Published in Pawtucket Times, November 8, 2013
When Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks), a member of legendary Rhode Island musical bands the “Fabulous Motels,” “The Young Adults” and “The Jackiebeat Orchestra,” left his full-time job in 2011, the sixty-one year old had the freedom to pursue his dream of creating a television series about Rhode Island’s music scene. But, the long-time musician, a highly regarded columnist who writes the Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World with sidekick Chip Young for the Providence Phoenix, left his employment with no health care coverage in place.
Throughout his career, Cheeks had health care insurance when he was employed by radio stations or at Insight, a nonprofit serving blind and visually impaired Rhode Islanders. Today, at age 63, Cheeks, who is Executive Producer and host for the TV show “Meet Me at the Met,” is among hundreds of Ocean State musicians who do not have health insurance (unless they are the lucky few provided coverage through a spouse’s coverage.)
Cheeks clearly understands the value of health insurance coverage. Three years ago, high blood pressure would put him in the intensive care unit at Rhode Island Hospital. Luckily he had health insurance at that time. But today, with no health insurance coverage he is forced to forgo medical treatment from a primary care physician even if he is sick.
Bringing Health Care to Musicians
In 2011, Cheeks and a group of local musicians banded together to found the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF). Although the Pawtucket-based nonprofit is primarily dedicated to celebrating and honoring the legacy of Rhode Island musicians, educators and industry professionals, who have made significant contributions to both the local and national music scene, the Organization also decided to turn its attention to bringing health care and wellness options to those in the music scene, says Cheeks.
According to Cheeks, RIMHOF’s Tune In & Tune Up initiative came about because its Board members, along with many of the state’s musicians, were fed up with the lack of affordable health care options for those in the music community.
The Tune In & Tune Up (TI&TU) Rhode Island Musicians Health Awareness Initiative has already partnered with medical professionals such as Dr. Stephanie Hansen, psychologist, and Dr. Mark Andreozzi, ENT, who both serve on the advisory committee. They also support Dr. Zaheer A. Shah’s Access Basic Care (ABC) initiative and have already enrolled nine R.I. musicians in Shah’s membership health care program, some who had not had an annual physical for decades.
The ABC initiative waives a $15 charge for health visits when the patient presents their TI&TU membership card. RIMHOF is also looking into other well-run, inexpensive and effective health care programs to suggest to members, adds Cheeks.
As part of TI&TU, members will be eligible for discounts at area health and wellness retail locations and will receive free admission to a planned series of health-related forums geared specifically to musicians. Additionally, a web site focusing on the music community will be developed directing them to area health and wellness options and trying to make the topic of health care more understandable so they don’t just “tune out.”
To date, Cheeks and 100 people in the music industry have been issued TI&TU membership cards. RIMHOF anticipates another 200 to be signed up for and available by the Unity Concerts weekend.
In addition, TI&TU’s planned bi-monthly series of conversations/ workshops will focus on topics aimed at the music community, everything from carpal tunnel problems, to stage anxiety, to vocal health and more. The first of the series will feature Megan Hall, the Outreach and Education Lead at HealthsourceRI.
A Call for Action
According to a RIMHOF press release, during the nonprofit’s first induction ceremony in 2012, Hall of Fame inductee Ken Lyon mentioned from the stage that many musicians in the Ocean State do not have adequate health care and that it was an issue that concerned him greatly. He challenged the Hall of Fame to look into this important issue and that is exactly what happened as board member Don “D.C.” Culp started constructing what would eventually turn in to a grassroots movement spearheaded by several Hall of Fame board members.
Culp explains “I first brought up the idea of joining together some type of affordable health care with a health awareness information center. The idea was met with great enthusiasm but also a realization of the greatest obstacle to overcome – existing programs with very high monthly fees and/or high co-pays which make them far from affordable for most musicians.”
