Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life

What do tomatoes, banjos and a recovering executive have in common? Keith Alessi, who used to consume excessive amounts of tomatoes and had 52 banjos in his closet, but couldn’t play a single cord. Bare with me – this is a true story!

Keith Alessi delivers a poignant message of resilience, hope and endurance we all need to hear right now.

One Monday morning, Canadian Keith Alessi, a 61-year-old high-flying CEO, walked into his office to quit his job. He was determined to go all-in on his dream of becoming a touring banjo player. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and told that he had just 50% chance of surviving the year. Tomatoes, specifically heartburn caused by them, was the culprit.

Yet here Keith is, full of life, laughter and an occasional banjo interlude, talking about his life journey; its ups and downs – and detours. It’s a heartfelt story about a boy who wanted to be a pilot, ended up a CEO and is now writing his first banjo opera. He urges us not to concentrate on the rear-view mirror, but the road ahead.

The performance offers a much-needed immune system and attitude boost for lockdown ridden times. Even though Keith wrote the script to his autobiographical story a few years before the pandemic, it resonates now more than ever. Today we are all faced with our insignificance, insecurity, isolation, even fear of dying.

Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life was recorded in Calgary, Canada on January 18, 2020, when everyone was still oblivious of the pending doom known as Covid-19. I cringed every time someone coughed in the audience – and they did it a lot! The silver lining is that Keith got to enjoy his dream of touring around Canada and US for a while before the pandemic stopped live performances. The show also visited the Brighton Fringe in 2019.

This unique story, told through humour and music, is an engaging and uplifting experience worthy of a TedTalk, or at least a standing ovation in front of the telly. Even if banjos are not your thing, the healing power of music still resonates deeply. Keith Alessi delivers a poignant message of resilience, hope and endurance we all need to hear right now. I’ll leave you with this thought: If Covid-19 is the tomato, what is your banjo?

Reviews by Johanna Makelainen

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Since you’re here…

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You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
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The Blurb

A former executive and banjo enthusiast tells us about a boy's life, a man's meteoric rise to business fame, and the event slamming on the brakes. Audiences are enamoured with this true one-man show, with humor, warmth, music, and banjos.

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