NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — This Thursday, Joe Jesus’ 50s Night takes over downtown New Bedford, as the streets will be lined with classic cars, musical and dancing acts, food trucks and fun.

There will be some new additions to what people will see along the streets, but the biggest change is something that is happening behind the scenes – the committee that has taken over putting on 50s Night following the passing of Joe Jesus is now officially a non-profit organization.

The newly-minted 501(c)(3) organization means Jesus’ granddaughter Dawn Mahler and her co-organizer Scott Pemberton have a pathway forward to keep 50s Night happening every third Thursday in July while also being able to do more good in the community the rest of the year.

“We have a team of people including Scott and myself that really band together because we’re also passionate about the community, just as my grandfather was,” Mahler said. “It’s great for these individuals to meet year after year to prepare for this event, but we wanted to make something more formal.”

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“I think that the biggest reason for that is that this event costs money every year, so we felt that it was important to really put together this non-profit to realize our mission of giving back to the community and making sure there’s a formal means of fundraising,” she said.

Joe Jesus always gave back, with Mercy Meals and More being a charity that benefited from 50s Night each year.

“My grandfather started 50s Night in either 1990 or 1991, so clearly this has been an event in the city for a very long time, and we wanted to really secure that opportunity so we can make sure we continue to give back,” Mahler said.

“This isn’t just about the event; this is about funding the event and depending on how much raise, we’d actually like to be able to give back to the community as well,” she said. “Having this nonprofit will allow us to do both – secure the event, listen to people to make it bigger and better each year, and actually give back.”

With additional vendors at the event, the 50s Night committee can raise more money to fund the event and other charitable endeavors – and it also helps make for a better experience, such as the multiple food trucks that will be parked by Taunton Federal Credit Union, giving people the chance to get a bite to eat beyond just the downtown restaurants, which can fill up quickly during 50s Night.

“That was our goal, to get a lot of the vendors and the help to raise the money for the following year,” Pemberton said. “Now that we’re officially a 501(c)(3), it’s a lot easier for us to go ahead and have money into our accounts, and maybe for scholarships.”

There will also be blue buckets at each of the performance stages for collecting donations, and Mahler said even one dollar from each person attending could make a difference.

Pemberton noted that donations from last year are already paying off with additional entertainment in 2023.

“We did very well with it last year, and we were able to pay for an extra band, or a couple extra bands,” he said. “We’ll also be doing a 50/50 raffle and some other ideas to raise money to continue to have this event year after year for the city.”

Mahler said it is “an honor and a privilege” for this non-profit to come together and continue the work of Joe Jesus.

“When my grandfather passed away, he asked myself and a couple of other individuals from the car clubs to make sure this event doesn’t die, and I took that very seriously and banded together quickly with the right individuals and adding in new ones,” Mahler said.

“It’s really important to make sure that the traditions live on, not only for my grandfather, but for all the other individuals that grew up in the ‘50s, that have passion for the music, that have passion for the cars, because this is the place to be this summer,” she said.

New Bedford's '50s Night Over the Years

Joe Jesus' '50s Night was a longtime staple of New Bedford's summer schedule with 29 straight years until road construction held it off in 2018. It came back in 2019 following Joe's passing, but it missed 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It made a triumphant return in 2022 and is set to become an annual tradition once again. Take a look at '50s Night over the years.

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