February 7, 2003

Country in Rockies raises $1.3 million for research

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BMI's Frances Preston congratulates Norman Urmy on receiving a "Grammy" award for Soul Incision's performance at Country in the Rockies. (photos by Cynthia Manley)

Country in Rockies raises $1.3 million for research

"Bad Boy," the alter-ego of transplant surgeon Dr. C. Wright Pinson, plays drums during Soul Incision's rocking performance. The band was such a hit, it's on the bill already for Country in the Rockies X, Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2004.

"Bad Boy," the alter-ego of transplant surgeon Dr. C. Wright Pinson, plays drums during Soul Incision's rocking performance. The band was such a hit, it's on the bill already for Country in the Rockies X, Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2004.

Brooks & Dunn entertain the crowd during the Wednesday night concert.

Singer-songwriter Gary Chapman, left, and Dr. Reid Thompson congratulate each other on their team's first-place finish in the celebrity ski races.

Singer-songwriter Gary Chapman, left, and Dr. Reid Thompson congratulate each other on their team's first-place finish in the celebrity ski races.

Dr. Harry Jacobson enjoys the concert by Lonestar and Brooks & Dunn.

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Norman Urmy and his bandmates in Soul Incision received an honor last week that many musicians only dream about receiving.

They were presented with a “Grammy” by Frances Williams Preston, president and CEO of the world’s largest performing rights organization, BMI, and one of the music industry’s most respected and influential members.

Well, OK, it wasn’t a real Grammy but it was special nonetheless. The award was a silver trinket that Preston presented to the Vanderbilt University and Medical Center staff and faculty who make up the classic blues and rock cover band after they rocked the house at the ninth annual Country in the Rockies.

The celebrity ski-and-music event at the Club Med Resort in Crested Butte, Colo., raises money for the T.J. Martell Foundation’s laboratories that are named for Preston at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. This year, almost 350 people participated, a record 138 of them first-timers. For the second year in a row, the event topped the $1 million mark, with an estimated $1.3 million in gross proceeds.

Highlights included a concert by Lonestar and Brooks & Dunn; an all-star finale with Jo Dee Messina, BlackHawk, Trick Pony (with special guests Suzy Bogguss and Andy Griggs), Robert Earl Keen, Sherrie Austin, Deborah Allen and others; celebrity ski races; late-night guitar pulls hosted by songwriter Aaron Barker; silent and live auctions featuring trips, jewelry, autographed guitars and a barrel of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

One of the week’s most popular events, Celebrity Bartending in Crested Butte, a historic mining town at the foot of the mountain, involved four local restaurants/bars with artists serving up drinks, singing, and dancing atop bars for donations to the cause. This year’s Celebrity Bartending raised more than $230,000, up from last year’s take of $188,000. The total included a $25,000 donation given in exchange for Trick Pony’s Ira Dean allowing Suzy Bogguss and Deborah Allen to trim three inches off his trademark blond locks.

Other artists on hand were Mandy Barnett, Chuck Cannon, Gary Chapman, Billy Dean, Dean Dillon, Marv Green, Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, Gary Morris, Matt Morris, Will Rambeaux, Will Robinson, Anthony Smith, Lari White, professional skier Wayne Wong and emcee, announcer and auctioneer Tom Gross.

All fun aside, the seriousness of the cause — raising money for cancer research — was never far from mind. “You’re not too cool to have cancer, you’re not too healthy to have cancer,” Messina said during celebrity bartending after recounting a family friend’s experience with cancer during the previous year.

On closing night, Dave Robbins and Henry Paul of longtime Country in the Rockies participant BlackHawk, gave a sometimes-tearful report of their efforts over the past year to raise more than $35,000 for cancer research in honor and memory of their late friend and bandmate, Van Stevenson. Stevenson died of melanoma in 2001.

And a moving video produced by the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center featured interviews with people who have been touched by cancer and the individuals whose stories inspire them. The video was created by Vali Forrister, associate director of Communication and Outreach at the VICC, and Jon Kent, a former VUMC development officer, in collaboration with Jackson Design. The video was so popular that it was shown twice and provided an underlying theme for the week that Urmy reiterated on closing night.

“As you saw in the video, it’s not the ‘what’ that will cure disease, it’s the ‘who.’ It takes extraordinary resources to recruit and retain the very best, but we believe the investment in the ‘who’ will pay off with exponential returns,” said Urmy, executive vice president for Clinical Affairs and CEO of Vanderbilt Hospital.

Several scientists and researchers from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center were on hand to thank the participants for their generosity and support. They also described many of the accomplishments at Vanderbilt-Ingram in the 10 years since the center and the Preston Labs were formed and the relationship between Vanderbilt and the Martell Foundation was born.

Dr. Hal Moses, director of the VICC and the Preston Labs, outlined several of these in opening night comments. They include designation by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center; raising more than $160 million in the Imagine a World Without Cancer Campaign (including generous support from Martell); and increasing annual NCI funding for research from less than $5 million to more than $42 million (again with the support of Martell, which funded much of the pilot research that was then matured to obtain competitive NCI grants).

“It is no exaggeration to say that our success would not have happened without your support,” Moses said. “With your continued support, we are looking to the next 10 years and beyond, to even greater accomplishment and, ultimately, a world without cancer.”

Several of the artists sat in with Soul Incision at a late-night dance party, including Trick Pony’s Ira Dean, who performed “Mustang Sally”; Ira Dean, Billy Dean and Trick Pony’s Keith Burns, who performed “Hound Dog”; and Deborah Allen, who sang “Do Right Woman.” Billy Dean was overheard the next day remarking that the night had been so much fun because he got to play with musicians who play for the love of music, not for a living. Soul Incision was such a hit that the band is already on the bill for the 10th annual Country in the Rockies, which will be Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2004.

Vanderbilt Medical Center folks did well in the celebrity ski races, including Dr. Reid Thompson, associate professor of Neurological Surgery, who in his first Country in the Rockies took home a gold medal with his other first-place teammates.

Others from Vanderbilt who attended included Dr. Harry Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs; Colleen-Conway Welch, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Nursing; Dr. Barbara Murphy, director of VICC’s Pain and Symptom Management Program; Rick Wagers, medical center CFO; Dr. Joseph Smith, chair of Urologic Surgery; and Soul Incision bandmates Robert Early, Debra Kemp, Steve Smartt, Jeff and Carol Byrd, and Ed Shultz.

In addition to mixing the seriousness of the cause with the fun of music and snow sports, the event was bracketed by world events. The charter airplane provided by American Airlines was late arriving in Nashville to take participants to the event because it was also being used to transport U.S. troops to the Middle East and had been delayed leaving Kuwait. On Saturday morning, participants awoke to the tragic news that the space shuttle Columbia had been lost on re-entry. Moments of silence were observed at dinner and during the all-star concert in memory of the lost astronauts, one of whom was a close friend of Houston-based photographer Karen Wulfraat, on assignment for the seventh year at Country in the Rockies for Country Weekly.

In addition to Club Med and American Airlines, sponsors included BMI, Country Music Television, Ortho Biotech, Jack Daniel’s, The Smith-Free Group, Yamaha, Coors Light, Travis Television Group, AmSouth, Bank of America, Icue Productions, Harley-Davidson of Cool Springs, Cowboys and Indians magazine, BBR, Fischer, Coca-Cola and Dasani.