When it comes to the local music scene, the Marshal Law Band is a weekend staple, playing their brand of classic/Southern rock covers at nightspots like the Seaside Inn, the Boulevard Lounge, BB McGee's Tavern and the occasional festival at Sims Park. And when it comes to helping raise money for those in need, the band can be counted on to play a set or two for free.
Mark Alan, lead guitarist and vocalist for Circle Sky, remembers sharing the spotlight with Marshal Law for a 2010 benefit concert for Dave Muse, a local musician who previously played with the Marshall Tucker Band and Firefall. Muse had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"They gladly helped with that," Alan said, adding that they also played a charity event to raise awareness of mental illness and substance abuse after a friend of Alan's took his own life.
"Ask and they'd be there," said Jeffrey Stipe, the entertainment manager at Seaside Inn who has organized a handful of benefits, including the one for Muse and another in January to help the family of Kristina Anne Coolidge, a communications officer for Port Richey police who died unexpectedly in November.
So when Marshal Law guitarist and singer Matt Willover said he needed to take a break because he was feeling fatigued on stage and at his day job as an auto body technician, Stipe told him to take whatever time he needed. There would always be a spot on the calendar for Marshal Law.
And when he got word a few weeks later that Willover, 51, had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and was undergoing treatment at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Stipe got to work.
"The news literally just blew us away," said Stipe, who went to the hospital the very next day. Willover is "in dire straits and like a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck. I told him, 'I don't have a magic wand to make you better but I can alleviate the financial burden.' "
Stipe placed donation cans in a few local haunts, bringing in about $1,200 in a few weeks to help out with household bills and expenses not covered by health insurance. He also organized a benefit that will be held Sunday at the Seaside Inn. Circle Sky got on the bandwagon, too, and will be one of four local bands performing at the daylong event that will also feature a 50/50 raffle and various gift basket raffles.
"The phones have been blowing up since word got out with bands wanting to play or put together gift baskets" for the raffle, Stipe said. He said the bands will use Marshal Law equipment and play in front of the band's signature backdrop.
Willover has health insurance through his wife, Kathy: She works for HCA Healthcare, in addition to being a singer and keyboard player for the Marshal Law Band. But the donations will help with all kinds of uncovered expenses, Kathy Willover said. It looks to be a long haul for Matt, with a protocol of chemotherapy treatments, followed by a bone marrow transplant once a matching donor is found through family members in Pennsylvania or the national donor bank.
"We're down to one paycheck right now," said Kathy, adding that Social Security benefits for her husband won't kick in until September. "It's the standard waiting period, so we have to keep going like everybody else."
Even so, the two have been buoyed already by the help coming in.
"I'm amazed — and Matt is as well — at how many people are coming together to help," she said. She rattled off a list of people: the friend who paid last month's utility bills, another who lent an acoustic guitar so Matt could play in the hospital, the unknown people putting what they can in donation jars, and others simply offering up a well-needed hug, a compassionate word or a supportive text message that seems to arrive at just the right moment.
"It's amazing how you can draw strength from your friends and people you don't even know," she said, recalling another time of struggle the couple survived after Matt was injured a motorcycle accident a few years ago.
"We were just talking about that," she said. "How he was out of work for five months and how hard that was. But we made it. We ate a lot of oatmeal, but we came out on the other end."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or at (813) 435-7307.