Flyer for the many options to support the artist: Community Yard Sale, Saturday June 15, 8am to 1pm. Photo: Martin Rivero
Emme Packer is a Salt Lake musician who has been plagued since she was a child. Only recently, and after months of testing and a supposedly false positive, did she discover that she had been living with Lyme disease since she was around 9 years old (the events of her illness and subsequent diagnosis are written in tear-wrenching detail on her blog).
Lyme disease is an awful bacterial affliction that can attack the brain, joints, eyes and heart, and can even cause serious neurological damage in extreme cases. The disease has reached its later stage inside of her, and would continue to be a growing, even life-threatening problem if not for treatment.
Her real trouble might not be the disease itself, but the fact that without insurance, she can’t pay for the expensive treatment on her own. According to the bio on her website, “Emme Packer has been making records for 10 years, is a self-taught guitarist, has toured the world, has a deep love for her fans, and wants to be your friend.” Packer is lucky––she’s already got some great friends. Among them is Matthew Quen Nanes, who organized a benefit concert to help out. The problem is that even though so many people express support, they aren’t always around when they’re really needed.
Arriving at Kilby Court around 7 p.m., I was told by Seafinch vocalist Asher Seevinck that the first act wouldn’t be hitting the stage for a half an hour. At that point, nobody, save the musicians, had arrived. That being the case, I stepped out for a quick taco and returned 10 minutes later to find that Emme Packer’s family members and a few supporter had arrived, though Packer herself hadn’t. The first act was getting ready to play, and I crossed my fingers that more people would arrive to support the talented musician’s cause.
Tony Mihaly began playing on his own inside the empty venue as the few people in attendance corralled themselves inside. Mihaly offered a nice but mellow acoustic set that sounded somewhat crestfallen. His voice wasn’t quite excellent, but when it shined, it had a nice tone, strikingly similar to Wesley Shultz of The Lumineers, and his strumming and casual guitar licks were generally spot-on. He seemed somewhat nervous despite playing for so few people. Mihaly thanked Emme for letting him play, and later mentioned he had CDs for sale, money that would’ve been much better pushed toward the cause at hand.
At this point, it was clear that audience attendance (by my count) had topped-out at a whopping 14 people. The real emotional response I had wasn’t from the music itself, but the fact that so few people had come to support Packer—everyone: musicians, family and audience members looked clearly disappointed by the turnout. Mihaly finished and Asher Seevinck took over the small stage (which seemed huge that night), and offered some nice, reverb-laden guitar strums to the small crowd. His voice had a delicate, barely rasping whisper that was right on key. His easygoing, electric set also sounded a bit downhearted, though his velvety vocals literally brought a tear to my eye, mainly because the event was in a shambles and Packer wasn’t getting the help she would need.
Seevinck sang passionately for the small crowd. His presence there, alone onstage, trying so hard to be heard, made me think of Packer herself—trying madly to find support, only to realize that, although many express concern or appear compassionate, few are there to really listen. Seevinck asked the audience a few times throughout his set if we were falling asleep and if we were bored. The audience must have been thinking the same thing I was: Where are all the people?
After Seevinck finished up his short set, Matthew Quen Nanes stepped up to the plate to finish out the night. He was the first of the musicians that actually had a pulse. Benefit shows work best when everybody is positive and has a good time, and Nanes made it clear that he was there to have fun by joking and thanking us all for coming. Though he was dissatisfied and even mentioned that he expected a lot more people to show, he kept positive and had a delightful stage presence. Throughout his acoustic set, he stopped and had interesting stories to tell about the songs, which were not quite polished, but at least had more energy and provided a much more upbeat atmosphere—one much more befitting of a benefit.
Nanes’ overall sound reminded me a little of early Against Me! just after they learned to play their instruments, though his sound had much smoother edges. His acoustic strumming was dynamic, but fairly basic, offering a few modest licks here and there, while his voice seemed to struggle to decide whether it was gruff and punky or smooth and melodic.
Despite the dejected looks on many of the audience member’s faces, he still somehow got them singing along with him toward the end of his set. Nanes finished with a “Thank You” and a bow, and an odd silence took over the room for a few too many awkward seconds before conversations started to emerge and people started to exit.
Most of the songs played that night sounded quite somber. The whole event was actually quite depressing, and even a bit awkward given the sparse attendance. Of the 849 people invited via the event page on Facebook, 48 said they would attend, but only 15 actually did. Where were they? Who knows, but all Emme Packer wanted was to be their friends, and one should always help out a friend in need. There’s no way to place blame on anybody—people just didn’t show up despite so many having been invited. Needless to say, the event wasn’t very successful—Packer herself didn’t even show up (whether it was health or schedule-related isn’t clear). A benefit show is meant to assist the beneficiary but, although Nanes’ heart was clearly in the right place, the event fell well short of effective. Although Nanes suggested donations in addition to the six dollar entry fee, the plastic container bearing a photo of Packer (she looked as though she was urging people to help) appeared to be empty save the few bucks I tossed in on my way out.
At the time of this writing, Packer has raised $2,056 of her $10,000 goal and she still needs help. There are plenty of ways to donate, like purchasing her CDs and T-Shirts via her page on indiegogo.com. There’s also a yard sale and bake sale benefit happening in June. Try and show your support and prove that when someone sings their heart out, people will actually listen. Check out more photos from the event here.