Robert J Benefit an Unparalleled Success
Photos in this article are courtesy of Frank Sommers. There are lots more photos and some video circulating on Facebook.
Thanks to all the musicians, volunteers, donors and attendees.
I’ve been doing fundraisers and benefits in one form or another for almost fifteen years. Most of the time we raise some money, and it’s helpful, but we find ourselves wishing we could have done more. I’ve never seen anything like the outpouring of community, love and respect as I did on April 19th at the High Noon Saloon.
It was a very moving occasion. Robert J. Conaway (or Robert J as he is known) came to Madison in the early eighties and I’ve known him since then. Earlier this year his twelve-year-old son Jacy Ray was undergoing some tests for an illness that kept worsening. A scan revealed a bacterial infection and he was immediately taken to surgery. It was a frightening situation, a close call, but Jacy pulled through. There was an extended hospital stay and there will be ongoing therapy. Jacy has another, less-threatening operation scheduled in June.
Robert J has a long history of making music in Madison. If you remember the Sunday Jams at Morgan’s (now the Alchemy) you remember some damn good times. I believe the successive Sunday streak was 511 weeks. That’s nearly ten years. If you remember band nights at the Bittersweet on State Street you were here during some of Madison’s more golden days, too.
Robert J has made several recordings and been involved with several bands. One of the more successful outings was called Boys Town and they reformed for this occasion with drummer Phil Christman flying all the way from Tampa to participate. The O’Bros and Boys Town were essentially the same band and both configurations joined together to deliver a stellar set.
This benefit was put together by Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines, long-time musical partners in crime with Robert J and members of the Moon Gypsies who also played a great set with special guests sitting in. Chris and Mary’s other gig, the Stellanovas, opened the show. Lucas Cates also appeared with his band. Robert J helped launch Cates’ recording career while he was involved with Pop Bomb Records here in Madison. Also appearing, and playing some songs from their soon-to-be-released new album, was the Beth Kille Band, who rocked the house.
While it was a truly great evening of music, it was also an overwhelming outpouring of support for one of the Madison Music Community’s own. The family faces large medical bills and endured lost wages as well. There is no other way to describe the evening than to say it was a room full of love. Local music fan and photographer Mark Ellis won a cash drawing and gave all the money back to the family, a very generous gesture indeed. But the real tear-jerker came when, just before the Moon Gypsies hit the stage, Chris Wagoner handed Robert J an envelope and asked him to open it onstage. Inside was an anonymous $10,000 donation. Robert J was speechless and there were few dry eyes. The money raised from this benefit is going to make a real difference and for anyone who has ever organized a fundraiser, you can understand the gratification of knowing that you’ve truly made an impact. It’s enough to restore any lost faith in humanity.
There was another announcement during the evening. A small amount of the money raised is being donated by the Conaway family to the Madison Area Music Association to establish a new, emergency relief program for Madison-area musicians and their families. It will be called MAMA Cares and the fund will be named the Jacy Ray Fund. There are lots of details to be worked out and there is certain to be a press release soon to announce the new initiative but this is an occasion that will truly live on and pay it forward.
Robert J said on his Facebook page that this one tragedy has led to hundreds of acts of kindness. That’s what it’s all about and that is the kind of city we live in, folks. This is Madison and we take care of our own. Officially.