When Parmalee singer Matt Thomas heard a knock on the door of his RV, he assumed it was only one of his bandmates. Parmalee, the group he fronts with his younger brother Scott and two longtime friends, had just played in Rock Hill, S.C. They were stowing their gear, preparing to travel to another tour stop. But when Matt opened the door, he didn't find his fellow players.
Instead, two men burst in and attempted to rob him. One was armed. Scott emerged from the rear with his own handgun, demanding that the robbers leave. The gunfight that followed left Scott and one assailant injured, the other dead. Scott Thomas was shot three times early in the morning of Sept. 21; he's not the only one who's had to heal.
"We're getting better every day," says Matt Thomas when asked how his brother is doing. "We're progressing. We're in a lot better shape than we were a month and a half ago."
For Parmalee, that "we" is important. They've been a band since 2001. Scott's recovery has been tedious, and it continues to hit the band and its supporters hard. Recently released from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Scott endured four major surgeries. He's recuperating now outside of Greenville. Scott had health insurance, but the bills have piled up to over $500,000—more than his insurance will cover. The band can't make money if it can't play. Between medical expenses and the members' regular cost of living, the need for help is immediate.
Luckily, support has been generous: Benefits have already been held in Greenville, Greensboro, Charlotte and once before in Raleigh. This weekend, at least nine bands will play two shows at Raleigh's Lincoln Theatre to raise more money. It's an incredible display of support that Mike Edwards, an organizer for this weekend's event and a longtime friend of the Thomas family, attributes to Parmalee's vast network of relatives and friends.
"Being earnest and working hard at your craft and making friends wherever you go," he says, "it kind of snowballs."
For Parmalee, there's more at work here than people who enjoy their music. Scott and Matt's late father, Jerry, played with his sons in the Thomas Brothers Band. He was also part of a network of Greenville musician friends who have remained strong with reunions and events since the early '70s. Beginning with a benefit for Burlington folksinger Kitty West about nine years ago, Edwards and others in this group have often banded together to help those of their kind who hit hard times.
"For a long time, the reunions were just about parties and having fun," Edwards says, laughing proudly at how their focus has shifted. "It's just a good way for us to get together and have some fun and raise some money."
This week's benefit is an extension of that camaraderie. Sunday's bill includes Americana acts ripe with connections to Greenville and the Thomas family. Saturday's lineup is culled from harder rock acts that are contemporaries of Parmalee, themselves a hybrid of Pearl Jam and Lynyrd Skynyrd. There's a direct connection through headliner Untold. Drummer Jonathan Wilson's family has been friends with the Thomases for years.
Funds from such shows have kept Parmalee on its feet and given Scott's friends and family time to be with him. More important, the generosity has made the band believe things can get better.
"It's allowed us to keep pushing forward and keep him moving on and keep the positive environment," says Matt of the community connections. "I'm not closer to anybody than I am to him."