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To benefit a new foundation, some of the state's foundational bands reconvene 

The Pressure Boys

Photo by Jonathan Drake

The Pressure Boys

Sophie Steiner never did quite fit in at the hospital. In November 2012, doctors diagnosed Steiner with germ-cell cancer. She was 14 and surrounded by young kids and old adults.

Though several studies suggest that teens and young adults face cancer more frequently than young children, they often lack the resources accorded children. In America every year, there will be around 15,000 new cancer diagnoses for those 15–24, compared to just more than 10,000 for those 14 and younger. In Britain, The Who's Roger Daltrey has even campaigned to address this deficit. That same group is raising awareness in America now through Teen Cancer America. Such patients can be overlooked in care delivery, shoehorned into age and interest categories where they don't belong.

"They're too old for pediatric care but, of course, they don't want to be with the adults. That is incredibly depressing because you're with 70-year-olds," explains Niklaus Steiner, Sophie's father.

Steiner, a director of the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC-Chapel Hill, is quick to credit the care his daughter received at UNC Hospitals. But not everyone's as fortunate, he says, a fact that struck Sophie in meeting others that shared her diagnosis.

Young adults are just developing their own voices and tastes, and they should be able to continue to do that in the hospital: That's the charge Niklaus and Lucy Steiner took from Sophie's death last August. They launched the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation to provide hospitals with more age-appropriate resources and fund access to complementary medicine like massage, meditation, yoga and acupuncture for those like Sophie. The organization takes its name from one of her poems: "Be loud/And move with grace/Explode with light/Have no fear."

This weekend, they launch the organization in earnest with a mini-festival that reflects her interests. She loved local institutions like Pepper's Pizza, the Carrboro Farmer's Market and the Triangle's music scene, so her parents imagined a weekend of music at the Cat's Cradle, catered by food trucks. Steiner reached out to some of his high school and college friends, who happened to be musicians in some of the area's most storied bands.

Two of those pals—Jody Maxwell (Sex Police, Bustello) and John Plymale (Sex Police, The Pressure Boys)—discussed the possibility while ice skating at American Tobacco in Durham with their families. Plymale had his own experience with staging benefits; in 2004, at the age of two, his daughter, Allie, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He launched several concerts and a compilation CD to raise money for the cause.

"I know what they're up against," Plymale says. "The bummer about benefits is that people generally don't go to support the cause, but they'll show up and buy tickets if it's a band they want to go see."

So he offered all he had: Six years ago, his old band, The Pressure Boys, reunited for one of those cystic fibrosis fundraisers, following a break of nearly two decades. When the members heard Sophie's story, they were ready to do it again. "I didn't even finish the sentence," Plymale says.

Cat's Cradle owner Frank Heath offered his venue free of charge; he even reached out to Mitch Easter on behalf of the Steiners and inquired about a Let's Active reunion. Though the popular idiosyncratic college rockers hadn't played since 1990, they almost reunited for Plymale's benefit in 2008. Those plans fizzled. Then in July, founding bassist Faye Hunter died, adding urgency to the prospect.

Easter was open to the idea, but he always said he'd only do it with Hunter and founding drummer Sara Romweber in tow. He threw the idea out to Romweber. Not only was she gung-ho to reunite Let's Active, but she committed her main project, the Dex Romweber Duo, too. Easter reached out to one of his old contemporaries, Game Theory bassist, Suzi Ziegler, to step into Hunter's role. She agreed.

"The weirder thing is I haven't seen her for about the same length of time since I played with Sara," says Easter. "It's a shockingly long time, but at the same time, it all feels comfortable and great."

As word about the benefit and impending reunions spread, other '80s contemporaries, including pop-rock charmers The Connells and hardcore veterans A Number of Things, volunteered their efforts, too. They filled out two nights of headliners and a matinee bill that includes former Squirrel Nut Zipper Tom Maxwell. After Maxwell's son, Esten, battled with leukemia, he knows something about how the Steiners feel. Amid the heartache, he says, there is tremendous support and compassion unseen in everyday life.

"You are made a part of this community not by choice but circumstance," says Maxwell. "You recognize beyond your own individual catastrophe that this is one of the most extraordinary communities of people you will ever meet or be a part of."

Stephen Akin was one member of the music community who helped make the benefit happen. He played in A Number of Things, who start Saturday night's show just before Let's Active. But Billy Barefoot will replace Akin; the beloved musical gadfly and unofficial sixth member of the Sex Police died in March at the age of 49. For those who built the show, that adds an extra level of poignancy.

"The thing I think Sophie would've liked most about this is it's just me and some of my high school buddies sitting around Caffe Driade talking and planning the show for the last six months, including Stephen Akin," Steiner says. "It just meant so much that we were all able to get together and do this."


Who's loud?

Reunion extravaganzas like this weekend's Be Loud! benefits are invitations for nostalgia, but they're also possible primers for younger listeners to get acquainted with bands that broke up before they could get into the rock club. Here's a quick guide to who's playing and why they matter in local music history.

THE PRESSURE BOYS (FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHTS)

Formed by a quartet of Chapel Hill High School students in 1981, The Pressure Boys featured a lively blend of ska and college rock. At their height, they were popular throughout the Southeast. Over seven years, they toured nationally, recorded EPs with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon and delivered a self-produced 1987 album Krandlebanum Monumentus before breaking up. Its members would go on to form The Sex Police and work with Don Henley, Cibo Matto, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Superchunk.

THE CONNELLS (FRIDAY NIGHT)

The longest-lived local act to come out of the '80s jangle-pop renaissance, Raleigh's The Connells scored a college radio hit through their second album, 1987's Boylan Heights. They enjoyed modest success with the next two albums and scored a platinum UK hit with 1993's Ring, but the advent of grunge shunted less melodically challenged bands like The Connells to the fringes. They self-released their last album, Old School Dropouts, in 2001, and they continue to play throughout the region and record songs toward their ninth album.

DEX ROMWEBER DUO (FRIDAY NIGHT)

An extraordinary guitar player and singer, Dex Romweber has a musical palette that runs from fiery blues and ribald rockabilly to moody ballads and traditional country. His croon has an Elvis-like twang, while his unhinged playing can seem like his fingers are talking in tongues. Since forming the Flat Duo Jets in 1983, Romweber's released at least 16 albums in various configurations. Four have come with his sister and drummer, Sara Romweber.

LET'S ACTIVE (SATURDAY NIGHT)

Noted producer Mitch Easter played with Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple in early power pop precursors before the latter two formed the dBs and he launched Let's Active. Though informed by the magnetism of power-pop, they featured intoxicating psychedelic elements, too. Drummer Sara Romweber departed after 1984's debut LP, Cypress. Lineups fluctuated until 1990, when the band broke up. Easter now concentrates on production at his Kernersville studio, Fidelitorium.

A NUMBER OF THINGS (SATURDAY NIGHT)

Led by one of Chapel Hill's most irrepressible personalities, Stephen Akin, A Number of Things were part of the Triangle punk scene in the early-to-mid-'80s. They self-released a 14-song full-length, Toasterhead, in 1985. Akin died in March, so longtime friend Billy Barefoot (Fearless Vampire Killers) will take over his lead role.

After a spell in the Triangle, Chris Parker lives in Cleveland, where he writes about music and politics.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Structural work."

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