When a fellow rocker is in need, throw a concert!
You can sit at a table with friends and strangers, try to have a conversation over the speaker, the auctioneer, the ask. You can write a check and walk out feeling … something.
Or you can plug in and play — a gesture that speaks to the value of friendship, and the healing power of music, while also answering the call for help.
Benefit concerts happen in every town, every city. But in Seattle, the response seems to be more rooted, with bands reuniting, headliners coming home and everyone returning to the clubs where it all started.
This weekend, three separate music benefits will each highlight a group of friends who came to Seattle together as college graduates, formed bands with those who were already here and who have stayed connected through wealth and struggle, sickness and health and two very public deaths.
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“A musician’s first impact is to throw a benefit, because it’s all you know how to do,” said Ben London, a musician and a principal in The Northwest Polite Society marketing agency.
On Friday, Dec. 4, the Seattle band Hammerbox reunites after 11 years, to raise money for James Atkins, its former bassist who has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer — and who is uninsured. A GoFundMe page has been established to cover medical costs, but Atkins needs more.
The show — to be held at Chop Suey — will also feature former C/Z label mates such as: 7 Year Bitch’s singer Selene Vigil; Alcohol Funnycar; Coffin Break; The Long Winters; Gretta Harley; and Stag, which includes department store scion Pete Nordstrom.
The highlight? A reunion of The Gits, to be fronted by Rachel Flotard of Visqueen. She will sing in the place of Mia Zapata, who was murdered on Capitol Hill in 1993. Zapata’s death sparked the formation of Home Alive, a nonprofit that trained women in self-defense. They had benefits for that, too, as well as for a private investigator to find Zapata’s killer.
“It’s an awful reason to play,” London said of Atkins’ illness. “But we’re getting together trying to help someone stay alive. It’s that sense of a comrade coming out to help and old friend.”
The following night, Nordstrom will take the stage again at SMooCH (Seattle Musicians for Childrens Hospital), an event he started four years ago to raise money for the Uncompensated Care Fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
That event will feature Sir Mix-A-Lot, The Afghan Whigs and Mary Lambert.
And on that same night over at The Crocodile, Northwest drummers such as Barrett Martin, Chris Friel and Mike Musburger will play their favorite songs from John Bonham of Led Zeppelin at “Bonzo Celebration Day,” a benefit for MusiCares. The nonprofit helps musicians with financial, medical and personal emergencies.
(This follows the Dec. 3 “Every Little Counts,” a tribute concert of New Order music put on by DJ Marco Collins. It featured local artists including FM Collective and Fly Moon Royalty — also to benefit MusiCares.)
“As a musician, you provide so much joy to the world, but you can’t always take care of yourself,” said London. “It’s a hand-to-mouth existence.”
One setback, be it an injury or a stolen piece of equipment, can have a domino effect on an artist. Gigs are sacrificed, bills go unpaid, rent comes due. And in the event of a longterm illness like cancer, well, the bright lights get dimmer by the day.
“One thing goes wrong and you’re out,” London said. “You’re one gig away from disaster.”
With its wealth of musicians and thriving music scene, Seattle seems to know that acutely. That’s part of why we’re known as a place where artists support each other, sharing stage time, hiring each other as openers, and playing benefits. Lots of benefits.
“The core of the Seattle scene is a DIY ethos,” London said, “in recording, playing music and taking care of your own.”
London is one of a group of 15 friends who moved to Seattle in 1989, right after graduating from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
They played places like The Vogue, The Central and Squid Row, lived as a group in a place called “The Rathouse” near 19th and Denny and practiced nearby.
“We were very much people being young and then we grew up, and most of these bands stopped playing.”
That is, until someone needed help.
“Any group of people in your post-college experience is super-impactful,” London said. “You have people’s carbon imprint on your DNA.
“What we’re seeing with the James Atkins show is all these people who spent a lot of time in their formative years playing and touring around the world,” London said. “Everybody was pursuing their dreams.
“That kind of changed with Mia getting murdered and even Kurt Cobain’s death.”
Playing benefits — be it for friends, children or the music community — is “part fundraising and part grief processing,” London said.
“You don’t want to sit around and watch the world do this to your friends. You want to fight back.”