In the final weeks of Ellis Kell’s life, he and his wife, Kristi, talked about their favorite music, their grandkids and everything in between.

One of those things, one of the most important, was Moondance, the benefit concert they started in 2002, months after their daughter Karli Rose died in a car accident. She was 17.

“We knew we would continue it,” Kristi Kell said. “It was so important to him to keep it going.”

Her husband, Ellis Kell, a longtime Quad-City music maker and supporter, died in December.

For Kristi Kell and her daughter, Ali, planning this year’s Moondance — the first without Ellis — hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a rough 10 months,” Kristi Kell said. “That’s the reason we started a little behind this year. Our hearts and minds needed to take some breaks.”

Moondance benefits the Karli Rose Kell Music Scholarship Fund, a 501c3. Since Ellis and Kristi Kell started it, the fund has raised over $90,000 in support of area kids who might not otherwise be able to participate in music education and performance opportunities at the River Music Experience, or RME.

Some of those opportunities include programs Kell created during his time at the RME as the director of programming and outreach. He launched programs such as Kidstock and Winter Blues Camp.

“It’s to help kids realize their music potential and for kids who want to realize their music dreams,” Kristi Kell, of Rock Island, said. “It brings us a lot of joy.”

A special sight 

The night Karli Rose died, the Kell family looked outside to see a full moon with a bluish ring. And they saw her face right there in the moon.

“We said it was (Karli) saying goodnight one more time,” Kristi Kell said.

It’s a story that Kate Dale, the RME’s director of entertainment, has heard several times during her nearly 10 years there.

“Not only did they see her face in the moon, but they got multiple phone calls from friends and family who said, ‘We just saw Karli in the moon,’ Dale said. “It’s just amazing. Now, when there’s a full moon, they still look up and try to get a glimpse of her.”

When they were coming up with a name for the benefit concert, “the moon had to be part of it,” Kell, who has collected moon trinkets since then, said. “It was that simple.”

Be there in spirit

Over the years, Moondance, which will be held on Saturday at the Redstone Room, has gotten bigger. This year, the musical lineup includes Rock Island-native Lissie, the Whoozdads, Mo Carter and Erin Moore.

For Dale and the RME staff, it’s always an extra special event.

“After having worked with Ellis and knowing what he went through losing his daughter, it’s a horrible thing to have to go through,” Dale said. “For them to turn around and make something out of it that’s positive and contributory to the community is just amazing.”

Moondance was, she said, near to Ellis Kell’s heart. 

“It was an event he took on himself and didn’t ask for much help from us,” Dale said. “He was really proud of it. You could see that.”

“As much as it was rewarding for him, it was always emotional,” she added. “It’s especially hard this year for Ellis to not be there. But he will be there in spirit."

This Moondance, where musicians are planning their own tributes to Ellis Kell, is the latest in a string of events where the Quad-City community has shown up for the Kell family.

“I’m not able to find my words yet,” Kell said. “This community has a way of pulling together and helping each other out. They have been good to this family.”

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).