Exploring Entertainment in Florida's 850 & Beyond
The Rock for a Cure Chronicles
by Rob Perez
PART 1 – Nine Years of Progress
In 2008, Rock For a Cure made its debut at The Block in Fort Walton Beach, FL on Martin Luther King weekend. An interesting concept of a multi-band, multi-genre indoor festival surrounding the goal of raising funds to help defeat cancer in all its forms. The first event was a modest affair – just some locals coming together to rock out, and fighting for their loved ones.
The Block is a 3-room venue, so there’s a touch of drinking – but that drink, door charge, and raffle? It’s all to raise money in the name of killing cancer. All of the bands, the staff, the crew – they’re all chipping in their energies and time in the hope of raising those few extra dollars will help out the American Cancer Society in their fight. No one’s getting paid because everyone wants that money to properly do its part. 8 events down and the 9th upcoming, how could something this generous make it past its first year?
“As an attendee, what I remember the most is truly being touched by the bands who seemed to be doing this event for the great cause that it is,” says Dharlene Siren, wife of RFAC creator Tommy Siren. “After a few more years of needing more hands on deck, I was happy to get more involved… Seeing all the people volunteer their help has been very touching to me. It’s the one time of the year where my faith in humanity is restored. I have this unexplainable experience; it warms my heart.”
Crystal Bahringer, also a multiple-year attendee, echoes those sentiments, “(Rock For A Cure) brings together people who are struggling with this terrible disease – whether it be themselves, a family member, or even a beloved pet – and, for one night, we all feel comfort, love, and support. What makes it more special is seeing your favorite bands pour their love for this into their music. It’s so much – you just feel it in your soul!”
Those bands, past and present, who have passed through The Block‘s double doors include local favorites like Heritage, Continuum, and The Helvetica Effect all the way to nationally touring acts like Cowboy Troy and Craig Wayne Boyd of “The Voice” fame. They all truly bring the best of themselves and their genres, seemingly specifically to this night.
The bands Shenanigans and Something To Yield, bring that passion to R4AC every single year since it’s inception. Jereme Rightley, drummer for both bands, explains it plainly, “It’s just another form of true love. Everyone feels it in the air. And every band knows why they’re there and what they’re playing for. There’s no need to talk about it. Just play. It just gets poured out on stage, now 9 years worth. This is as family as it gets. And we‘re gonna do this until there‘s a cure…and probably even after! (laughs)”
On the other end of the spectrum, acts like Destin’s The Wide Open and Pensacola rockers Paracosm are officially performing their first RFAC this year. Both have members who have previously participated in the event – but 2017 marks their first time under these projects. “To be asked to play something with this sort of history and reputation, that to me is an amazing feeling,” says Paracosm’s drummer Bryan Norris. Paracosm’s front man, James Tangman agrees, “(We’re) able to turn our passion for music into a tangible effort in the fight for the cure.”
Whereas Rock For A Cure does place a lot of trust on it’s pool of local talent, that pool agrees – as Rightley explained they all know ‘why they’re there.’
Therein lies the crux and connection of the big “c” words – cancer and its cure. As inspirational as this event has been to those who have lived to tell the tale, and the tens of thousands of dollars RFAC has raised for the American Cancer Society, it is too often sobering how far we may be from curing this thing and the knowing of how many people are touched by this gruesome disease. All those we’ve spoken to leading into the event – the bands, the staff, the crew – have experienced cancer’s devastation one way or the other. Jonathan Howard, a RFAC veteran and former drummer of the Fort Walton Beach’s rock band Vantage Point, shared his current family battle with cancer, “(Name omitted) was diagnosed with renal synovial sacroma – essentially, a big cancerous tumor engulfing her kidney in October 2015. We’ve been to the treatment center in Houston, TX about 10 separate times over the last year to go through chemotherapy and, ultimately, major surgery to have the tumor (and kidney) removed. It’s a soul crushing thing to watch someone you love go through chemotherapy; it is some evil shit. We’re not out of the woods yet, but things are looking up.”
Rhonda Lightell-Brown, multiple-year attendee and mother Shenanigans guitarist Rob Brown, has deeply experienced the devastation that cancer can cause. “(Rob’s) father, my husband, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2000. He lost the battle in 2010.” She wrote to us in a letter, “Bob and I were married for 29 years. When he passed away, I felt so totally alone. Of course, I had my children, friends, family… but my soul mate wasn’t there.”
However, Lightell-Brown and Howard further emphasized the feeling of community that RFAC helps create, even in dark times. “You think you are the only person to feel this bad…. Then you go to RFAC,” shares Lightell-Brown, “You meet people who have walked and are still walking the path you are on. You meet people who truly understand where you are. You can talk with people who help you realize you are not alone at all.” Howard shares a similar sentiment, “Knowing there were other people in my social circle who had dealt with the same issues is of some comfort…. Knowing that events like RFAC exist still is really supportive.”
As Rock For A Cure approaches its 9th year – its song remains the same: Love. Support. Charity. To help find the cure. And to quote the American Cancer Society’s recent campaign, “To finish the fight.”
These themes resonate constantly with all those affected by the concert, past and present. When those doors open on Sunday, January 15th, 2017 at The Block in Fort Walton Beach, FL, it will officially be 9 years since the initial modest affair. Each year with a grander scale while the event remains refreshingly homegrown. Attendees from all walks of life – different cities, states, and even countries in some cases – come together to rock, fight for those we love, and honor those we lost. We pay the door charge, drink, eat, and we buy raffle tickets as all money is raised in the name of eradicating cancer.
This generous event continues due to the strength of a caring community. “I love that I can walk into any of the rooms (at The Block) and strike up a conversation with anyone there, and feel an instant connection…even with someone I’ve never met before and may never see again,” shares Emma Williams, a 5 time attendee who aims to make this year’s #6. “I love that I can walk up to any member of any of the bands that play that night and be welcomed as a part of the RFAC family. I love that even someone as shy and socially awkward as myself feels comfortable and at home enough to attend alone, knowing that I will be surrounded by friends.”
Learn more at the official Facebook Event listing: https://www.facebook.com/events/1617694598527393/