Rock for Hope: Can Music Save This Man?

Credit Matt Skoufalos

“Most days, getting up in the morning feels like punishment,” Tim O’Connell, 45, says frankly.

For the past five years, O’Connell has been living with a painful intestinal disease called gastroparesis. The majority of his calories come through a tube, which is slowly killing his liver. Because the illness affects his entire digestive tract, even a radical treatment like intestinal transplant is not guaranteed to help. He knows because he’s spent a month at the Mayo Clinic for observation.

“I’m kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place,” O’Connell, of Marlton, says—a fitting metaphor for the former Colorado police office and state park worker who was an avid climber before his disease took hold.

“In either case, it’s not a great prognosis.”

After a divorce, the best-quality health insurance O’Connell can carry is through COBRA benefit extension, and even that’s draining his finances. To manage the pain of his illness, he’s on a drug called dilaudid, which he says is five times stronger than morphine. The pain management specialists in his network have all but written him off, he says, and the ones who would see him only take cash.

“When you get as sick as I am, all they see you is as a problem,” O’Connell says. “Being self-employed, you don’t get paid sick days, you don’t get the compensation you would get working for a company. I can’t file for disability because I have to keep my company running to pay the bills and pay for my health insurance.”

But like the song says, he gets by with a little help from his friends.

This Sunday, O’Connell hopes to raise some money to offset the cost of his treatment with Rock For Hope, an eight-band, all-day benefit concert at the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

“Some people that I knew from the music business saw how sick I was and that I was constantly going to the doctors and constantly hearing bad news after bad news,” O’Connell says.

Yet even knowing that he was staring down potentially lifelong healthcare costs, O’Connell was uncomfortable with the idea of being a charity beneficiary. When he finally gave in, he decided to go for broke and hold it at the Scottish Rite. Even though the facility is an expensive rental—upwards of $2,000 just for the site—O’Connell, a former musician, knew the venue would be special.

“Everyone said it was going to take away from the money raised,” he says. “I thought if it was going to be a last hurrah kind of thing, I want people to go, ‘Remember that show at Scottish Rite? That was pretty awesome.’

“It’s a nice venue, it’s in a beautiful neighborhood, it’s huge; it’s a place where the people playing can have a good time,” he says. “When I get calls from people who are playing the show, they’re saying, ‘I just can’t wait to get on that stage. I can’t wait to play that venue.’”

Bands on the show have a strong local pedigree, and include headliners Heavens Edge, a former Columbia Records label act that will reunite for the performance. A number of the musicians on the bill also joined together to arrange a cover version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which O’Connell is hoping will help bring in some additional money through iTunes downloads.

Yet despite a Facebook group of more than 600 members and plugs from deejay Jacky Bam-Bam of WMMR-FM, who will emcee the event, ticket pre-sales have been “pretty slim,” O’Connell says. Donations are also being accepted through PayPal.

However well attended the show is, O’Connell says the energy it gives him will outweigh any of the money generated.

“As a long-term outcome, [my health is] really dependent on what they figure out as far as how to get food into me and how to alleviate some of the side effects,” he says. But in terms of his outlook, “something like this show definitely helps.

“Standing on that stage with a bunch of people out there in the audience won’t hurt either,” he says.

Below, the Rock For Hope lineup (all times tentative). Doors open at 4:30 pm; tickets are $20.

5:00 – 5:30 – The CoverGurlz
5:30 – 6:00 – WhiteFoxx
6:15 -7:00 – Tom Gillam w/ Juliano Brothers
7:15 – 8:00 – Hyjinx
8:15 – 9:00 – The Electric Boa
9:15 – 9:45 – Heavens Edge
10:00 – 10:30 – Tangier
10:45 – 11:15 – FunHouse

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