Playback: HAAM Payback

Austin music says thanks for saving our butt, HAAM

Nakia and his polyp (Photo by John Anderson)

All 365, the small staff at Health Alliance for Austin Musicians works to connect the city's musicmakers with health care opportunities. On Tuesday, Sept. 1, musicians return the favor, performing at pop-up concerts in grocery stores, banks, office buildings, and even McDonald's to raise money for the local nonprofit.

HAAM Benefit Day brings home the bacon, securing one-third of the organization's annual operating budget, but the fundraiser's success hinges on broad community involvement. Philanthropic donations arrive on checks with four and five zeroes; real estate mogul Gary Keller's All ATX brand has pledged $100,000, longtime benefactors Whole Foods donates 5% from all local stores that day, and new backer McDonald's has promised 10% of their 11am-2pm earnings from 67 nearby franchises. Meanwhile, individual supporters – musicians lending talents and fans dropping cash in coffers – cultivate HBD's grassroots essence.

The signature day has grown so expansive, with a record 200 performances, that the joke around HAAM's office is, "This isn't a fundraiser – it's a festival!" That level of musician participation reflects the community's appreciation for the local institution, which has been so effective in its decade-long existence that health care wasn't even listed as a concern in this summer's Austin Music Census.

"That's a huge home run for us," says HAAM Director Reenie Collins, "but I don't want people to forget, because if we stopped, it would go right back to being a problem."

The sad truth is most of HAAM's 2,000 members don't earn enough to qualify for coverage through Obamacare, and while straight jobs often come with insurance, music careers typically don't.

Nakia Reynoso knows firsthand how health problems can threaten a musician's livelihood. The powerhouse vocalist, who currently serves as chair of the Austin Music Commission, was diagnosed this month with a hemorrhagic polyp on his vocal cords. The injury, caused by vocal overexertion, has major implications for a singer, including hoarseness and shortness of breath. Surgery's required, followed by four to six weeks of vocal rest.

"It was a dark moment," sighs Reynoso, who made his name nationally on NBC's The Voice and suddenly found himself without one. "I had to turn down a gig at the Paramount opening for Christopher Cross, I had to cancel a show for Black Fret who've nominated me for their 2015 grant, and I had to call off a speaking engagement in Nashville for MusiCares. I don't think there's anything worse as an artist than having to cancel a show."

Immediately after a HAAM-affiliated throat specialist diagnosed his condition, Reynoso drove to the HAAM offices for help. He's among the endeavor's longest-running members, and he utilized their services to facilitate a septum repair surgery in 2012. Even though this procedure is outside their purview, they advised him on how and where to proceed. In the following days, Reynoso consulted with several specialists and decided to undergo KTP laser surgery at the UT Voice Center in San Antonio.

"That's what HAAM is based on – that collaborative thing," says Collins. "If we can't do it, can we collaborate with someone else to help get it done."

This week, Reynoso underwent surgery and will soon start rehabilitation with a HAAM-partnered speech pathologist. Optimally, he'll return with a stronger voice than he's had since 2011 when he experienced his first vocal hemorrhage. That means there's no HBD performance in the cards for Nakia this year, but he'll soon be back to sing HAAM's praises.

Playback's HAAM Day Picks:

Shinyribs, Whole Foods (Downtown), noon

Tex Thomas, Whole Foods (Gateway), noon

Hard Proof, Whole Earth Provision Co. (Westgate), 5:30pm

Sweet Spirit, Waterloo Records, 7pm

Jacob Jaeger, White Horse, 8pm

Jon Dee Graham, High Road on Dawson, 8pm

The Well, Palm Door on Sixth, 9pm

Bluebonnets, the Townsend, 9:30pm

Croy & the Boys, Sam's Town Point, 9:30

Alejandro Escovedo, Continental Club, 10pm

Memories of Red 7

During East Cameron Folkcore's spirited tour kickoff at Red 7 on Saturday night, frontman Jesse Moore raised a glass to the soon-to-be-shuttered venue. "For us punks who moved to Austin looking for music and found Sixth Street, all we needed was to come around the corner and discover Red 7. Thank you guys for the house that you built!"

The 9-year-old Downtown club houses similarly personal connections for distortion-inclined sects. Before they serve a last call on Friday with Nashville Pussy, Valient Thorr, and Riverboat Gamblers, "Playback" grilled four Red 7 owners about favorite musical memories at the venue.

Jared Cannon, Red 7 owner: "Trash Talk with Iron Age in December 2012; every time These Arms Are Snakes or The Bronx played; the At the Drive-In reunion show was insane; Torche was always great and so were Mammoth Grinder and Power Trip. And whenever Captured! by Robots played, I got to talk about Star Trek: The Next Generation with JBOT for hours."

Johnny Sarkis, Red 7 owner: "Reigning Sound [March 2013] was the perfect show all around and great to see one of my favorite bands in that club; Midnight [Chaos in Tejas, 2012] was a super-hot, sweaty mess and over-packed with some of the smelliest people in the country, a trademark import of Timmy Hefner's festival. It was perfect for the Midnight guys to play off of."

Tyson Swindell, Red 7 owner: "Green Day [November 2011] had been in Austin doing pre-production when we got them for a secret tour warm-up show. That was one of the best experiences I've had at a concert, whether it was my bar or not; getting At the Drive In's reunion right before they played Coachella was incredible. That night was special for me because I listened to them growing up and used to go see them in Amarillo; Rise Against canceled at Stubb's, so their opening acts [Alkaline Trio/Thrice/Gaslight Anthem, October 2008] played a last-minute show at Red 7."

Graham Williams, Red 7/Transmission owner: "That At the Drive-In show was awesome for me. I've booked and seen ATDI a dozen times, at least, back in the day, but getting to put on the first reunion show they did and hearing them in that room brought such a smile to my face. It's also such a great smaller room for bands on their way up. There have been countless acts that were great to see before they blew up, like Future Islands, Run the Jewels, and Mayer Hawthorne. Catching bands like that before they move to bigger rooms is what seeing live music is about."

Half Notes

Skate! Hundred Visions' "Our Ritual" and Black Pistol Fire's "Hipster Shakes" soundtrack the highly anticipated Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 video game, arriving Sept. 29 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Virtual shredders take note.

Big Cat, a local blues-rock supa-group featuring supreme soul vocalist Malford Milligan, guitarist Dave Sebree, and bassist Roscoe Beck premieres at Threadgill's Downtown on Saturday. The quintet first convened to record a track for the new All ATX CD, but felt so inspired they knocked out a full album. "We know how to play the blues, but this band has some serious energy that will knock you out," says Milligan.

Vulcan Gas Company updates the ancient celebration of Vulcanalia, a party to appease their namesake god of fire, with a free all-day concert on Saturday. Instead of traditional fiery animal sacrifices, the Sixth Street venue hosts sword swallowers, fire breathers, aerialists, and freaks performing between sets by Capayac, Gobi, Cornerstone, Dead Love Club, etc. "This is a chance for us to show what our space can do with live bands, not just DJs," says owner Marc Piatkowski.

Gary Clark Jr. exhibited his game-changing evolution on Monday with an Austin City Limits taping, utilizing backup vocalists, the Hard Proof horns, and even playing keyboard. His second studio LP, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, arrives Sept. 11.

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Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, HAAM, Nakia Reynoso, Reenie Collins, Red 7, At the Drive-In, Hundred Visions, Gary Clark Jr., Vulcan Gas Company, Big Cat, Malford Milligan

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