Exploring Entertainment in Florida's 850 & Beyond
The Rock for a Cure Chronicles
by Rob Perez
PART 2 – The Brothers Siren
Rock For A Cure, the cancer benefit that is now an annual staple at The Block in Fort Walton Beach every January – is synonymous with the words ‘hopeful,’ ‘triumphant,’ and downright ‘fun.’ Those words are also used to describe those who lend their time to create this event – the fans, the volunteers, the sponsors, the venue, and the bands who occupy those stages every year. Today, 850ME takes a moment to speak to the architect himself, Tommy Siren, and get his own words about the benefit he created 9 events ago.
With the help of his brother Teddy, Tommy organized an event that not only brings the local community together for a great cause, but has become something of a mecca for local, regional and, now, national artists & musicians to flock to for a bevy of talent in all genres. 850ME’s Rob Perez, a musician and producer well versed in the local area music scene, has known the brothers Siren for over a decade in and out of said music scene, so it only felt right that he be the one to sit down with Tommy and Teddy in a candid round-table discussion to discuss the past, present, and future of Rock For A Cure.
RP: So, first thing’s first – let’s get the official story on tape as to how this whole thing, Rock For A Cure, came to be…
TOMMY SIREN: New Year’s Eve, 2007, going into ‘08. Me and some friends were talking about how in the old days…mid-to-late 90’s, early 2000’s…any time someone was in need, we would throw a “benefit” show to help them out. The Jimmy’s Car Broke Down, Karen Got Pregnant And The Baby Daddy Is Gone, Willie’s Brother Died Benefit Show. You named it, we did it. All the money – door, bar, whatever – would go to whoever was in need. I always thought that it would be cool if I could set something up on a larger scale to benefit a greater cause. A few months later, we got that cause…
TEDDY SIREN: In March of 2008, Tommy and I lost our great aunt to pancreatic cancer. It was so devastating and it just came out of nowhere. It was fast, it was vicious, and by the time she was diagnosed, it was already too late. Then, just a few months later, cancer took Jereme’s (Jereme Rightley, drummer for both Something To Yield and Shenanigans) grandparents…that was the last straw for me.
TOMMY: We sat at a double funeral for Jereme’s grandparents. They both passed from cancer that same weekend. As I sat there, that was when I came up with the idea.
TEDDY: We had other members in our family that were battling it and knew so many other friends that were dealing with the same thing; I think that it was really the only cause that made sense for us. I know for me, when Tom told me the idea, I didn’t need any convincing. I wanted to DO something…anything to fight back. Might as well do it with music.
RP: Given the nature of the benefit – that all proceeds, ALL of them, door, bar, whatever, was going to be going to a charity, I imagine the initial pitching of this to venues, sponsors, even bands was…ummm…hard.
TOMMY: Luckily, The Block was more than happy with the initial pitch. Door, food, raffles, t-shirts (which are donated by The Block)…those all go to the American Cancer Society. As far as selling bands on playing for free, that has always been a challenge. Luckily, there has always been an abundant amount of GREAT bands that have always been willing to do the event for free. In fact, the bands I ended up with who were willing to do it for free? They’ve brought SO much more than any of the bands who wanted to be paid for it ever could.
RP: Honestly, how did year one pan out? We didn’t come on board with The Helvetica Effect until year two…it was obviously good enough for The Block to say “Hey…let’s do this again…”
TEDDY: Year one was…interesting. (laughs)
TOMMY: Year one was the year of ALL the mistakes. That year we learned what NOT to do.
TEDDY: It was a great idea that we were all gung-ho for but, honestly, we had no idea what the hell we were doing and there were things that we just couldn’t have seen coming. Like Tommy said, it was the “learning year.”
TOMMY: Year two was when it kind of found it’s groove. We had found all the right acts, the way to advertise, etc. It really came together that second year.
TEDDY: Year two…I’d love to say that I can remember it loud and clear, but that was the first year that Shenanigans played as well as Something To Yield AND the event just happened to fall on my birthday sooooooooo…(laughs)…after a certain point in that night, my memory gets a little fuzzy. So, I’m just gonna have to agree with Tom.
