Pickin’ For Phil

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Bluegrass pickers rally for Phil Leadbetter in upcoming benefit concert.

I have a particular Walter Mitty fantasy. It’s always been my not-so-secret dream to make music for a living. Unfortunately, I’ve run a bit short on musical talent, so I play my trade day each in my fifth grade classroom and do some music writing and promotions on the side. While a side of me wonders what it would be like to be up there on that stage banging a drum, there is much of me that is thankful for all my teaching profession provides me – the chance to work with kids each day, the notion that my work means something, a steady income, and – honestly – medical insurance.

It’s a bold reality that many of our favorite musicians, particularly those on the roots music and Americana scenes, wake each day without medical insurance and continually walk the fine line between health and physical – and financial – disaster.

This reality was made quite clear to me recently when I caught wind of the plight of dobro maestro Phil Leadbetter.

Phil did exactly what I would love to do; he left his chosen profession, nursing, to pursue a career in music. And he has been quite successful. In the bluegrass world, Phil is a dobro player’s dobro player. He has been a member of J.D. Crowe & The New South, Wildfire, and Grasstowne, and was most recently playing with The Whites, a country music group.

Phil’s list of accolades and award nominations is lengthy, with recognition coming from far and wide. Most notably, in 2005, Phil garnered two awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association: Dobro Player of the Year and Instrumental Album of the Year for his record Slide Effects. Phil was also part of J.D. Crowe’s band in 1994 when their record Flashback was nominated for a Grammy.

Last year, Phil went to the doctor due to some flu like symptoms that wouldn’t go away. What seemed like a minor illness evolved into a devastating diagnosis – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Early chemotherapy was thought to have controlled the disease, but Phil emerged from treatment a member of the minority of patients whose cancer did not respond to the drugs.

Phil currently continues his fight against his disease. And, as you can guess, he is a musician without insurance.

Phil’s treatment is not inexpensive, and the costs are piling up. In what can only be described as a genuine outpouring of love for their dobro pickin’ comrade, the bluegrass community is rallying behind Phil in Bristol, Tennessee, on Sunday, April 1st, at Pickin’ For Phil, a benefit concert featuring some of the finest musicians in the bluegrass world.

Taking place at the beautiful Paramount Theater, a who’s who line up, including all of Blue Highway, Mike Bub, Michael Cleveland, Darrell Webb, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Kim Fox, Missy Raines, and many, many more, will give their time – free of charge – to raise money to help pay for Phil’s treatment.

If you happen to be in the area – Bristol is only an hour’s drive from Asheville and Knoxville – I would highly recommend rolling to town to check out the show and support Phil in his fight to beat cancer. There will be two shows on Sunday – one at 3:00 P.M. and a second at 7:30 P.M. – and tickets cost $20.00. The pickin’ will be fierce and the money raised is going to a great cause.

For more information on Pickin’ For Phil, call the Paramount Theater at 423.274.8920 or surf over to www.bristolrhythm.com.

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