One thing that the Billings music scene seems consistently willing and able to do is help fellow musicians in times of crisis. While the funds raised at benefit shows may not cover the medical expenses that have occurred due to illness or injury, the show of support must really raise the spirits of those in need.
Last Saturday, the Garage Pub at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. was filled to capacity by music fans and supporters of Joe Sullivan. The talented pianist has incurred medical bills as a result of a painting accident that left him with three broken vertebrae, a broken shoulder blade and “three or four” broken ribs, according to fellow musician Bob Brown.
Bassist Brown was part of two of the acts performing, the Peach Pickers and an ad hoc group put together backing his son, Steve Brown. The Peach Pickers played in the middle spot, which might have been good for logistics, as half of the group backed Steve Brown and the other half were the openers, the Kemmick Family.
John and Ed Kemmick are longtime Billings favorites who perform classic country and blues songs. They head up the occasionally reuniting Longtime Lonesome Dogs, who won several Billings Outpost Tuney Awards in their heyday.
They were joined on stage, as they usually are these days, by John’s lovely and talented daughter, Katy. Still in high school, she performs on both guitar and mandolin, singing a blend of country, folk and pop. She also recently joined the Brass Monkey Band, which performs whenever its dispersed members can all be home in Billings for a holiday.
The Peach Pickers get a bit more electric when the Kemmick Brothers are joined by the aforementioned Browns and drummer Pat Rogers. Billings music fans will remember them as three-fourths of local favorites the Tyler Burnett Band, who, along with guitarist and bassist Parker Brown, played on the main stage at Magic City Blues a few times.
Even though the Steve Brown ensemble threw together a set for this benefit, its members have played together enough to have command of the material, which while played loose, had the solid backing of the decades-long rhythm machine of the elder Brown and Rogers. Joining them on saxophone and flute was Paul Lechner, leader of the Al Bedoo Shrine Dance Band, as well as a member of Funk in the Trunk.
Lechner’s playing was particularly nice on two of the Van Morrison songs performed, “The Way That Young Lovers Do” and “Moondance.” (For the record, they also played Morrison’s “Wild Night”.)
A highlight was the reggae song, “Into the Darkest Night,” introduced by Bob Brown as “a song that Joe wrote when I was just a kid.” Joe must’ve been just a kid himself, or the joke’s on us.
Steve Brown crooned soulfully through classics like Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying,” while offering tasty guitar licks. He got a musical education growing up as the son of a working musician, audiophile and recording engineer.
Brown recorded an album of Sullivan performing, but it hasn’t been released yet. What was available at the show was a CD of Sullivan on piano with a vocalist. Be sure to purchase one at the next show.
Saturday’s donations included $400 from The Billings Outpost Tuney Awards fund. Money in the fund comes from local music fans who attend the annual awards show, and it used for music scholarships and to help musicians in need. Another $400 from last year’s concert went for music lessons.
Father Brown said that this was just the first of three benefit shows for Sullivan, who was in the audience wearing a discreet body cast and sporting a cane. Next up is Jimmy Dressler and Big Country at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Heights on Mother’s Day. Then Lechner’s Funk in the Trunk gang will be back at the Garage on May 26.
Joe may join one or both bands for at least part of their sets, as he has played with both in the past.
Hopefully all of these shows are well attended as this one. Joe Sullivan could use the funds, and the show of moral support should help him heal from the inside out.