What goes around …

December was a very bad month for Eugene Strobe. Within the span of a few weeks, the local rocker had to contend with an appendix removal surgery and a car crash that totaled his van. Like countless area artists, Strobe has neither health insurance nor the immediate resources to deal with his swiftly mounting medical costs. So the call for help went out to the rock ’n’ roll cavalry.

Strobe’s local roots run deep — as a flexible multi-instrumentalist, he has done time with the Dirtbombs, the Witches, the Sirens, the Gore Gore Girls and the Sights, among others, and has served as a producer for the Cyril Lords and Capitol Cities.

With such bona fides, it was easy to line up a roster of friends and well-wishers willing to donate their time and help to support one of their own with a night of fund-raising music. The event, called Karma Kickback, was organized by Carey Gustafson of Johnny Headband (and formerly of Outrageous Cherry); she, like Strobe, is a frequent fund-raiser participant. She envisions the event as a fun grassroots effort help out a fellow musician.

“Frankly it’s a great way to continue celebrating the music. For a local music scene, it’s tight, I don’t care what anybody says, it is. And on any given night everybody comes to support each other’s shows and events,” Gustafson says.

Strobe’s situation is alarmingly common in local music circles, and the altruistic gesture by his fellow musicians is, at this point, predictable. The increasing frequency of benefit shows has led some to wonder if they’re merely a band-aid on a gaping wound.

The primary audience for these events tends to come from the same extended family of musicians, a tightly knit peer group that, upon closer inspection, begins to resemble a shallow pond. Many performers belong to more than one band, creating a honeycomb of overlapping side projects, one-offs and super groups that help to make the scene incestuous, albeit loyal.

Just look at the benefit’s lineup: there’s Girls Gone Mild, a unit formed specifically for this event featuring the Larkspurs’ Loretta and Julie Lucas and Liz Star from Birds vs. Bees. Also on hand will be Na$hinal Debt, lead by Strobe’s former Witches bandmate John Nash. Troy Gregory and the Stepsisters headline. Detroit’s spirit of charity is by no means limited to aiding fellow musicians. Last year saw benefits for tsunami and Hurricane Katrina victims as well as worthy causes such as Pink Ribbon Riot, and one of Strobe’s favorite charities, Project Backpack.

Benefit shows have become the default solution for the frequent woes and unforeseen calamites of modern living — the quickest and easiest answer for the persistent financial problems that assault local musicians and artists. But with so much giving, is Detroit suffering from benefit fatigue?

Gustafson tries to remain positive: “I guess it’s something that could be taken advantage of in one way or another but I just think people do it because they need to.”

But the bigger question is this: How often can the same well be tapped before drought sets in?

One prominent local musician, who asked to remain anonymous, has doubts about the effectiveness of such events: “The Detroit rock scene is a bunch of musicians and artists and we’re all broke. Everybody is working ... and nobody has medical coverage, so it seems pretty pointless to keep doing these things. [But] how do you turn it down without looking like an asshole?”

Every well-intentioned charity show sees performing bands not earning much-needed cash that could help avoid a crisis in the first place.

The health care bugaboo is a persistent nightmare, and as counter to the constant benefit stopgap, the prospect of some kind of general fund or musicians union seems remote. But Eugene Strobe could still use the help. And the show(s) must go on.


Thursday, June 15 at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. Admission is $10. Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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