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'Boogie Cat' ready to howl about health care blues

Third annual event rallies for single-payer system


by: COURTESY OF GREG JOHNSON - Tevis Hodge Jr. (left) and Norman Sylvester are part of the Inner City Blues Festivals Healing the Healthcare Blues, April 5 at Melody Ballroom. Ken Cropper, a retired Portland-area union organizer, and blues musician Norman "The Boogie Cat" Sylvester, think nothing says the blues like America's current health care morass.

Sylvester notes he and other musicians have played all kinds of benefits to pay the medical bills of uninsured professional musicians over the years. Others, like Sylvester, held down day jobs simply so they could provide health care for themselves and their families, playing all night at shows and rising early the next day to work.

"If you ask musicians, 'What is the biggest thing you worry about?' they'll say 'health care,' " Sylvester says.

Adding that the musicians' fears are shared by lots of folks who never sang a note for a crowd, both men say they welcome the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare. However, Sylvester says, "Obamacare was a Band-Aid," and he and Cropper think Oregon can do a lot better. So the organizer and the musician have joined forces for the Third Annual Inner City Blues Festival: “Healing the Healthcare Blues," which will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, April 5, at the Melody Ballroom, 615 S.E. Alder St.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and are available at tickettomato.com, Music Millennium, 3158 E. Burnside St., Geneva’s Shear Perfection, 5601 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and Musicians Union Local 99, 325 N.E. 20th Ave.

Proceeds benefit the statewide coalition Health Care for All-Oregon to "get simple, fair, affordable, high-quality health care for all Oregonians," according to press info. Cropper notes that in 2017 all states will have the ability to opt out of Obamacare, and Cropper and Sylvester are part of a movement to make Oregon a single payer state — in other words, the government pays our health bills — either through legislation or a ballot initiative.

"Today our health care system is dominated by private insurance companies, making it complicated, wasteful and expensive, while failing to cover everyone, or to provide the care many covered people need," Cropper says.

Both men add that HCAO has enlisted the support of a number of allies, including the AFL-CIO and Main Street Alliance, a group of small businesses that support a single-payer system. Sylvester adds he hopes the single-payer movement gains the support of people of all political stripes.

"It's not so much a political movement as a humanitarian movement," he says. "We're using the music as a vehicle to get this out to a setting where everyone is having fun."

In addition to Sylvester, the festival features the singer LaRhonda Steele and pianist Janice Scroggins; guitarists Lloyd Jones and Jim Mesi; the Too Loose Cajun & Zydeco Band with Reggie Houston; The Duffy Bishop Band; The Strange Tones with the Volcano Vixens; Chata Addy & Friends African Procession; the Mad as Hell Doctors sketch troupe; the Shoehorn “Tap Dancing Sax Man” Floor Show; Steve Cheseborough's Acoustic Blues; Nico Wind Full Circle; and Tevis Hodge Jr.

Paul Knauls, former owner of blues/jazz clubs Geneva’s and the Cotton Club, and Renee Mitchell, former columnist for the Oregonian, will emcee.

For more information, visit www.hcao.org or www.facebook.com/healingthehealthcareblues.