Since Rodney Lanier was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September, the Sea of Cortez leader has learned he's much more than a songwriter and gifted multi-instrumentalist to an awful lot of people. It's too bad the extent of that appreciation comes with such shitty news, but such is human nature; our better angels like a good crisis.
Those angels will be out in force at this Friday's fundraiser — Oso Grande: A Benefit for Rodney Lanier — held at the Chop Shop in NoDa, where they'll offer tangible evidence of The Big Bear's place in people's hearts and his long-standing importance to Charlotte's music community. (All proceeds go The Rodney Lanier Support Trust to help defray medical costs and lost income during his continuing treatment; a second multi-venue benefit is planned for early 2012, when the bills really begin to pile up.) In addition to Lanier's Sea of Cortez, the bill features Benji Hughes, the Houstons and Temperance League and the first full reunion in eight years of the Sire-signed roots-rock act Jolene.
The affable 44-year-old, whom many know as the doorman at The Evening Muse, has started early radiation treatment, and chemotherapy follows in November. But the diagnosis puts a fine point on the things that matter.
"The outpouring of people who want to help is very heartwarming. It's very kind of everybody," says Lanier, who's never been a grab-the-spotlight kind of guy. "It makes you realize how good your life was — you realize you've never really had a problem, all the fucked-up relationship things, money, crappy jobs. Not to trivialize them, they're real, and they happen, but I probably put a little more worry into that shit than I needed to. I hope people see that, I hope people understand that."
Lanier concedes "this isn't the show I'd like to be playing." But creating and playing music have always provided outlets, now more than ever. One measure of the esteem his fellow musicians hold Lanier in is a CV that runs from his '90s contemporaries through some of Charlotte's brightest young acts. In addition to Sea of Cortez's sublime 2009 release, Sur & the Sword, Lanier's been an official member of, or added his multi-instrumental talents to, Fence Lions, Gold Coast, Pyramid, Hard Times Family, Lodestar, gogoPilot, the Virginia Reel, Elonzo and Sunshone Still, among others.
It was in Jolene that Lanier first made his mark. After playing in the usual start-up bands, Lanier was a last-minute fill-in as Jolene's guitar tech on a shed tour for the band's debut, Hell's Half Acre. He added acoustic guitar to a few songs, too, and by the end of the tour became Jolene's multi-instrumentalist on keys, lap-steel and accordion.
It was during a trip to Baja California with his Jolene bandmates in '99 that Lanier first formed the idea of the dusky-noir instrumental outfit that emerged with Sea Of Cortez in 2003. His SoC bandmates cite as his best leadership trait the ability to not act like a leader, but it's more than just his musical skills that make them fond of him. Bassist Chris Lonon recalls a time when Lanier found a bandmate's cell phone and left messages with a host of guitar-teacher-for-hire ads in this paper asking for immediate lessons at any cost. Drummer Chris Walldorf cited a recent band practice where Lanier jerry-rigged a shaker for him out of an old Miracle Whip jar full of dried rice.
"It was from like 1978 and in pristine condition," Walldorf says. "It conjured up images of Roger Staubach and men spitting tobacco juice in campfires. I have no idea why it was in his house, and when I asked him, he just kind of shrugged it off. It was the coolest shaker I've ever played."
These are just some of the anecdotes received while reporting this story. No wonder, then, that the Charlotte music community came together so quickly to offer what help they can. That points to something people should remember — a benefit's benefit is measured in more than dollars and cents.
Shayne Miel, frontman for the Durham-based folk-rockers Future Kings of Nowhere, was diagnosed in 2009 with Stage 4B non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphoma. Miel was the beneficiary of a Durham fundraiser — This Machine Kills Cancer — held in his honor in June 2010. He's now in complete remission, and credits the benefit with allowing him to focus on getting better instead of worrying about medical bills and douchebag collection agencies.
"Even more important, though, was the encouragement I received from the outpouring of love and support that day," he says. "As I moved into the scariest part of my treatment, I was able to imagine that I had an army of people at my back, cheering me on. It gave me the strength to keep fighting until I eventually won."