Benefit shows always come saddled with a mixed bag of emotions: You're glad to feel like you're doing your part, but you wish the whole thing didn't have to happen in the first place. This week brings a trio of benefit shows worth your time, effort and donations.

Anyone who's heard the work of Nick Luca--multi-instrumentalist session musician, recording engineer at Wavelab Studio and leader of his namesake band (that's Luca)--can attest to his abundant talent. But anyone who knows Luca himself can attest that the guy is a good-natured sweetheart, laid-back and funny as heck.

So when Luca was on a national tour this summer for two months as part of John Doe's backing band, a red flag should have gone up: He was in a crappy mood a good deal of the time and couldn't get enough sleep, no matter how much sleep he was actually getting--which might have been chalked up to simple road malaise if things hadn't kept getting worse.

According to Luca, from a recent press release, "But as soon as I got home, I started losing my vision (and) vomiting uncontrollably; I was lethargic and making absolutely no sense at all when I tried to communicate with my wife and friends."

As anyone who has lived without health insurance knows, things have to be pretty bad in order to convince yourself to go to a doctor, or, in most cases, a hospital. Well, things were that bad, and Luca finally ended up in the intensive care unit at University Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Turns out his glucose levels were four times higher than normal, and he was in an advanced stage of ketoacidosis--staring death in the face. After four days in the ICU, Luca was discharged, but he now must keep a close eye on his blood-sugar levels and take four insulin injections a day, which he'll do for the rest of his life, at no small expense.

I'm reminded here of something I heard from a guy named Alex Maiolo, who has worked with the Future of Music Coalition for eight years, primarily focusing on the state of health insurance as it relates to the working musician, at the 2006 TapeOpCon. At an event called "The Not So Late Show With Larry Crane," Maiolo urged musicians and other uninsured folks to at least carry a catastrophic health-care policy, one with low monthly premiums and a high deductible. His reasoning, which makes perfect logical sense, was this: Local music communities (ours included) are typically great at mobilizing the proverbial troops in order to help out a musician or friend in need, usually via a benefit show. But let's say that a band rolls their van while on tour, resulting in several band members sustaining serious injuries. If no members of that band carry a health-insurance policy, the bills will be almost insurmountable. But if the band members at least carry a policy with a large deductible, the funds raised at that benefit show could cover, or at least put a serious dent in, the deductible, meaning that the musician will be relieved of most of the potential debt he or she will incur. In other words, yes, the health-care system is in a state of crisis, but until it's fixed (if ever), we all need to cover our asses in case of our own crisis.

Unfortunately, like far too many other people, Luca didn't have such a policy--or any policy, for that matter--in place, so this week, Luca the band will perform a show for Nick in order to alleviate his medical expenses. A wide array of local artists will also perform, including members of Spacefish, Creosote, Calexico, Howe Gelb, David Slutes and Cathy Rivers.

It all goes down at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is a suggested donation of $5. Call 622-8848 for more information.


Another local musician in a similar predicament is guitarist R.C. Ratliff. Ratliff was born in Mississippi but grew up in Texas, where he spent his youth playing piano and guitar in church. At age 15, frustrated that his "secular music" was not allowed in the school band, Ratliff left a goodbye note in his mother's Bible and hit the road. After honing his musical skills by touring regionally with Michigan-based R&B and soul-jazz bands, he was eventually recruited as a member of Junior Walker and the All-Stars, with which he toured internationally for many years. He also wrote and recorded for Motown Records.

Ratliff settled in Tucson 15 years ago, in order to escape those punishing Midwestern winters, but he couldn't leave performing behind. He was most recently a member of the soul-jazz band The Les Baxter Factor and performed regularly with his wife, Liz, in the Liz Fletcher Band.

In July, Ratliff suffered a major heart attack, which has left him in need of around-the-clock medical assistance; he and his family are faced with steep and mounting medical bills, some of which will be erased via a benefit show being held for him this weekend.

Starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave., The Les Baxter Factor, The Last Call Girls, The Brian Dean Trio, Kevin Pakulis and PWR3 (with special guests Grams and Krieger) will all perform 50-minute sets to raise money for Ratliff's cause. The evening will culminate in an open jam at 10 p.m. Admission is a suggested donation of $10, but no one will be turned away. Dinners will be available for purchase, with a dollar from each meal being donated to Ratliff, and there will be prizes and raffles as well. Call 690-0991 for further details.


In what has become a holiday tradition, this week, Rich Hopkins will rally some comrades to raise money for the sixth annual Casa Maria Thanksgiving Benefit. Some background info about Casa Maria and the benefit from a previous column:

"For just shy of 25 years, the local soup kitchen, located at 401 E. 26th St., has provided free meals to the poor and homeless from 8 a.m. to noon, 365 days a year. In addition to doling out massive amounts of soup, juice and coffee to those in need of a hot meal, Casa Maria also hands out bulging sacks of groceries for families and roughly 500 brown-bag lunches for individuals every day. No one in need is ever turned away, and remarkably, Casa Maria receives no funding from any government agency; every penny comes from private donations.

"(Several) years ago, local musician and San Jacinto Records owner Rich Hopkins decided to make a video for the song 'Tender Mercies' by his band, the Luminarios (he's also guitarist for the Sand Rubies). The song is about the ongoing plight of the homeless community, and when Hopkins asked around to find a location to shoot, all paths led to Casa Maria and (founder Brian) Flagg, whom Hopkins quickly befriended. The video was eventually shown at every stop on the Luminarios' subsequent European tour, and Hopkins raised funds for Casa Maria from those stages."

Additionally, Hopkins began donating his time to working at the soup kitchen about once a week; he's released a pair of compilation albums to raise money for Casa Maria; and he began staging the annual benefit concerts to aid the establishment during its peak season.

The lineup for this year's benefit show, which begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., features Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios, The Jons and Triple Double. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 and, as usual, canned food donations are also encouraged. Call 622-8848 with any questions.


Keep your eyes and ears open for lots of other fine shows in town this week including: The Mentors at Vaudeville Cabaret on Saturday, Nov. 17; Hapa at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, Nov. 16; Erin McKeown and Matt the Electrician at Solar Culture Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 18; Suicidal Tendencies at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 17; Kool and the Gang at Desert Diamond Casino on Friday, Nov. 16; the Brasil Guitar Duo at the UA School of Music's Holsclaw Hall on Friday, Nov. 16; and Jo Wilkinson and the Grains of Sand at Old Town Artisans on Friday, Nov. 16.