Cowtown Cancer Ball: Ft Worth, TX

Something very cool that will endure for years began quietly yet effectively in Fort Worth, Texas on Sunday, the 30th of June, 2013.

Coordinator Kim Pilot takes in the festivities.

At the Longhorn Saloon, a venerable and well-run establishment up on the hill of Exchange Street, an outpouring of love and sacrifice from the music community raised awareness of the sort of local charity which exists in many places around all of us yet often goes unnoticed.  Men and women whose lives are devoted to the love of the song, and who consequently see the world through a prism that the majority of us in the jaded workaday world often lack, gave of their talent and their time and their hard-won gas money to play for free on what is often their one day off.   It’s hard out there on the road, see, chewing up blacktop in the darkest of night and breaking dawn just to get to the next gig.  While there’s inspiration in the stars out on the two-lane blacktop, there’s also exhaustion at the wheel.  Nights spent driving, days spent in cheap motels or on someone’s couch?   Those aren’t always conducive to the craft of songwriting.  The bad food, the Red Bulls and Coca-Colas?  They aren’t real good for the mood, as a rule.  Combined with the aches and pains of constant road trips, the battles to get booked at new venues, the overhead required to pay for new equipment and vehicle maintenance and on and on?  They can sap a soul.

Things those of us out on the dark side of the mic never think about.  We show up on a Saturday night assuming the band’s as happy as we are to be there.  Maybe they are.  But while we’re blowing off the steam of another lousy work week, they’re just clocking back in.

The pay often sucks.

Venues cheat artists regularly.

It’s a cruel irony that the ones whose gifts often most enrich our lives are the ones whose sacrifices most often go altogether unnoticed.

And yet, when someone puts a benefit together for a cause, the artists somehow always find a way to show up.   They’re usually beat down tired, in desperate need of a day off, and often broke.  Yet they show up, they sling their guitar straps over their shoulders, and they pour out more beautiful ounces of the wells of their souls that should, by all rights, have long ago run dry.

Sometimes when they do this, it’s genuinely amazing.

Brian Burns, Ronny Spears, Jerrod Medulla

The Cowtown Cancer Ball was a shining example.   It wasn’t just a regional affair, although in Texas “regional” is a shifty little term in its own right.  Nothing here is close to anything else, and North Texas musicians who played Fort Worth on the 30th weren’t generally from right around the corner.  They came from places like Allen and Van Alstyne, Garland and Plano.  Hour, hour and a half drives, easy.  Maybe more if traffic or construction make an appearance.  Many who had gigs the night before came from even farther.  Oklahoma City.  The Texas Panhandle.  The Hill Country.  Hard drives, long drives, with no couch or welcoming wife in sight at the end of the road.

Still more came from farther parts of Texas.  Artists based in the Hill Country made the drive up, played, and made the drive home.  One came from Houston and returned after doing his part.

One even came from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jeff Hopson, Jud Block, Brett Watts, Seth Turner.

That’s as genuine an outpouring of heart and soul, kindness and generosity, as you’re liable to ever experience.  And most of them knew that, as with most benefits, they’d be playing in a song swap style.  Maybe 3-4 songs by the time their group’s hour was up.  They came anyway. And mercy, did they ever play.  They played their hearts out, they poured themselves into their songs, and they put on one of the hands down best music events these old ears have ever had the privilege to witness.

After a heartfelt opening prayer from Van Lawrence, Texas’ favorite MC James Mills took the reins and got things going. Robby White, Ronny Spears, Tom McElvain and Fritz Schultz led off, accompanied by the ever impressive Aaron Mingus on fiddle.  That group alone has the songs and vocal power and heart to carry any event on its own.

Tom McElvain, Robby White, Ronny Spears, Aaron Mingus.

Magic, that’s what that was.

Samantha Ann Little

And when their set was done, know what they did?  Tired, roadworn, beat up?  Didn’t matter.  They stuck around.  Visited with fans and friends alike, supported their compatriots who followed.

Brigitte London, who’d come all the way from Luckenbach, opted to split her set with Samantha Ann Little who’s beginning to make her own name in central Texas.  They’d made the drive together and did their part every bit as well as the guys who’d opened up.   Derec Stanislav, who’s in medical school preparing for a life of helping the sick, acquitted himself well.  Jason Chapman, who’d left Houston way too early and had a long drive back ahead of him, unleashed a vocal that’s a blessing in its own right.  Kevin Deal, the stonemason whose honest and gritty songs and bareknuckle faith have earned him universal respect?  Flat out delivered.  Jay Johnson, one of the most entertaining men alive who’s never cared about much besides using his gifts to enrich others, delivered.

