Pass the purple hat, make a difference


While some might fear the number 13 as a sign of bad luck, Jeremy Bar-Illan takes it with a grain of salt.

For him, the number is significant. His son, Zachary, was born on May 13. And when he died Aug. 13, 2009 from osteosarcoma — a rare form of bone cancer — Bar-Illan turned it into a positive thing. He named one of his bands Dragonfly 13 and started the Purple Hat Foundation, an organization that puts on a 13-hour live benefit concert in celebration of Zachary’s life while raising money for charity.

The eighth annual benefit concert takes center stage at An Beal Bocht Café on April 21, featuring Dragonfly 13 and his other band, the Jeremy Bar-Illan Band, along with other local acts. The concert raises money for Musicians On Call, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing live and recorded music for hospital patients across the country. 

Throughout the 13-hour music extravaganza, the audience is encouraged to donate money when a purple hat makes its way toward them, or they can choose to give about $25 to $30 upfront when they come into An Beal Bocht. Over the last few years, Bar-Illan said, the foundation has raised nearly $20,000 for Musicians On Call.

Bar-Illan volunteered for Musicians On Call in the past, and picking them as the nonprofit to donate to for the benefit concert felt like a good fit. 

“It’s just nice to kind of feel like I was giving back,” Bar-Illan said.  “And so it kind of came naturally that it would be the beneficiary of the benefits going forward.”

Music became the forefront of Bar-Illan’s life after Zachary’s death in 2009. He quit his job as a Wall Street broker, focused on his career as a musician, and maintained The Purple Hat Foundation’s annual concert.

The inspiration behind the name “Purple Hat” came from a painting Bar-Illan created of a man wearing one. It represents the color of divinity, and the concept of how God can protect people while they’re looking for their purpose in life. 

As the years went by and Bar-Illan began to think of the painting more, its meaning became more than just spirituality.

“It kind of took on its own metaphor for me and dealing with the tragedy of losing my son,” he said. “And so the painting is a man without any features, kind of like a blank canvas that we’re born with that we can build on.”

Every year is a new and unique experience for Bar-Illan and others who attend the foundation’s annual concert.

“There’s something to be said for the energy that we can create just from an event like this in the community and the inspiration that it creates with other people that are involved,” he said.

It’s not all about fundraising.

“We don’t focus on the money, we focus on having a great night,” Bar-Illan said. 

Although it’s almost been a decade since Zachary passed away, Bar-Illan thinks if his son were still alive today, he would love the Purple Hat concert, and believes Zachary is with him.

And with all of the love and support on his side, Bar-Illan feels like every year’s benefit concert is like a local holiday. 

“I’m just putting together a party and it’s in honor of my son,” he said. “What could be better?”