Fastbacks legend Kim Warnick never gave a second thought to needing money for medical costs.
“I still think like a little kid,” she says by phone from her home in Portland, Maine, “like everything is going to be okay. But then things aren’t okay, and they get real, real fast. I’m not a little kid. It’s scary.”
She’s talking about eight or nine years ago when she started having back pain that got so bad, she ended up paralyzed and in a wheelchair. “I had tumors on my spine,” Warnick says. “I was scared. I didn’t have any insurance. I had to have surgery because I’d waited so long.”
Facing crushing medical bills with no way to pay for them, someone told Warnick about MusiCares. The organization was established by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the same organization that hands out Grammys. Its mission is to offer assistance to musicians in times of crisis – medical, financial, personal, or otherwise. The organization helped Warnick with her medical costs then, but it didn’t stop there.
“They also helped me with drug and alcohol problems in 2011 when I went to rehab,” she says of the time after New Year’s Eve that year. “I was a cliché of a has-been. It was embarrassing. I almost died. I was in the hospital for three days, and then they squirreled me away to rehab in New Hampshire for five months.”
Warnick has lived in Maine for nearly four years, and says she’s happy and hopeful about the future. MusiCares played a big role.
“They are the most amazing organization,” she says. “They help musicians who are not household names. And their criteria is pretty miniscule for how much they do.”
Seattle musicians Andrew Joslyn and Susy Sun recently lost their apartment, most of their belongings, and their beloved cat Mendelssohn in a tragic fire. While their renters insurance has yet to come through, they received help quickly from MusiCares.
“MusiCares is a great organization to have as a safety net,” says Joslyn, who’s now recommending musicians have them on speed dial. “MusiCares offered to help us get money to cover our destroyed equipment, and even offered to get us emergency housing while we were trying to sort through the wreckage. It was really a comfort having them help us while dealing with such a tragedy.”
The organization also provides assistance with basic living needs, dental care, funeral costs, psychotherapy, homelessness, suicide prevention, and the needs of the senior population. Funds come from donations, online auctions, charity CDs, and benefits such as the upcoming one at the Tractor Tavern February 26th organized by Aaron Starkey (Gibraltar, Long Dark Moon and STACKEDD’s Web Director). This is Starkey’s third annual MusiCares event.
Family Reunion: The Songs of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt and Wilco to benefit MusiCares features a variety of artists, including Barb Hunter, Casey Ruff, Vicious Petals, The Crying Shame, Fredd Luongo (of the Swearengens), Gabriel Mintz, The Ganges River Band, In Cahoots, Jackrabbit, Jared Clifton and the Whiskey Rebellion, Long Dark Moon, Massy Ferguson, Matthew Harvey & Dean Johnson (of Lowman Palace), Red Jacket Mine, and the Riveters.
Barb Hunter, who plays cello with, well, everyone, is playing solo ukulele at the benefit. She did this last year, and, trust me – get there early. She says she has friends who’ve been able to receive preventative exams and treatments for illness and injury that they otherwise wouldn’t have had if not for MusiCares.
“I think it is a travesty that any first-world nation would leave its residents to fend for themselves when it comes to basic needs such as medical care,” Hunter says. “The Affordable Care Act is a first good step, but it’s still sort of globally embarrassing to be the U.S. when it comes to this issue.”
Christina Cramer, self-described boss lady of In Cahoots, has several friends who were supported by MusiCares while dealing with health problems. “They spoke of the amazing empathy those in the organization displayed,” she says. “Also, our lead guitar player – Brad Judy – is a Seattle area dentist. After last year’s MusiCares benefit, and learning more about the people and purpose behind the organization, he began donating his dental services.”
Brigitt Rains and Shasta Bree – two voices in the three-part harmony of the Riveters – understand all too well why those in the arts might fall on hard times.
“As a musician, you work your ass off for very little pay,” Rains says. “It’s almost like being a teacher or a caregiver. Even the people who are really famous make very little money. They’re doing these things for their whole entire life, trying to make a go of it.”
“Artists contribute so much to society and are so undervalued when it comes to money,” adds Bree. Unlike Rains, who has a good-paying day job, Bree struggles to make ends meet. “I think I’m too proud to ask for help,” she says. “I think I’ve been in situations where I should have probably asked.”
Warnick worries that kids in struggling bands don’t get the fact that MusiCares is there for them. “When I tell people about it, and they hear that it is connected to the Grammys, they say, ‘Oh, no – that’s not for me,’” she says. “ And I say, ‘You are exactly who it is for.’”
Click to find out more about MusiCares