When 11 local bands gather at Raleigh bar White Collar Crime on Sunday, anyone can walk through the door for free. There's no cover. But don't expect many attendees to shirk the suggested donation of $10: The diverse mix of bands—from the snarling miscreants of Rocket Cottage and the riff lords of The Trousers to the tawdry trash talk of The Infamous Sugar and the elegant tunes of Caitlin Cary—share the bill to support Tom Cushman.
Cushman, who's played bass in Ass, The Chickens and Table since moving to Raleigh from South Carolina with fellow musician Kenny Roby 18 years ago, first went to the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia in July. Two weeks later, he was admitted to intensive care and shuffled between WakeMed in Raleigh and various University of North Carolina hospitals. Doctors drained fluid from his lungs, administered multiple CT scans and performed a tracheotomy while Cushman was zonked on a morphine drip. Almost a month later, he was able to move into his sister's house in Raleigh, though he was temporarily re-admitted to the hospital last week. Cushman, 41, still can't return to his job as a bartender at the comedy club Goodnight's. And according to his sister, Kate, the bills for those July visits alone already surpass $70,000. Like 46 million other Americans, this veteran of the first Gulf War doesn't have health insurance. The bills, one imagines, might be as frightening as his bout with pneumonia itself.
"I've known Tom for 15 years. He's always been a part of my Raleigh reality," says Caitlin Cary, who, aside from her time in Tres Chicas and Whiskeytown and her tenure as a solo artist, lends her talents to causes—a sick friend like Alejandro Escovedo, the movement to prohibit dog tethering, Barack Obama's presidential campaign—each year. "He's a champion friend, a music maker, a writer and a mainstay. I figure everyone feels fondly about him, and everyone who knows him would sing a song to entertain and/ or support him in a down time."
While an important goal of the benefit is to raise money for Cushman, Cary realizes that even a packed house won't extricate Cushman from debt. But this kind of event shows the sick that friends and strangers want to help, she hopes: "We know we'll only be a drop in the bucket as far as money goes. Benefits like this are about money, but they're more about a unified show of support."
Mike McDonald, who organized the event, agrees: "[The money] will be enough to make a difference for him in the immediate sense. I think Tom just knowing that the community is thinking about him will be good for him mentally."
For McDonald, the benefit not only demonstrates the love that so many people have for Cushman but also that the support system within the local music community spans generations and styles. After all, no two bands playing sound very much alike. Russell DeSena of Rocket Cottage has been making music in Raleigh since he was a student at N.C State in the early '90s, but this will be only the third show for Sea Legs, a quintet of 20-somethings.
"Tom is my friend and neighbor," says McDonald. "This is something that any one of us in the community would do for a friend. The Raleigh music scene is stepping up."
The Tom Cushman Benefit on Sunday, Sept. 27, at White Collar Crime (319 W. Davie St., Raleigh) starts at 3 p.m. and likely runs until the bar closes at 2 a.m. Rocket Cottage, Man Will Destroy Himself, Gringo, The Trousers, The Infamous Sugar, Richard Bacchus and the Luckiest Girls, Sea Legs, Kenny Roby, The T's, The Bleeding Hearts and Caitlin Cary will perform. The suggested donation is $10. For more information, see the Facebook group "Tom Cushman, Get Well Soon!"