“Unfortunately,” RIMHOF chair Robert Billington says, “most in the music community make the hard decision to live without proper preventive health care, skipping routine annual exams and turning down medical services because they can’t afford them or are unwilling to pay their insurance’s high deductibles if they even have insurance. In effect, people are denying themselves basic primary care.”
Fellow RIMHOF board member and Tune In & Tune Up cofounder Russell Gusetti, who plays in Pendragon, one of Rhode Island’s most prominent Celtic band, adds, “It can be scary being a musician. Because we are independent contractors, we usually have no health insurance unless we are lucky enough to have a spouse who does. Because we don’t work for just one company, musicians have no benefits nor do we make much to begin with.”
Gusetti notes, “Too many of us have seen friends who are musicians go without health care of any kind, simply because they felt they could not afford it. So year after year, we end up holding benefit concerts for fellow musicians who have suffered major health events. And with musicians, if you are sick, you don’t play. And if you don’t play, you can’t earn a living let alone pay for health care visits or procedures. It made us want to do something to let the music community know that there ARE options out there for affordable health care and that prevention really IS the best medicine.”
Culp adds, “And we want to be clear – we are trying to reach the entire music community so that includes music professionals such as sound techs, studio engineers, roadies and more, as well as their spouses. We also want to stress that there is no paid staff or financial gain for RIMHOF or Tune In & Tune Up committee members. Our sole interest is helping our fellow musicians… it is straight from the heart.”
Gusetti concludes, “Instead of only reacting after a health problem becomes serious we hope we can, in some small way, inspire the music community to be proactive about their health so they can prevent or address some health problems before they get even worse. And if we become a model for the dance, visual arts and acting community, we would be thrilled as we all face similar situations and as parts of the creative community, we are all in this together.”
RIMHOF organizers say that the upcoming Unity Concerts idea builds off the March, 2013 CD release concerts held at The Ocean Mist by 2012 Hall of Fame inductees Roomful of Blues who chose to donate the proceeds of one of those concerts to the Tune In & Tune Up initiative which was just then getting off the ground. Ocean Mist owner Kevin Finnegan was so inspired by the idea that he suggested trying an even bigger benefit event with more bands later in the year.
The Unity Concerts Benefits Musicians
So, this weekend, RIMHOF, in partnership with The Wakefield-based Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Rd) will hold The Unity Concerts, with ALL proceeds benefiting the TI&TU Rhode Island Musicians Health Awareness Program, tomorrow, November 9, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday, November 10, from 2 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Participating bands, who are all donating their performances, represent an unprecedented array of R.I. talent teamed with the generous donation of the venue as well as concert support by The Ocean Mist. The weekend features four inductees to the R.I. Music Hall of Fame on the same stage for the first time – John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, Roomful of Blues, Ken Lyon, and Steve Smith & the Nakeds. In addition, participating bands include every musician member of the R.I. Music Hall of Fame board as well as two up-and-coming bands – Kim Petrarca and The Brian McKenzie Band – to further the Hall’s mission of also spotlighting new musical talent in the Ocean State while celebrating Rhode Island’s past and present music scene.
On Saturday, the lineup in order of appearance is: Adrienne West and the Tabers, Rossoni, The Brian McKenzie Band, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, The 100 Watt Suns, and The Rudy Cheeks Band.
Sunday’s lineup in order of appearance features: Kim Petrarca, Ken Lyon, The Zimmermen, Longshot VooDoo, Becky Chace, Mark Cutler, Pendragon, Roomful of Blues, Steve Smith & the Nakeds, and James Montgomery.
Cheeks gives credit to RIMHOF for getting the ball rolling on putting together an initiative to bring health care to Rhode Island musicians who are not covered. “You need a large organization [and vision] to take it on. I am glad they saw a problem and moved quickly to address it,” he says.
Admission to the Unity Concerts is only $20.00 per day or $35.00 for a weekend ticket. Etix can be purchased at http://www.oceanmist.net or tickets can be purchased at the door. For a special room rate for the Unity Concerts call the Hampton Inn South Kingstown at 401/788-3500.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. Weiss is a board member of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.