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  • Jacob Aere

Behind the Bro-Am

Behind the Bro-Am

Switchfoot’s drummer on giving back to San Diego

More than 20 years ago, Chad Butler and brothers Jon and Tim Foreman started with musical talent and a specific vision. Now, with keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and guitarist Drew Shirley, their band, Switchfoot, is a Grammy-winning success story with strong ties to North County. Butler, the band’s drummer, recalls their 1996 album release The Legend of Chin, and says, “I never dreamed we’d be doing this 20 years later.” Of the band’s annual fundraising event, he explains, “We love our community and we’ve seen people support the Bro-Am. This small idea 14 years ago has become something much bigger than ourselves — it’s much more about the community than Switchfoot.”

The Bro-Am is one of the most prominent ways that Switchfoot gives back to their hometown through their annual surf contest and music festival. Now in its 14th year, the Bro-Am focuses on helping at-risk youth by partnering with organizations including StandUp For Kids, Feeding San Diego, VH1 Save the Music, A Step Beyond, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and the Rob Machado Foundation. The idea for the event came when Switchfoot was flying home from a world tour show in Australia. Butler reflects, “San Diego is still the best place to live in the world. There’s a distinct awareness that people in this community have — that we are so blessed. Music and surfing kept us out of a lot of trouble, so we try to give back to young people that are coming up and experiencing life in a different way than we did, to wrap our arms around [them] and show them love and support.”


After some searching, Butler says that Switchfoot discovered nonprofits “that were doing great work with young people in San Diego, and [we] wanted to find a way to shine a spotlight on local organizations that are helping kids in order to raise awareness, funds, and resources for them to continue their good work. We spent so much time traveling away from San Diego, so to give back here locally is very important to us.”

Switchfoot plays a larger role in the Bro-Am than one might expect. An original focus of the band was supporting homeless youth, but it’s grown beyond that to help all types of at-risk youth including physically disadvantaged kids through the Challenged Athletes foundation. Butler says, “One of my favorite things to see is kids in the ocean overcoming physical barriers. It’s the most tangible part of [the Bro-Am] — to see those kids in the water, doing what I often take for granted.”

In addition to the surf contest and concert, a surf joust punctuates the day’s merriment

In addition to the surf contest and concert, a surf joust punctuates the day’s merriment

Butler shares a memory that epitomizes why the Bro-Am is so rewarding for Switchfoot. A teen from the Challenged Athletes Organization “had cancer when he came [to surf] a few years ago. He had lost a leg to it and had a prosthetic. Rob [Machado] actually took him out on his board and helped him catch a pretty big set wave and they rode it in together. The whole crowd on the beach cheered — it brought tears to my eyes to see that happen.” The following year, he passed away, but the memories of that day with Machado and the teenager catching a wave gave Butler an understanding of the “weight of the importance of [Switchfoot’s] interactions with the kids at the event, and how this one day can change their life.”

The Bro-Am is ingrained within San Diego culture thanks to the overwhelming amount of volunteer and community support. Each year, roughly 100 kids from Switchfoot’s supported organizations attend the music festival at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, where they enjoy a free day full of live music, delicious food, and surf lessons while being given the utmost attention.

This year’s Bro-Am kicks off on Thursday, June 28, with an evening benefit party at a private location in Carlsbad. Guests will enjoy an exclusive live performance by Switchfoot, silent and live auctions, and signature dishes from restaurants including Farmer & The Seahorse, Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, Pacifica Del Mar, Casa de Bandini, The Fish Market, and many more. The festivities continue on Saturday, June 30, with the public festival at Moonlight Beach, complete with a surf contest, vendor booths, and a live concert on the sand.

Jacob Aere

Switchfoot headlines their annual festival at Moonlight Beach

Switchfoot: Photo by Nash     Crowd: Photo by Chris Hershman  Surf Joust: Photo by Brett Morey

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