Teen Cancer America hosts first Chicago benefit to fund new unit

This article was originally published online at Examiner.comon May 13, 2015. Written by Lisa Torem

Teen Cancer Ambassadors relayed the vision, Chicago’s School of Rock students hammered out the hits and seasoned Who fans exchanged concert highlights at Chicago’s most psychedelic brewery, Lagunitas, Tuesday evening, while munching on polenta casseroles. The goal was to raise money and increase awareness of an essential charity. Teen Cancer America works with hospitals to fund and establish specialized teen/young adult units and are planning to serve Chicago youth shortly at local hospitals.

Click here to view more photos from the event.
Click here to view more photos from the event.

A quick peak into the evening’s shared warmth, common love for Who music and charitable support for Teen Cancer America. Executive Director, Simon Davies, who formerly directed Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK, and now heads TCA, spoke to the attendees: teenagers, parents and Who fans, to explain the importance of the program and offer thanks. The benefit was planned to synch up with The Who concert in Chicago this week because the band is a major supporter of the foundation.

TCA ambassador, Isobel Webb, is also “on tour” with The Who. She explains her role: “At every show, there is a booth in the main concourse.” At this booth, she and other ambassadors greet fans, discuss the goals and help with fund raising. And, by living on the tour bus, Webb has gotten to know lead singer, Roger Daltrey, well.

“This is his baby,” she asserts. “When the fans at the show see Roger’s passion…”, she smiles, “all he wants to do is talk about it. He puts everything into it.” At each show, there are clips shown of Daltrey speaking at a national press conference held two years ago. There he described the US and UK youth-friendly units, where teens could participate in billiards or chat with their friends.

Holding benefits in major US cities is still a work in progress. “We’ve only launched three years ago,” Webb stated, “but once people hear about us, they can’t help but want to get involved. Once you explain it, the good will we receive has been phenomenal. People just care so much,” she continued.

TCA does more than work with administrators and teens. “The effect on parents is massive. This organization gives parents a chance to have support.” Still, the concept is simple. “All we’re doing is making a space for teens/young adults to be together, to support each other. The best therapy for teenagers are teenagers. They really get each other through it.”

The informative reception was offset by Who-inspired sets. First, a Chicago string ensemble performed an array of arrangements in the lobby. Then SOR students approached the stage. The set list included ballad, “Behind Blue Eyes”, early rocker “I Can’t Explain”, the barre chord driven anthem “Pinball Wizard” and the evocative “Love, Reign o’er Me”.

Before Taylor Vos engaged in some serious shredding, he talked about one of his idols. “The first time I saw Pete Townshend smash a guitar, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do with my life.'” He feels that Townshend’s windmill approach to strumming is “awesome” and stated that his favorite Who song is “Getting in Tune”.

SOR bass player, Ryan Marx, shared his views on the band’s legacy. “What’s not to like, really?” But tonight was not just about the music. Marx was inspired by TCA’s mission. “It’s a great thing to do. The teens need a place to be.” But what about the arrangements? “I like the bass breakouts in “My Generation”.

Adam MacKintosh, regional manager, Chicago School of Rock, stood attentively near the stage, rocking out to the steady stream of covers. “There’s nothing I love more than when our School of Rock students get the opportunity to do what they love to do, play music and help other people, especially in this case, young people battling cancer. This opportunity to help build an environment, where young people battling this disease can get together, collaborate and exchange ideas, is right on par with what we do at School of Rock,” he said.

“I am their generation,” declared Patricia Stanton, about The Who. The Dallas native has seen her favorite band perform more than fifty times. She began scouting out performances in the UK, and then became familiar with her own country as a result of her perseverance. Although she knows the lyrics to all of the band’s songs, she refrains from singing along to “Love, Reign o’er me,” because “I want to appreciate it.”

Brian Amidei, Managing Director of Wildclaw Theater, auctioned off theater and concert tickets and made sure the planned events were well-paced. He reminded the attendees, “Every dollar you spend at that bar goes directly to three things I love more than anything in the world: The Who, beer and charity.” He and his wife, Aly, made the benefit happen after a green light from Simon Davies.

Here’s how his trajectory began. “My brother, Geoff, turned me on to The Who in 1982. That October, he took me to see them on their “final tour” at the Oakland Coliseum. I also remember at some press conference, Pete saying, they would not play “My Generation” or smash their gear, that they were not that band anymore. At the second show, during one of Pete’s solos, he seemed to be having an issue with his guitar, and finally he took it off and slammed it into the stage a couple times until it broke. The place went ballistic.”

Amidei’s musical range expanded, but his early devotion never wavered. “Pretty much since then, The Who have guided me through my musical life. I discovered Stax and Motown. I discovered Mose Allison and those discoveries led me further and deeper into a new realm. When I moved to Chicago in 1988, I followed that path to the blues, and nothing has been the same since. But now, 30 plus years later, it all comes back to The Who.”

“I think my favorite concert experience was their return to the road in 1989. I saw them at Alpine Valley. I can remember the pure joy when they hit the stage. I think, because I thought that I would never see them again, it was that much more satisfying. To use a sports metaphor, it was not unlike watching Michael Jordan return to basketball. It was wonderful.”

Besides arranging the benefit, Amidei donated proceeds from a performance of his company to TCA and vows to continue dedicating his talents to the foundation. “I am truly grateful for the opportunity to meet Simon Davies and the crew from TCA. It is remarkable what happened after I just picked up the phone one day. Between the time I made that call and last night, unfortunately, I lost some very close friends to cancer, and witnessed the nightmare their loved ones went through. It was some small solace to be able to focus in on the event, you know, to stop complaining about the state of things and to actually do something. And that is what this has proved to me. Do something, make an effort, you never have any idea what one small effort can turn into.”

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