The Royal American plays host to the first-ever CHARM Aid benefit concert on Sat. May 18 with SUSTO, Human Resources, Danielle Howle, Mel Washington, and Persona La Ave performing. Charleston Healthcare Alliance for Regional Musicians, or CHARM, exists to connect working musicians and industry creatives to health care resources. The nonprofit that nurtures musicians will be nurtured right back with every cent of the $25 cover.
For locals who qualify, CHARM helps navigate the health insurance marketplace, fund a plan that's right for them, and find government subsidies that may already exist, says SUSTO frontman Justin Osborne, who went from being the only musician receiving benefits, to serving on the board of the newly expanded program that will benefit about 20 recipients this year. To Osborne, the whole point is helping the people who make great art cover one of their basic needs: access to health care.
The Royal American owner John Kenney held the open enrollment registration for CHARM at his bar last fall, so it makes sense that he will open up his stage to the musicians who want to celebrate the program that has so greatly impacted them. The Alliance debuts this fundraising concert with a goal of $10,000, says Kenney. He hopes, as membership grows and the city continues to be engaged, that there can be an Aid show every year to establish a tradition.
"Musicians don't have regular jobs, but they work 40 hours a week like everyone else," says Kenney, who was a professional musician for over 10 years. "Playing a show is one small part of what they do in a day. They have to hone their craft and practice." He is the first to sympathize with how confusing it can be to find health care, and he knows Royal wouldn't have the scene it has without the musicians. "The least we can do is give back to make sure they stay healthy and point them in the right direction," he says.
The revamped health care program was bolstered by the efforts of beloved recording studio Rialto Row, whose CEO James Hynes saw a great need for the service among the artists in and out of his doors. So he put his fundraising hat on and teamed up with Kenney to roll out CHARM for local musicians and creatives for 2019 with an amplified impact. Now working musicians with no second job can qualify with a minimum of 50 shows a year (down from 100), and others now qualify who have jobs related to the music industry, like filmographers and screen printers.
The community effort behind CHARM's relaunch has kept alive the original intention that was set by founder Becca Finley years ago, says Hynes, who facilitates the businesses and individuals who step up to make a contribution. Mex 1 and Bay Street Biergarten also contributed donations to the Alliance.
Hynes has been blown away by the scope of support. "Some people donating aren't even in town — they are just fans of the music," he says. "I've got friends in Atlanta, New York, and California that are donating to this health insurance initiative in Charleston, and that's just because they love the sounds coming out of this city." Hynes looks forward to a wave of sign-ups that he believes will come now that everything is tightened up. He says, "It just makes sense. All the people that are covered make their music here. Why shouldn't they be able to have health care?"
Human Resources bassist Aaron Utterback thinks CHARM is ahead of the curve in bringing an invaluable service to everyone from wedding bands to jazz performers here. "It bridges all the music communities," he says. "It's a great nucleus for people."
While Utterback is just along for the ride on Saturday, some of the other artists performing at the Aid show are new members of the Alliance, like his bandmate Paul Chelmis. Chelmis appreciates that CHARM walked him through the whole process of applying through the Affordable Care Act and navigating the options for his monthly premium. "So it's the whole 'teach a man to fish' thing," Chelmis says. "Come dance in the name of health care for folks who normally suck at taking care of themselves, like, at all."
Another artist on the bill is country singer-songwriter Mel Washington, who says the program made it possible for him to have health care at 34 years old for the first time in his life. "Access to affordable health care is crucial to stay healthy and continue to do what we do," Washington says.
And Dylan Dawkins of ambient aesthetic Persona La Ave says getting health care was a fulfilling process that helped him legitimize his status as a self-employed musician. And as for playing his home base the Royal American for a benefit concert? "This show should be pretty dang fun."