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VOL. 8 | NO. 36 | Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rocking for Love

Church Health Center set to launch ninth annual music festival

By Andy Meek

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When Lahna Deering and Jason Freeman join the other musicians performing at the Rock for Love music festival next week, the gig will be a bit more meaningful for them than the shows they normally play.

That’s because the ninth annual festival, set for Sept. 3-6, is a marquee fundraiser for the Church Health Center, a faith-based nonprofit that provides quality health care to Shelby County residents without insurance.

Donations and fundraising are the lifeblood of the organization, which was founded in 1987 and now cares for more than 58,000 patients of record without depending on government funding. Last year, Rock for Love raised $50,000 for the Church Health Center.

Rock for Love’s principal planners: Elizabeth Cawein, Marvin Stockwell, Jeff Hulett, J.D. Reager and Megan Carolan. They are the brain trust behind the annual Church Health Center fundraiser, which has raised more than $250,000 since its inception in 2007.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Deering and Freeman jumped at the chance to join this year’s lineup because they’re among the working musicians in Memphis who get their own health care from the center. It’s a benefit, the duo explains, that makes the unpredictability and unexciting pay that comes with being working musicians a little easier to handle.

“It’s not always a for-sure thing every day, working as a musician,” Deering said. “Knowing I’ll be taken care of, no matter what – it’s a relief. I’m covered. I know that if something happens, it’s also a relief to my family and friends.”

To help pay the bills, Deering and Freeman both work as tour guides at Sun Studio, where they’re on the MEMPHIS Plan, an affordable health care plan the Church Health Center gears toward small businesses and the self-employed. Among the features of the plan, participants are assigned to a primary care physician who sees them for only a $5 co-pay each time.

Providing peace of mind

Not having to worry about paying for things like visits to a doctor – at least, not having to pay very much – is the kind of thing that lets musicians focus less on bills and more on their art, says Deering, who also sings with Rev Neil Down as part of the duo Deering and Down.

She got introduced to the job at Sun Studio – which is one of several Rock for Love sponsors – after coming home from a stretch of gigs in Alaska. Realizing a new source of income was needed, she started thinking about the kind of job that would make her happy and decided it would be something that stokes her passion – and that also included health coverage.

By chance, she got a call from Sun that checked both boxes.

The work at Sun entails giving tours, making milkshakes and hocking records at the Memphis landmark where rock ‘n’ roll was born. That makes it something of a labor of love for a musician and Memphis-music fan such as Deering.

Rock for Love’s finale Sunday, Sept. 6, will feature the North Mississippi Allstars at the Levitt Shell.


“(This life) is about hustling gigs, working a day job and just trying to keep everything together so you can be creative,” Deering said. “I don’t know what else I’d be doing, though. I’ve tried being the other person. It’s a juggle, but it’s my choice, and I love it.”

For more context about her participation in Rock for Love, she cites the lyrics to a classic tune: “It’s like, I have no gift to bring, but I’ll play my drum for you. Count me in.”

Freeman – whose Memphis Ukulele Band just finished a new record that’s coming out early next year – is happy to participate in this year’s Rock for Love lineup for similar reasons.

Freeman said he knows of several musicians in need of quality health care, a need that’s prevalent among artists focused on their work and the grind and not so much the demands of daily life, such as bills and shopping for health care.

The Church Health Center plan, Freeman says, is the first insurance coverage he’s had in his life.

“Just knowing that it’s there kind of gives you a peace of mind,” he said. “It’s a small thing for me to want to try to give back.”

He and others will be able to do just that when Rock for Love kicks off its music lineup Sept. 4 with a Crosstown Block Party, in the neighborhood where the Church Health Center will relocate in 2017 to become an anchor tenant in the Crosstown Concourse project.

For the block party, Amurica Studios will feature singer-songwriters, while the Hi-Tone Café will host punk and rock acts. Hip-hop performance art and experimental electronic music will happen at two Crosstown Arts spaces and at an outdoor stage curated by Visible Community Music School.

Jeff Hulett, J.D. Reager and Marvin Stockwell were the Rock for Love triumvirate for years. All three will play this year’s event with bands Couple Skate, J.D. Reager & the Cold Blooded Three and Pezz, respectively.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Amid all the celebratory vibes, the Church Health Center will collect donations. Five dollars will get participants a chance to sink guests in the official Rock for Love Dunk Tank, hosted by Memphis Roller Derby.

Saturday night, the festivities head east to Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square and then Sunday to the finale featuring the North Mississippi Allstars at the Levitt Shell.

Huey’s Midtown, at 1927 Madison Ave., will host an unofficial Rock for Love kickoff Sunday, Aug. 30, with music by The Chaulkies. A portion of the night’s beer sales will be donated to the Church Health Center.

Beyond the music, this year’s Rock for Love festival also will feature a Memphis comedy showcase at the Hi-Tone on Sept. 3, as well as a signature brew from Memphis Made Brewing Co., among other things.

Music with a mission

Marvin Stockwell, who heads up marketing and communications for the Church Health Center, says the annual festival is a reminder that “great, urgent, amazing music” still is being made in Memphis – and that good things can result from that music being put to use in service of a higher purpose.

“The festival is really important, because it helps get our mission and work out to an audience that might not read about us in other settings,” said Stockwell, whose band Pezz is performing at this year’s festival. “Rock for Love also has helped us raise over ($250,000) since its inception in 2007, which is a sure sign that we have a generous music community that sees the link between the center and a music city like Memphis.”

Church Health Center founder Dr. Scott Morris surely didn’t envision something like a major music festival in support of the clinic he founded 28 years ago.

Subteens perform at the old Hi-Tone as part of Rock for Love’s 2011 series of events.

(Courtesy Blair Ball Photography)

On Sept. 1, 1987, Morris and one nurse saw 12 patients, a humble start for an effort that has grown to handle more than 42,000 patient visits each year. It’s the largest health care organization of its type serving the uninsured in the country and also has served as the model for some 30 clinics around the U.S. that have replicated its work.

As part of its growth, the Church Health Center isn’t just about checkups, doctor visits and prescriptions. The mission focuses on complete wellness inside and out, which is why there’s also a wellness ministry that includes things like personalized exercise plans and cooking classes.

Church Health Center Wellness is open to the entire community, and its fees are charged on a sliding scale based on family size and income.

Meanwhile, the center is in the midst of starting a major new chapter in its existence. It’s poised to soon move 14 buildings’ worth of services into the single 150,000-square-foot Crosstown space. According to Antony Sheehan, the center’s president, the relocation will increase the center’s medical space by almost 90 percent and its wellness space by almost 70 percent.

Rock for Love is one piece, albeit a big one, in the center’s comprehensive prescription for fixing bodies and lifting spirits. It goes hand in hand with shifting to Crosstown, with serving more people, with getting more community buy-in for its work and raising the money needed to keep it all humming along.

“Music, arts, education, health care – all of these elements (work) in concert to make a better Memphis,” Sheehan said. “It’s a holistic view to health and community.”

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