The benefits of musical therapy are no secret: Music, in the right doses and of the right variety, has been proven to have a therapeutic effect for all sorts of ailments and moods. In Bob Graham and Missi Ivie’s case, however, musical therapy is the benefit — for themselves, and cancer patients all through the Carolinas.
Ivie was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 20 of last year. Though survival rates are up, breast cancer accounts for over 30 percent of all cancers in women, and some 175,000 women will develop breast cancer this year alone. A 31-year-old runner and staunch vegetarian with no family history of breast cancer, Ivie doesn’t fit what is seen by many to be the demographic most plagued by this horrible disease — which is partly why Graham and Ivie, with the help of the American Cancer Society and numerous friends, family and sponsors, put together the Spread Your Wings benefit for cancer awareness.
Held at the Neighborhood Theatre, the show featured a star-studded lineup, including Carolina acts Lou Ford, Lenny Federal, David Childers, Gigi Dover & the Rank Outsiders, Tres Chicas, and Glory Fountain, as well as national headliners Jim Lauderdale, Kevin Gordon, Richard Buckner, Greg Trooper and Alejandro Escovedo.
Graham and Ivie often have visiting musicians over at their house for a home-cooked meal when they come through town, and such kindnesses were not forgotten. They say country folk have big hearts and will help out all they can. At least in this instance, they’re right. “In Richard Buckner’s case,” Graham says, “we were at one of his shows and he remarked about how Missi’s hair was so short. So we told him why, and then about the benefit, and he just said, ‘Tell me when.’”
Nashville’s famous Hatch Show Prints also pitched in, designing the benefit’s posters for free after Bob Graham paid a visit to the company’s headquarters. “I was in there making conversation, and the owner gave me a tour of the place,” he relates. “We got to talking; I told him about the benefit, and I mentioned some of the people who were going to be there. Turns out he’s neighbors with a few of these guys like Greg Trooper and Duane Jarvis, and even shares a babysitter with them. As I was leaving, he said, ‘We’re going to do your posters.’ I told him that, quite frankly, we just didn’t have the money. He said, ‘You don’t understand. I’m doing your posters.’”
After a fine set by a stripped-down version of Glory Fountain (now consisting of just John Chumbris and Lynn Blakey), brothers Chad and Alan Edwards took to the stage with the latest incarnation of Lou Ford, mixing their usual Everly Brothers-style vocals with healthy doses of caustic guitar feedback, nicely evidenced on “How Does It Feel” and “A Mile Away”.
Augmented by Duane Jarvis on mandolin and guitar, David Childers provided his usual fire-and-brimstone set, featuring star turns on songs like “Possibility”, an eight-minute parable with a sitar-led melody that slowly ascends to an almost free-jazz ending. Playing about a third of his new disc A Good Way To Die, Childers was an early highlight and a foreshadowing of the way the evening would soon turn — electric.
After the Linda Ronstadt-like tones of Gigi Dover and her band the Rank Outsiders came Tres Chicas, who were without usual member Caitlin Cary (formerly of Whiskeytown). But Tonya Lamm and Lynn Blakey had a secret weapon up their sleeve: Honky-tonker Thad Cockrell filled in nicely, singing in a clear, understated fashion so as to not overshadow the senoritas sitting to his right.
Pocket Springsteen Greg Trooper played mostly selections from his newest album, Straight Down Rain, to an audience who didn’t seem all that familiar with his work. After songs such as “Nothing But You”, rendered crisply with nothing but an acoustic guitar, one got the sense that was about to change. Richard Buckner was one convert, expressing his appreciation to Trooper backstage.
Promising plenty of “East Nashville boogaloo beat,” Duane Jarvis dedicated “Sad Blue Year” to his ex-bandmate, drummer Donald Lindley, who died of cancer in early 1999. Having worked with some of the best songwriters in America (Lucinda Williams, John Prine), Jarvis seems to be entering his own as a bandleader; he delivered songs such from his new disc Certified Miracle such as “My Brush His Dry” and “Still I Long For Your Kiss” (co-written with Lucinda).
Playing a smattering of songs from The Hill, his adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Richard Buckner provided one of the evening’s best moments of comic relief when he asked, “Is there a sitar player in the house?” and Childers’ sideman Eric Lovell strolled onstage to accompany him for a song. The highlight of Buckner’s set was “Dusty From The Talk,” a second-guessing song of the first order that likely will be on Buckner’s next record.
A none-the-worse-for-wear Kevin Gordon, having played 750 miles west at Twangfest in St. Louis the night before, played a surprisingly energetic twangabilly set that, along with an afternoon of beer sales, had the crowd hootin’ and hollerin’. By the time Alejandro Escovedo hit the stage with a hastily assembled “rock and roll band,” as he was fond of reminding everyone, the crowd was buzzing in any number of ways. Joined by Jarvis, Cockrell, Glory Fountain’s Chumbris, Lou Ford’s Darrell Ussery and others, Escovedo powered through a series of straight-ahead rockers, including Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”, “Waiting For The Man”, and the old True Believers gem “The Rebel Kind”.
After a solo set by Jim Lauderdale, the evening slowly melted into night. Which is probably why the planned all-star jam at the end never happened: No one was saving themselves or holding back in their performances. As things such as cancer can teach us, perhaps that’s a good thing. In life, after all, there is no curtain call.