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January 28th, 2010

INTERVIEW: East Hundred’s Will Blair Talks About Friday Night’s JMML Benefit Show

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Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML) is a rare and particularly brutal disease that typically afflicts toddlers. One of the only effective treatments is a bone marrow transplant, and even then the chance of survival is only about 50%. The JMML Foundation exists to not only help find a cure for the disease, but offer tangible financial and emotional support to children and their families suffering through illness.

Tomorrow night, three great Philly bands — East Hundred, the Swimmers, and Audible — are teaming up with Johnny Brenda’s, Victory Beer, and Y-Rock on XPN for the Victory Over Leukemia! benefit show at JB’s starting at 9 p.m. Admission is $10, and all money from ticket and Victory beer sales will go directly to the JMML Foundation.

We caught up this week with East Hundred drummer Will Blair, who helped organize the event:

So how did you get involved in setting up this show?
Well, there was this local schoolteacher, her name is Heather Boyd — she’s never really been involved in the music scene, she’s never put on a show, she’s just been a fan. She’s a great, great woman, and she approached us at one of our shows. I think she’s kinda buddies with the Swimmers. We were always talking about wanting to do a show with the Swimmers. Heather had a very close friend lose a child to JMML, so she had run a couple marathons to raise money for it, she had offered to work with this foundation. And her next idea was to get a show together. It was totally her idea. She was new to booking a show, putting on a show, promoting a show, so I offered to help, and everything just really fell into place in a really easy way. Everyone involved just sort of jumped in. And everyone had a personal connection to this disease or something very similar. One member of Audible, their younger family member dealt with a similar disease. And Mike [Kennedy], the singer from Audible, just had his first newborn, who was born very premature, so he was also dealing with very scary circumstances surrounding children.

So it all hit home for everyone?
Yeah. And the owners of Johnny Brenda’s have been close to people who’ve dealt with forms of cancer. So Heather came up with the idea, we were talking with the Swimmers about doing a show, and we’ve always wanted to play with Audible. Johnny Brenda’s is a great place to play. Someone mentioned a beer sponsorship, and within a few minutes Victory was happy to throw in a couple kegs of beer.

When was it that Heather first approached you to put on this show?
This is really funny. It was at the Swimmers CD release party, which I think was November at Kung Fu Necktie. So I’m sitting there chatting with her and the Swimmers and I was like, “You know what, another great band that we could get on this bill would be Audible,” and in through the front door walks Mike from Audible. And we’re like, this is weird. And then she’s thinking, “Kung Fu Necktie’s a cool place, Johnny Brenda’s is cool, we could do the M Room…,” and I was like, “Let’s see what we could do with Johnny Brenda’s,” and literally William [Reed], the owner of Johnny Brenda’s, walks in the front door. Total serendipity. The group of five or six of us were sitting there freaking each other out because it was all falling into place just like that.

Maybe that’s representative of what a lot of people say about the Philly music scene, that it’s so tight-knit.
Yeah, totally. It was like the perfect example of different Philly scenes coming together. Heather was saying, “Is it always like this, that everyone is so easy to work with and everyone’s so excited?” I was like, “I dunno.” I’ve been booking shows for a while now, and this one just sorta booked itself and it seems to be promoting itself because it’s a good cause.

Did you know very much about JMML before you met Heather?
Not at all. In the process, Heather schooled all of us on it and it’s a scary thing. And it’s so rare — that’s why it’s not part of everyday conversation. Being that it’s so rare there’s little research, there’s little effective treatment and things like that. And it seems to be the one sort of form of leukemia that attacks two-year-olds, three-year-olds. It’s scary. So she was very educated on the disease itself and this foundation that researches it. William had heard of JMML and he said, “I’ve been wanting to do a juvenile cancer benefit for a while but I’ve been waiting for the right time and the right bands and the right cause.”

As a band, is it important for you to get involved in benefits, various causes like this?
Yeah, it’s always something that we’re keeping our ears open for, the right one. What’s cool is getting the chance to work with people who aren’t just other musicians. We’re working with the Victory beer folks, we’re working with radio folks, we’re working with club owners, and it sort of broadens the experience of putting on a show. Most recently we participated in Brian McTear’s Weathervane Organization. I mean, that is the most personal thing a musician can be a part of because it directly supports being a musician. So that was a no-brainer for all of us. To be honest, had we had the ability to see into the future, this benefit might be for Haiti, maybe, but [JMML] is an equally just cause. This is a disease and a condition that none of us had ever heard of, and benefits like this can be just as important as anything else.

I’ve heard some people say that when the economy is in trouble, like it is now, people don’t have as much money to donate, but then again, it seems like when times are bad, people can relate more to others who are struggling and they’re liable to donate more.
Oh definitely. I think deep down the human condition will say when times are tough there’s an innate need to help. I think people are not afraid of getting out and supporting good causes. And also, I read somewhere that throughout the recession, housing is down, unemployment is up, everyone is affected, but apparently ticket sales for live music venues has stayed completely consistent. This is what I read, I’m not sure how accurate it is. Interest in seeing live music and getting out of your house, I don’t wanna say it’s recession-proof but it seems like a way to get things off your mind and relax a little bit. So if people want to come out and see a good show, and all the money that they spend on the ticket goes to a good cause, it’s a win for everybody.

What are you most looking forward to about the show? What are your expectations?
To be honest, I’m looking forward to seeing the Swimmers for the second time, Audible for the second time. And the people who are all involved — this is so important and this reminds me why I got into all of this in the first place — sometimes you play with bands and everyone’s on an ego trip and everyone’s just thinking about themselves. They finish their set and pack up and split. You don’t see that in Philly that often, but when you travel to other cities you start to see that. But everyone involved in this show are such cool people – Heather and her family, and Mike and his family, all the Swimmers folks and the people at Johnny Brenda’s…everyone’s just working well with each other. I’m looking forward to just hanging out with them. And I’m looking forward to drinking as much Victory beer as possible.

[East Hundred photo by Hanna Whitaker]

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