TOMMY: Bottom line – without the mistakes of the first year, we would have never known what to do the second year.
RP: And here we are. We’re on the eve of RFAC 9; tens of thousands of dollars raised for the American Cancer Society…national acts…fans and friends coming from, really, all over just to be a part of this year after year. How does that make you feel knowing that you’ve helped create, more or less, a bit of a national cancer benefit concert?
TOMMY: I’m just glad people care enough to come out year after year! And not only coming every year just to support, but actually looking forward to it. I’ve had people come up to me saying it’s their new tradition – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Rock For A Cure. It’s fun to know that it has become a part of the fan’s lives as much as it has become a part of mine.
RP: Looking back over these last 9 years, any moments really stand out for you?
TOMMY: It was either year two or three…I was helping Wayne Hall sound check before the doors opened. I was just venting a little to him – about how I was stressing on the event going well, if anyone was going to show…things like that. He was telling me not to freak out and that everything would be fine. I then listened to him play “Stand By Me” as his sound check. It was in that moment I truly realized that the success of the event wasn’t even going to be measured in dollars, but in how people feel after going to the event. If someone who could come to my event who had been having a tough go because of cancer and could forget about it for the 5 hours or so they were there…then, it would be a successful event.
TEDDY: As silly as it seems, my favorite part of the event is always when we do our toast. You know the toast I’m talking about. (laughs)
RP: (laughs) Ahhh, yes. THE TOAST.
TEDDY: It’s the part of the night when we all raise our drinks in the air and, at the top of our voices, we all yell “FUCK CANCER!” That’s my stand out moment. Every time. You look out there at everyone and you can see it in their faces…. You can feel it when they say it. It hits you right in the chest and you know, you just know that every single person in that room feels it.
RP: Piggy backing off of that, any regrets within the same time frame?
TOMMY: At this past one (RFAC 8), I got into a fight with my friend Jack Daniels. I lost. (laughs) Don’t remember most of the night. I’m told it was quite successful.
TEDDY: Yep, that was RFAC 2 for me. (laughs) The only real regret that I have is that this event didn’t come about sooner.
RP: What do you think is in or should be the future for Rock For A Cure?
TOMMY: Next year is the 10th year…like I said, we always try to make it bigger and better every year. Thanks to The Block, we’ve been lucky enough to have acts like Craig Wayne Boyd from The Voice – he was FANTASTIC, by the way. We have also been fortunate enough to have Ray Scott twice now, Cowboy Troy…in addition to a few other Nashville stars who have dropped by to play the event. This year, we have the absolute best talent that the Panhandle has to offer…
TEDDY: We all felt that this year’s lineup was just so damn strong with the multiple genres and genuine talent from our area alone.
TOMMY: Heritage, The Wide Open, Continuum, The Okaloosa Sound…each year, it gets harder and harder to top. As for what to expect for the future…I can’t publicly comment on what we’re working on, BUT it’ll be just like always – expect a great time with friends and family while listening to AMAZING live music, all in the name of charity. That’s what I expect and aim for every year and I have never been disappointed.
RP: Of course, we’re all getting older…wiser, somewhat. (laughs) Looking to the overall legacy of RFAC, what would you want that to be once/if you all pass it on?
TEDDY: “PASS IT ON?!” WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN “PASS IT ON?!” (laughs) I’ll be doing this shit ‘til I literally can’t do it anymore. (laughs) We can talk about passing it on when I reach that point.
TOMMY: It was never meant to be anything more than a giant party. Good music, great food, hometown bar…an evening where, yes, the money goes to the ACS, but at the same time, it isn’t about dwelling on the horrors of cancer. It’s about celebrating the times we have with the ones we love the most while we still have them. As long as the event is always about that, I will be fine with our legacy.
Learn more about the event on the official Facebook Event listing: https://www.facebook.com/events/1617694598527393/