Elvis Costello Heads Up Benefit Show for the Musician Treatment Foundation in Austin

With T Bone Burnett & Charlie Sexton, he’ll revisit King of America

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello is coming to ACL Live at the Moody Theater in December to fundraise for the Musician Treatment Foundation, the Austin and NYC based nonprofit that provides surgery and medical care for musicians experiencing issues with their hands, shoulders, and elbows.

The King of America & Other Realms show is produced by midas-touch musician T Bone Burnett and counts Austin’s Charlie Sexton, who has been playing guitar in Costello’s band for the last year, as its musical director. The benefit concert, happening December 2, also features performances from Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal plus longtime Austin-resident Allan Mayes, who co-helmed the folk rock band Rusty with a teenage Costello (then known as D.P. MacManus) in the early Seventies. Rusty reunited this summer for an astonishingly overdue debut album The Resurrection of Rust. There are more performers to be announced, including one that has headlined the downtown venue by themselves.

The show is oriented around material from Costello’s 1986 return-to-roots album King of America, which Burnett produced. In a statement today, he expounded on the record and this occasion to revisit it:

“King Of America” was my first full-length collaboration with T Bone Burnett, who produced and cast the record. It was the first album that I made after “My Aim Is True” that was not entirely performed with the Attractions. The songs I had written invited a very different instrumental approach. T Bone took a fountain pen and wrote a cast list for an album that made my head spin, proposing and then booking players who had accompanied Elvis Presley, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan.

In 37 years since we made that record my world has opened ever more to playing and singing with a wide variety of musicians, yet the songs from “King Of America” remain close to my heart, written as they were from my understanding of American country-soul balladry and the narrative songs tradition found on my other albums that T Bone has produced; “Spike”, “Secret Profane & Sugarcane” and “National Ransom.”

It feels like time and the right occasion to fling the door open and revisit these tunes and others written from the same curiosities, inviting some friends and newer voices to enjoy “King Of America & Other Realms.”

Costello and his wife, singer and jazz pianist Diana Krall, are on the Board of Directors for the Musician Treatment Foundation, which was founded five years ago by Dr. Alton Barron, an Austin-based orthopedic surgeon who also works in New York City. MTF, with a mission simply stated as “Keep the music playing,” provides free or significantly reduced care for musicians suffering upper extremity ailments. Over a half decade, the foundation has helped hundreds of professional musicians with care that would total nearly $2 million.

Several thousand dollars of that figure could be attributed to myself, as the Musician Treatment Foundation came to my rescue – financially and physically – when I sustained a hand injury this spring. Allow my story to attest to MTF’s service to musicians:

My poor crooked finger prior to seeing Dr. Alton Barron of the Musician Treatment Foundation.

I felt no pain when my finger stopped acting like my finger. I still don’t even know exactly when it happened, other than it being during a full court basketball run in April. It took someone exclaiming “Jesus dude, look at your hand” for me to notice: my ring finger was curiously slumped over and seemingly disembodied from my brain.

What I did feel, in the following days with my digit taped to ice cream sandwich stick (because, otherwise, its unnatural angle would make onlookers queasy) was anxiety. I was worried I’d have to cancel an upcoming run of shows in Europe. I was worried that my hand, and thus my ability to play stringed instruments, would never be anything close to 100 percent.

When I tried to play the mandolin it felt like the other four workhorses on my left hand were dragging around a corpse. I canceled a few gigs and turned down even more. I almost got to the point where I was considering becoming… a drummer.

After a primary care physician checked me out and told me I’d need to see a specialist, I learned the next available appointment was six weeks away – an impossible time frame for me. So I did what many musicians do in moments of medical peril, I made a “Oh I’m so fucked” post on social media, after which I was contacted by the support staff at Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, who helped me understand my options and what each would cost. Among the options, they recommended I get in contact with the Musician Treatment Foundation and called them on my behalf.

They weren’t the only ones. Many musicians messaged me to make sure I knew about MTF. When a representative at the foundation got in touch with me, they noted that more than a couple of people had reached out and made them aware of my issue.

Over the next two months, Dr. Barron saw me for seven separate appointments, during which my ring finger evolved from a useless appendage to a fully functioning member of the band in my left hand. Beyond the evaluations, X-rays, and care instruction, Dr. Barron’s knowledge of musician-specific hand health gave me the confidence and erased the mental distress the injury was causing me. The total sum I paid: $0.00.

After our final appointment together, Dr. Barron and I celebrated by meeting up at a concert where his cousin, the infamous experimental vibraphonist, percussionist, and big-hearted artist Thor Harris, was playing. When I commended Dr. Barron on saving my hand, he joked that most of what he provided to me was therapy. It’s true: knowing that an organization like the Musician Treatment Foundation is out there giving their time and expertise to help musicians stay physically healthy helps me sleep at night.

Tickets to the one-off King of America & Other Realms concert, which raises funds that directly support MFT’s mission, go on sale Friday at 10am, here

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Elvis Costello, Musician Treatment Foundation, MTF, HAAM, Rosanne Cash, T Bone Burnett, Charlie Sexton, John Leventhal, Allan Mayes, Dr. Alton Barron, Thor Harris

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