling abroad, both for college and as a means of catching live music acts across the pond.
“If I could have my way, I’d require that studying abroad be a requirement for any undergraduate program,” Jacobs recently said in a phone interview.
His longtime friend Karol was sitting across the table at a local retailer and chimed in: “We’d come back only to realize that many of our friends hadn’t traveled as much. Traveling broadens your perspectives. It has shaped our lives. We want [locals] to see what the world has to offer and to bring some of that back here.”
Four years ago, the friends began pitching ideas on how they could start a scholarship fund to send a few Fort Worthians overseas every year. They soon realized that an event would be both marketable and a catalyst for attracting supporters. Jacobs and Karol launched the first Funkytown Gitdown in 2016 at the downtown venue BRIK. The Gitdown is the annual fundraising event for Fort Worth Abroad, a nonprofit cofounded by Jacobs and Karol. The all-day live music show was ambitious, with regional music acts such as soul legend Bobby Patterson and local bluesman James Hinkle.
When the ticket sales were added up, Jacobs and Karol realized that any potential scholarship money had been gobbled up by the cost of putting on the event. “We had a great time, but it was also a big learning curve,” Jacobs recalled. “It did help us find the people in our community who wanted to help out.”
The following year’s iteration benefited from a new venue, Shipping & Receiving Bar, and the addition of an art sales component, thanks to local artist and Funkytown Gitdown volunteer Megan York. The Near Southside music venue was far more conducive to the live music event that Jacobs and Karol had always envisioned the Funkytown Gitdown to be. The duo learned how to keep costs down, and the show netted $3,000 for scholarships. That year, Fort Worth Abroad awarded Makenna Barbara a scholarship that she used for a semester of college studies in New Zealand, while Zoe Deprang used her funds to travel to Japan. Three scholarships were awarded the following year.
To be eligible to apply for the scholarship, applicants must be graduates of a Fort Worth school district and willing to spend a full semester studying abroad. Jacobs and Karol are both graduates of Fort Worth’s public school system. The scholarship guidelines are intended to ensure that applicants have some level of need for financial assistance. The scholarships cover the airfare to and from the overseas destination. Most study abroad programs match the overseas university tuition to the stateside one, meaning that transportation is often the most cost-prohibitive obstacle for travel-minded college students. The Fort Worth Abroad cofounders are aware that not everyone can afford to take a hiatus from work or even part-time work to study abroad. As the nonprofit fills its scholarship coffers, that issue will one day be addressed as well, Jacobs said.
If there is one glaring challenge left, surprisingly, it’s getting the word out about the scholarship. The number of annual applicants has been fairly low, but interest is growing. The nonprofit cofounders hope to raise an additional $5,000 this Saturday for the cause. The show features Peter More, Bryce Bangs, and Artemis Funk, and there will be donated artwork for sale.
Fort Worth Abroad’s mission fills an underserved niche in the local music scene, Karol said. The 13th largest U.S. city still lacks solid mid-sized music venues to attract touring acts. While the performance hall landscape is slowly growing, Jacobs and Karol are doing what they can to support local music talent by growing their annual fundraiser/concert event. The Fort Worth natives see the Funkytown Gitdown as an important annual event that draws musicians and patrons for a charitable cause while spurring discussions on how Fort Worthians can find their own ways to further grow our city’s music scene.
7pm-12am Sat at Shipping and Receiving Bar, 201 S Calhoun St, FW. $10-15. 817-992-0212.