When Bob Graham’s girlfriend and future wife Missi Ivie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, the couple responded by creating the Spread Your Wings benefit concert that attracted a who’s who of Americana artists like Alejandro Escovedo, Richard Buckner and the Gourds during its five-year run.
Behind the scenes, Graham was coping with Ivie’s illness by writing songs.
“Looking back, dealing with cancer, Missi would come home from chemo, and (I’d say) ‘I’ll be in here writing songs’ because I don’t want to deal with this,” says Graham, calling after his early shift at Trader Joe’s.
Almost two years after Ivie’s death, Graham is still making music with the band he founded with photographer Chris Edwards and still finding ways to honor Ivie’s memory through live music. Sunday, Graham’s band Leadville will headline a benefit for Wind River Cancer Wellness Retreats & Programs with Truckstop Preachers, Sinners & Saints, Waves and Custom Grass Revue. It’s the second fundraising concert Graham’s put together for the nonprofit.
Ivie was the first applicant to attend the Wind River Wellness Retreat that her friend and fellow cancer survivor Shannon Carney founded in 2007 with Dave Pschirer.
“Shannon decided when she beat her cancer, she was going to do a retreat in the mountains where (attendees) don’t have to pay,” Graham explains. Activities include yoga, reiki, hiking, group therapy sessions and guest speakers discussing related-topics like healthy eating.
“I didn’t realize that a lot of the patients are people with advanced cancer. Before Missi passed away, two girls she met at retreat passed away before she did,” Graham says. “They build friendships and get to interact with people like them. I’d see how it helped Missi. You’re there with other people with the same disease and the life-threatening realization that this is probably going to take me at some point. You can laugh together and cry together. It’s a heavy head trip, especially when people you know from that camp pass away. But it’s a positive thing they’re doing.”
Graham had never played in a band before he and Ivie started Spread Your Wings. Now his band is recording its debut and headlining SYW’s sister benefit.
“It kind of started with Spread Your Wings,” Graham recalls of his musical pursuits. “The day before the first one, Alejandro and Richard Buckner were at the house sitting on the porch.”
The group started trading songs, as musicians typically do. When someone tried handing Graham a guitar, he passed.
“Missi threw me this look, like ‘You need to get your guitar.’ They came around a second time. I passed, and she cut me another look,” he remembers.
Before the night was over Graham ended up sharing a song he’d written with two of the most revered veteran songwriters in the business.
“I told Missi, ‘If I can play in front of Alejandro and Richard Buckner, I’m really not nervous anymore.’ ”
For Wind River Cancer Wellness Retreats & Programs
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Double Door, 1218 Charlottetown Ave.
Details: 704-376-1446, www.doubledoorinn.com