If you’ve ever stayed up all night to study for an exam or soothe a colicky baby, you know that sleep deprivation is gruelling but ultimately survivable. Still, few of us would volunteer to stand on a stage and perform to a crowd for 24 hours straight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life,” says James Murdoch, a singer and bass player with the country band The Dungarees. For the last three years, he and his bandmates have performed at Gig-a-thon, a 24-hour fundraiser in Edmonton they created in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Murdoch says by the last few hours of the event, everyone is falling asleep on their feet, and the performance takes a decidedly weird turn.
“You’re starting to play songs you’ve never played before to change things up, or you play songs you’ve played a million times before, but it starts to feel like you haven’t because you’re forgetting the words,” he says.
The Dungarees are a five-member, self-described “true-grit country band” comprised of Murdoch, guitarist Kiron Jhass, drummer Ben Shillabeer, guitarist/vocalist Robb Angus, and steel-player Darrek Anderson. Seven years ago, the seasoned musicians came together to form a band that paid tribute to the musical stylings of classic performers like Dwight Yoakam and Rodney Crowell, moving away from the heavily pop-influenced country music of their time. Over the years, The Dungarees have developed a reputation both within the Canadian country scene and abroad, including Australia, where their single “Anywhere With You” held a place on the music charts for many weeks.
A few years ago, the band wanted to give back to the local community that had supported them from the beginning.
“When you’ve been a band for years and years, you’re always asking a lot from folks,” says Jhass. “Like, ‘Come to our gigs’ and ‘Vote for us on the radio.’ So, we asked ourselves, ‘What could we do to give back?’”
Raising funds for the Foundation was a clear choice, as Jhass works as a registered nurse at the Cross Cancer Institute, and the band has friends and family members who are cancer survivors. They decided to put a twist on the tried-and-true concert fundraiser by playing for 24 hours straight, launching the Gig-a-thon and recruiting a number of local bands to join them in their efforts.
In its first two years, the Gig-a-thon raised $30,000 in total. This year, the show, held at the Have Mercy Southern Table & Bar in October, raked in just over $21,000 via ticket sales, website donations, and silent auction bids. All of the funds go to the Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program, which helps cancer patients in dire financial straits (see page 30 for more information). Murdoch explains that while most health-care costs are covered by Alberta Health Services, many people lose their income because they’re sick and unable to work or need to relocate to Edmonton for treatment. Patients can also face unexpected costs like expensive prescriptions or childcare. “Especially if you’re in a position where you’re just making ends meet, any set-back like that can be disastrous,” he says.
After three years of Gig-a-thon, performing for 24 hours straight remains gruelling, but the band has no plans of stopping. Jhass points out that, as the fundraiser becomes better known in the community, it brings in larger contributions for the fund. But beyond the dollars raised, the event is simply good, wholesome fun.
“You’re very tired by the end, but you feel like a million bucks, too,” Murdoch says.