One of the many great things about Chicago’s local music scene is that when hardship befalls one of its own, the community rallies together to offer help. So will be the case Friday night when Metro hosts “Strange 90s: A Benefit for Jerry Bryant of ‘JBTV,’ ” a fundraiser co-hosted by Charity Bomb and radio station WKQX. It aims to help tackle Bryant’s growing medical bills after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer last year and began a treatment plan that has included multiple surgeries and months of expensive chemotherapy.
STRANGE 90S: A BENEFIT FOR JERRY BRYANT OF ‘JBTV’ When: 8 p.m. March 8 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $25-$500 Information: metrochicago.com
“Unfortunately if you are musician or an entertainer, and if you get a serious illness like cancer where none of the treatments or surgeries or medications are affordable, it can be life-changing in more ways than one,” says Michael Harnett, president of JBTV and Bryant’s business partner, who spoke on his behalf for this article.
Bryant is of the age to qualify for Medicare, but even with that coverage, bills are mounting every day. “For Jerry’s daily chemo, just the pills alone can be $250 a day. The infusions are around $10,000 to 15,000 per treatment. And the scan to see if it’s working is $10,000,” adds Harnett. “We knew in the beginning the only way we can deal with this was to schedule some fundraisers and hopefully get the participation of a lot of bands that support us and that we have supported to be part of it.”
The benefit show, which also includes a live auction and meet-and-greet at SmartBar, will bring out members of local heavyweights like Naked Raygun, Plain White T’s, Kill Hannah, Local H and Stabbing Westward as well as national acts Andrew W.K., Ours, MS MR and drummer Matt Walker (of Morrissey’s band and Smashing Pumpkins) performing material from the ‘90s as well as originals. All of these artists have in some way benefited from exposure gained through Bryant’s labor of love, “JBTV.” Since 1984, the silver-haired music aficionado and dedicated fan has put his blood, sweat and tears into the show, which bears the title of “America’s longest running music television program.”
Today it has grown into a substantial operation that, at its height, aired in 42 markets nationally. In 2008, Bryant and Harnett invested in a custom-built sound stage in River North where they have filmed hundreds of episodes every year, providing exposure to countless bands through interviews and taped performances with an in-studio audience.
Greg Corner, “JBTV’s” music director and a member of the band Kill Hannah, says not even illness can slow Bryant down from producing the show. “The guy is a maniac,” Corner said. “Through the whole entire chemo treatment he has worked. There is only one show where he couldn’t do an interview. But this is what he loves to do. Music and helping bands is his life.”
Even in the early days, “JBTV” was a novelty, a weekly half-hour music show that aired on public access Channel 62 (WJYS) on Saturday nights. Before the dawn of shows like MTV’s “120 Minutes,” it was padded with music videos and in-studio interviews you just couldn’t find anywhere else, as well as rare performance footage from now-legendary shows around town. “JBTV” was the first to give Green Day a TV spotlight and one of the outlets to have recorded footage of the late Jeff Buckley, and had a front-row seat to The Smashing Pumpkins during the “Siamese Dream” era when they were still playing Metro.
“He was practically living here at one time,” jokes Metro owner Joe Shanahan, who has been an ally to Bryant after undergoing his own fight with cancer in recent years and was an integral planning partner for this weekend’s show. “As soon as I heard [Jerry] was sick I went down to the studio, and it was just him and I speaking about some of our adventures and important parts of being transparent about being sick.”
The chat was recorded for a segment on Bryant’s new platform, JBTV Health Awareness (find it at jbtvhealthawareness.org). “One of the first things Jerry wanted to do when he found out he was sick was to set up a nonprofit, an informational clearing house, where you could see Jerry’s story and get updates on his condition but also hear from other people what they have gone through,” says Hartnett. “We are not experts at this stuff but wanted to direct people where to get info so they could have the best possible care — not just doctors, but also insurance help and applying for Medicaid.”
For artists, in particular, it’s an important topic since many are underinsured or not insured at all. Programs like The Grammy Foundation and MusiCares are helpful — and have assisted several artists on this benefit show bill in their time of need including Matt Leone of Madina Lake (founder of Charity Bomb) who was the victim of a random attack in Chicago in 2010 that almost took his life, as well as Local H’s Scott Lucas, who almost lost his vocal cords after being mugged in Russia. But there’s more work to be done, especially at a time when the topic of accessible insurance has hit a wall in our country.
“Hopefully shows like this can help open up communication and to raise awareness,” says Shanahan. “What happens when musicians or those in the industry get sick? There is no pension plan or group insurance. Jerry’s bills are escalating daily. So, hopefully we can raise money with the benefit to not severely impact him for the rest of his life. … He’s always been there for the artists, the least we could do is be there for him when he needed us.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.