And on it went.  A veritable roll call of the cream of the crop where Texas music is concerned.  Bodie Powell.  Wade Hatton.  Bryan Adam Joyner.  Jeff Hopson.  Brett Watts.  Brian by-God Burns.  Jerrod Medulla.  Jud Block.  Saille Branch.  And a guy who’s going to do just fine in Texas, Seth Turner, who’d come all the way from Vegas to participate.

Brian Burns, Ronny Spears, Jerrod Medulla.

Every one of these came on their own dime.  They laughed and sang and told stories and shared their souls, the warmth of their spirits.  They made a difference.

Chris Campbell, Bodie Powell, Wade Hatton, Bryan Adam Joyner.

Here’s who they made it for:

Cancer Care Services.  This organization has been in Fort Worth since 1946, providing care and support.  What they do these days is special.  They find the people whose lives are in a shambles as cancer wrecks their world.  The ones who are faced with a choice between buying groceries for their kids or treatment for themselves.  If you’re a parent, you know what you’d choose in that spot.  You’d feed your kids.  You’d choose to die slow before you’d let them go hungry.  CCS makes that brutal choice go away.  They find the person who paid for chemo but couldn’t cover the electric bill, and when that person comes home and can’t stop retching in the middle of a Texas July, their power’s on and the air conditioner works.  You get the drift.

We’re not talking here about the cure.  There are mountains of money and armies of wonderful people focused on cracking that nut, and God bless ‘em for it.  Let’s pray they succeed, and soon.

But in the meantime, the struggle gets very real very quickly for those in the middle of the fight of and for their lives.  It’s those people that Cancer Care Services strives to support.

And it’s that charity and those people that the artists sacrificed their day off and their time and their gas money to support.  Gas ain’t cheap these days.  Life’s not overly easy for any of us.  But some of the best among us came to offer their talents and a piece of their souls to aid neighbors who are sinking fast.

In the process, they put on a phenomenal display of music.

Brett Watts, Brian Burns, Dave Pilot

The Cowtown Cancer Ball will be an annual event.  If you’re in north Texas and missed it this year, don’t worry; it will come back around.   And if you’re in Tarrant or Johnson counties, Cancer Care Services will be here every day.  You don’t have to wait to lend a hand if you’re of a mind to do so.   If you’re in other parts of Texas or the world, perhaps this is your opportunity to learn for the first time (as I did) that an organization like CCS even exists.  I had no clue, and maybe you didn’t either.  But it does, and there are others.  Not just for cancer, either.

So many around us are hurting, every day.  So many ways we can help.  The secret is not the million dollar donation, wonderful as those are.  No, the key is small gestures in large numbers.  And most of us can do that, can’t we?  Make our own small gestures, and be a part of a rising tide of help and aid to our fellow wanderers on this rock?

My eyes were opened to a world I hadn’t stopped to consider the very existence of.  I won’t be looking away.

No way I could, given the example set by so many artists who came from so far and gave so freely of their own hearts and gifts.   For me, Sunday June 30th was a day off and a chance to enjoy something great.  For them, it was another workday.  Just one that didn’t pay, didn’t help buy a bottle of ibuprofen to cover up the pains and aches of the road and horrible sleep patterns and lousy food.  But they came anyway, they came gladly, they even began auctioning off house concerts to each other as a way to raise funds.   Let that sink in.  The ones who’d already sacrificed and spent money just to participate and support began competing with each other in order to do more.

Musicians who do it for the love of the song see the world in ways most of us don’t.  Often, their songs are enough to inspire us and touch us and better our lives on their own.  But sometimes, as at the Cowtown Cancer Ball, those same artists’ view of the world comes clearly into focus and the inspiration stems from headwaters far deeper and far more substantial than any collection of vocals and notes.

Sometimes, it’s just as simple as pure hearts and giving souls.

~ Dave Pilot

(Ed. Note:  In the interests of full disclosure, the Cowtown Cancer Ball was put on by The Pilot Agency owned and operated by Kimberly Hyer-Pilot.  She’s Dave’s wife.  Dave is not part of nor affiliated with The Pilot Agency.  But he is fairly proud of Kim. And honored to be married to a woman whose desire is to help.)





Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.


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