It’s a pretty simple concept: If you are a Madison-area musician and have a mediacal crisis, which has become financially crippling to you and your family, there is help from the Madison Area Music Association. We follow that with another pretty simple concept: This is Madison and we take care of each other.
It was around the turn of the year, January 2015, when Robert J. and Jill Conaway’s son Jacy Ray was diagnosed with a serious brain infection. It required immediate surgery for the young man that was not only frightening for all involved, it was very costly. I remember talking to Robert J. around that time. He is a well-known musician who has been knocking around Madison for some thirty-five years or so. I met him shortly after he came here and my brother Roly played drums in one of his bands. I told him that Chris Wagoner (who plays with Robert in the Moon Gypsies) and I wanted to plan a fundraiser. They had no idea how much their medical bills would be.
Last April, the fundraiser was held at the High Noon Saloon. Of all the fundraisers I’ve been involved with over the years, this one was the most successful. Robert had mentioned that he thought their expenses could be $16,000 but they really had no definitive amount. Already the family had received numerous donations, some of which were anonymous. We headed into the fundraiser hoping we could raise a couple thousand dollars. We raised $6,000 from the generosity of people in the High Noon that evening. That in itself is an incredible sum but there’s more. An anonymous donor came forward with $10,000 the week prior to the event. We decided to surprise the family and gave them the check onstage. The entire room wept, I believe, and it makes me well up a bit right now. It was by far the most successful and rewarding thing I’d been involved with.
For years we had been talking within the Madison Area Music Association about how we could help artists who are underinsured. We thought about an insurance pool and other ideas. Then the Affordable Care Act came along and it didn’t seem so urgent.
Robert called me several days after the event and we discussed a new program. His family was ever-so-grateful but also wanted to give back. Out of that conversation MAMA Cares was born. It is a new program for MAMA and is getting off the ground but already a few donations have been made to musicians and their families. There will be a big push to fundraise and many opportunities for Madison residents to help get the Jacy Ray fund growing.
MAMA Cares is not about insurance and it’s not about solving a problem. It’s about stepping up and lending a hand, making whatever gifts it can to those in need. There are no members and the MAMA Board makes all the decisions on eligibility (which follows the same guidelines as the MAMA Awards eligibility) and on gifting. There is a form at the MAMA Cares website for anyone to submit and a FAQ that explains the intent of the program.
MAMA Cares was established to help musicians and their families with health issues. Death and loss of home may also be considered. In the future other funds may be established besides the Jacy Ray fund to focus on specific needs.
Robert J. also stepped up to lead the new program. He has had great ideas and he and other volunteers will be organizing a city-wide effort over Mother’s Day weekend. This is being planned as an annual drive to raise funds for MAMA Cares. The details are not fully sorted out yet but some sixty music venues (and the musicians performing in them) will be asked to participate in some manner, at a minimum pushing the drive and collecting funds via collection boxes that will be distributed. It is likely that area businesses will also be contacted about placing a collection point in their place of business.
There is also a fundraiser being hosted by the Moon Gypsies on February 13th at the Brink Lounge from 8-11 pm. That event will serve as a kickoff of sorts and is the first opportunity for people to step up.
Musicians have notoriously been unprepared to deal with financial catastrophe. Many survive on meager wages, working odd jobs that allow them to pursue their artistic creativity and their drive to perform. It is not an easy life – not all parties and romance. For most there are no big corporate backers, no 401(k) plans and no employer-backed insurance plans. Many of our musicians leave a gig with less than they came with or maybe some money to cover the costs of strings, drumheads, other supplies and travel expenses. Insurance has always been a luxury for musicians.
We at the Madison Area Music Association believe in the power of music. We believe in the benefits that accrue to young people and have worked hard over the last thirteen years to find ways to give musical instruments and funds to youth music programs. We’ve always been dedicated to the working musicians as well, establishing the MAMA Awards to draw attention to the significant wealth of artistry that Madison is so lucky to have. We also believe in the power that music has over all of us, how it enrichens our lives, motivates us, inspires us, comforts us and mends us. A world without music is unimaginable, just as Earth without Art is just Eh, as the saying goes.
So this is a callout to all who value music and the arts: To step up and help make Madison a model city in the way it appreciates its creators. We invite you to attend the Brink Lounge on February 13th, to visit the website and make a contribution, to contact us and offer to volunteer or to volunteer your business to be a collection point. And keep your eyes and ears open for the MAMA Cares Mother’s Day Weekend Fund Drive.
Keep the music playing.