Austin musician Sydney Wright’s story helps underscore value of HAAM


Highlights

Sydney Wright got assistance from HAAM after being injured in a hit-and-run incident in late June.

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians hopes to bring in more than $500,000 with this year’s HAAM Day events.

Bands playing past midnight in Austin’s clubs is routine. But a gig that starts at 6 a.m.? At a grocery store? It’s not something most musicians would generally get excited about.

Yet when Sydney Wright takes the stage at the downtown Whole Foods before dawn on Tuesday to kick off the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians’ annual HAAM Day citywide fundraiser, she’ll be grateful just to have that chance.

Ten weeks ago, Wright nearly lost her life when a car ran into her while she was riding an electric scooter to work on a Saturday morning. Wright, a singer-songwriter from West Texas who moved to Austin three years ago and has a debut album due out in November, suffered broken bones in her leg and wrist, along with injuries to her head, back and ankle.

It easily could have been worse. “I’m glad that I have all of my limbs, and that I can regain everything I’ve physically dealt with so far,” Wright said last week. “Unless something goes wrong, I shouldn’t have any more surgeries, and I should be back to 100 percent by next year.”

Having the support of the community also helped. A friend established a crowdfunding page for Wright that has raised nearly $20,000 in two months. And representatives from HAAM were quick to contact her, asking how they could help.

HAAM previously had assisted Wright in paying for insurance acquired through the Affordable Care Act. But this time it aided her in other ways, such as getting her in to see a specialist she’d been having trouble contacting.

“They’re actually here on the ground helping to get the individual appointments, and that’s helpful,” she said. “Just having their support helps me freak out a lot less. Knowing I can’t work, it’s given me some peace of mind.”

That’s part of HAAM’s mission, says executive director Reenie Collins. “We have social workers and health navigators who work with people in crises, whether it’s bills they’ve received, or they’ve just been diagnosed with something overwhelming, or they’ve been involved in an accident,” Collins says. “We reach out to them as soon as we know, and we try to see what it is they need.”

HAAM Day — formally known as HAAM Benefit Day, but shortened this year for ease of use, Collins said — is key to the organization’s efforts in helping Austin musicians. With a goal this year of raising $565,000 (up from $520,000 in 2017), the fundraiser is essential to HAAM’s operating budget.

RELATED: Scenes from HAAM Day 2017

“It’s the most significant day of the year for us,” Collins said. “Not only we do we raise so much money in one day, but it puts so much visibility and attention on the musicians and on what we do.”

Much of the fundraising for HAAM Day comes in sponsorships arranged beforehand with such businesses as Whole Foods, which has been a primary supporter since the event began more than a decade ago. The chain features musical performances at all of its Austin-area stores, including more than a dozen at its flagship downtown location from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

But day-of donations at the shows are a big part of the push. Collins says contributions from patrons at HAAM Day events in donation boxes manned by volunteers on-site generally bring in $40,000 to $50,000.

More than 200 shows will take place at locations around town including pharmacies, a bank lobby, an apartment complex and, in the evening, many of Austin’s top night spots. A full listing of events is at myhaam.org/haamday.

“One of the cool things about HAAM Day is that we always have more musicians who volunteer to play than we actually have slots to fill,” Collins said. She singled out Wright’s participation this year as especially significant because “her story has been so inspiring, and it really highlights why HAAM is important.”

RELATED: HAAM seeking avenues to cover more musicians

Tuesday morning’s show will be just the second time Wright has performed since she got hurt, following an Aug. 13 appearance at Stay Gold. A creative musician who layers vocal and instrumental parts through keyboard and pedal loops, Wright says she’s had to adjust the way she performs to deal with the injuries.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I can do,” she said. “I usually do a solo loop-pedal set, with drum samples in my keyboard and a beatbox, and do background vocals. I won’t be playing guitar, but I’ll have a keyboard. I’ll probably be playing one-handed, because my left wrist is still broken.”

In July, she released a new video of an intriguing track she’d recorded the night before she was hurt. It’s a cover of Austin country-rock band Reckless Kelly’s “Wicked Twisted Road,” a seemingly surprising choice for a pop musician whose music incorporates electronica techniques.

Wright says the band was one of her favorites when she was growing up in the West Texas town of Snyder. “Almost every melody I make up in my head is country at first,” she says. She learned a lot about other musical styles and technology while studying ethnomusicology at the University of North Texas in Denton and live sound production at South Plains College in Levelland.

The South Plains experience has helped her pick up gigs as a sound engineer at Red River District venues Empire and Cheer Up Charlie’s. All of Wright’s employment is “centered around music and performance and events,” she says.

And she’s eager to get back to it. In a late-July radio interview with Sun Radio’s Kevin Connor, Wright expressed relief that she’ll eventually be able to pick up where she left off.

“I’m happy that the surgeries are done and the wounds will heal,” she said. “Now it’s on to physical therapy, and I can smash it. I feel like the worst has passed, as far as pain goes. I feel taken care of, and cared for.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Music

The Alamo Drafthouse, Fantatic Fest and fans: one year later
The Alamo Drafthouse, Fantatic Fest and fans: one year later

One year ago, the Alamo Drafthouse was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal the beginnings of which went back nearly 20 years, a scandal that broke before and during Fantastic Fest, the chain’s signature film festival celebrating all thing genre — think horror, crime, science fiction. Here was a company, homegrown in liberal Austin...
In an age of anger, TV shows take a different path: They’re sad
In an age of anger, TV shows take a different path: They’re sad

Sad songs, if you know your FM radio history, say so much. Elton John was right when he sang about the cathartic powers that come from a Top-40 wallow in all degrees of hurt and heartbreak — the satisfaction of recognizing one’s own pain in mainstream pop. But as much as we’re willing to cry along with ballads, I keep running into...
Dierks Bentley, ‘Hook’ screening and more things to do Thursday
Dierks Bentley, ‘Hook’ screening and more things to do Thursday

Books At Central: Bethany McLean. America has become the world’s top producer of both oil and natural gas thanks to the technology of fracking in shale rock — particularly in the Permian Basin in Texas. But is it sustainable? Investigative journalist Bethany McLean has dug deep into the cycles of boom and bust that have plagued the American...
Kick off fall with Ballet Austin show, Medfest and more events
Kick off fall with Ballet Austin show, Medfest and more events

1. Ballet Austin’s “The Firebird” and “Dvořák Serenade” 8 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22, 3 p.m. Sept. 23. $15-$89. The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Dr. balletaustin.org. Ballet Austin is taking on two works for this one-weekend show, starting with the seductive “The Firebird.” The world-famous ballet is...
Austin’s longest-running quilt show returns Sept. 28-30 with mini quilts, rainbows of color
Austin’s longest-running quilt show returns Sept. 28-30 with mini quilts, rainbows of color

Quilters and sewing nerds are all around you. Sometimes, they look like the grandmothers and mothers who might have taught you to sew a long time ago, but increasingly, they look like men and young people and punk rockers and people who also run marathons on the weekend. I’m one of those quilt fans who looks forward to the annual...
More Stories