Apocalypse Meow X: Midwest Music Foundation on the organization’s goals

Back in 2008, the first Apocalypse Meow raised funds for musician Abigail Henderson’s treatment, after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer. The event fetched nearly $20,000; in the spirit of giving back to the community, Henderson started the Midwest Music Foundation to, as she said at the time, “provide musicians with healthcare assistance.”

Henderson died in 2013, but the Midwest Music Foundation continues, as does the benefit that started it all: Apocalypse Meow X takes place this weekend. I spoke with members of the MMF board, as well as affected musicians, to update the organization’s story.

The Pitch: Given the current healthcare climate in the country, what’s demand like for the MMF’s help these days?

Rhonda Lyne, executive director: I feel the need for Midwest Music Foundation has always been there, but I do see it increasing as we gain more awareness and as affordable health insurance gets more difficult for working musicians to obtain. The demand for grants has been higher than ever this year. We have given out over $24,000 in emergency healthcare grants so far this year, and anticipate more applications to come.

Sondra Freeman, director of promotions and artist relations: We’ve seen a marked rise in applications in the last few years. Recently I’ve been approached more and more by people just asking general questions about what we provide and it feels like that is coming from a place of fear and uncertainty. People with lower incomes are faced with fewer affordable insurance options and musicians often fit in that category.

Scott Easterday, board president: Since the future of the ACA is now being tossed around as a political hot potato, the need for reliable information about health care, and supplements to healthcare coverage, are more necessary and the need for grassroots nonprofit organizations like MMF is growing. I believe the future of health care in the U.S. will be defined by groups like ours that represent the real needs of people and will come from the ground up instead of coming down from government and industry.

Is there a big overlap between musicians participating in Apocalypse Meow and other fundraisers and those who’ve benefited from its help?

RL: Sondra does an amazing job booking Apocalypse Meow, and we typically have different bands each year, with a few exceptions. One exception is Chris Meck, who has played every year but two with bands he shared with Abby [Gaslights, Atlantic Fadeout and Tiny Horse]. He debuted Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds in 2013, after we lost Abby. It was a very emotional set for him and everyone in the room that knew and loved her.  Some of the bands play other fundraisers as well, but we try not to ask too much, as they are donating their time to the events. This year, Sandoval is reuniting for the first time since they played at Apocalypse Meow 1. They were one of Abby’s favorite bands. We do typically have a few musicians perform at Apocalypse Meow that have received healthcare grants. This year, three of the band members have received healthcare assistance from MMF in the past.

SF: The KC music community is so much like a family, I honestly believe that we all feel that when one person benefits from what we do, we all benefit. When artists play Apocalypse Meow they’re essentially paying into an insurance fund, if not for themselves, [then] for a member of their community.

%{[ data-embed-type=”oembed” data-embed-id=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVaI625_eJo” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%

What or who has been the biggest help for MMF over the years?

RL: MMF has operated at a grassroots level for many years and to some extent we still do. We run almost entirely on volunteer hours and don’t have a physical location. Most of our donors have been small, local businesses and friends to the organization. Boulevard Brewing Company, the Bridge, and Seen Merch have been very generous and supportive over the years as well, to name a few.

This year, we received grant support from Jackson County Outside Agencies, Kansas City Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund, ArtsKC, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. These grants have allowed us to fund all our healthcare grants this year, pay for expenses related to Apocalypse Meow, and host a free musicians’ healthcare clinic in conjunction with Crossroads Music Festival. We have also partnered with the RockDocs, a collaboration of University of Kansas and the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, who have provided healthcare information and services at events throughout the year. They will be on site again this year for Apocalypse Meow. We debuted this partnership at last year’s Apocalypse Meow.

Consistent funding is among the most difficult aspects of keeping something like MMF going and helping people. How have you met the challenges of trying to get sustaining members?

RL: Consistent funding has been a challenge for us as well. We are fortunate that we have a very dedicated volunteer staff and our board president, Scott, has done a great job of developing and expanding our board’s role. Many of our donors continue to contribute each year. Several of our sponsors for this year’s Apocalypse Meow have donated for several years, some since the inception. The grants we received this year have definitely been huge for us and allowed us to grow Abby’s Fund.

How does this year’s event differ from past ones?

RL: The format this year’s Apocalypse Meow is similar to past events. We have moved the event to different venues over the years and adjusted the format some, but the basic concept is the same. We will kick things off with a free show at Mills Record Company on Friday, November 3. The main event is held on Saturday, November 4, at RecordBar. Two stages will showcase music, and we will have a big silent auction and raffles with prizes donated by local businesses. Something new this year is we have added a Meow Hangover Brunch on Sunday, November 5, at RecordBar with Expassionates performing at 4 p.m.

We will also debut a short documentary on both Saturday and Sunday, produced by Anthony Ladesich [Mile Deep Films], Jud Kite [Killer Kite Productions], Kyle Hamrick [the Feral Few], along with help from Steve Gardels and Baron Redman. The film features interviews with MMF staff, past grant recipients and Mayor Sly James. It covers the history of MMF and Apocalypse Meow and the need for health care for musicians. Brenton Cook is also putting together a compilation of past Apocalypse Meow bands that will be available at the event.

SF: I think the main difference this year will just be in the air. Everyone involved is very proud that we’ve made it to year ten and are looking forward to making it as special as we can. This will be our fifth year without our founder, Abigail Henderson, and carrying this on without her was a challenge but something she was very determined for us to do. It feels just a little more special this year at this anniversary.

%{[ data-embed-type=”oembed” data-embed-id=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY1VoIizGuY” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%

Is there anything you’d like to share about how MMF has benefited someone in particular?

RL: Due to the nature of our grants, we can’t share too much without the permission of those receiving them. However, one musician that we have helped in the past, is still struggling and I would love to get his story out. Everette DeVan is a local jazz musician and legend. He has suffered a series of serious health conditions over the past few years that have left him unable to work. MMF has granted assistance and continues to try and help him find additional resources, but we have been unable to help them keep up with the overwhelming bills and loss of income. It’s just devastating to know what a serious medical condition can do to a person.

I’ll share DeVan’s story, as told by his wife, Gayle, on Wednesday.

Apocalypse Meow X takes place Friday, November 3, at Mills Record Company for a free, all-ages show with the Country Duo, Headlight Rivals and Bohemian Cult Revival, and emceed by KCUR’ 89.3s Michael Byars. It continues on Saturday, November 4, at RecordBar, with Split Lip Rayfield, a reunion set from Sandoval, Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds, Brandon Phillips & the Condition, Calvin Arsenia, Nathan Corsi and IVØRY BLACK, and emceed by Mark Manning of KKFI 90.1 and Jason Nivens of KQRC 98.9. Details on both shows here.

To become a sustaining member of the Midwest Music Foundation, more information can be found here.