Rock Feature: “Crash Safely”—A Danged Good Party With a Purpose

This is one of those events that makes you feel good about the Boston scene—in part because it’s about the rock community getting together to help friends with multiple sclerosis.

Muck and the Mires. Photo: Nicole Tamarro.

Muck & the Mires will be one of the bands performing at the Midway Cafe on October 17. Photo: Nicole Tamarro.

By Brett Milano

The annual Crash Safely shows, put together by local promoter Amanda Nichols, are one of those events that make you feel good about the Boston scene—in part because it’s about the rock community getting together to help friends with multiple sclerosis. But mainly, it’s because the music tends to be so danged good.

Thanks largely to Nichols and partner Nick Blakey’s taste and their impressive list of contacts, the shows usually feature some of the best bands in town, and this year’s two nights are no exception. The first show, this Saturday (October 17) at the Midway, will include the Sprained Ankles, Muck + the Mires, The Dents, and the Phil Aiken Army. The following Friday (October 23) it moves to the Middle East with Township, Watts, Unnatural Axe, and Fireking.

The event first came together five years ago, shortly after Nichols and a musical friend—Pete Hayes, drummer for the much-liked Albany/Boston band the Figgs—were both diagnosed with MS within a month of each other. “We were both sort of shocked, trying to get our minds off of it. When you’re diagnosed a lot of ‘It could have been worse’ starts running through your brain, so it’s a good time to do something positive instead. Pete put together his BikeMS team [which Nichols is a member of] but the shortest distance we do is 30 miles—For a person who doesn’t bike, that can be a bit much. I didn’t know how many musicians were going to be into that. But they do play shows, so let’s have them do that.”

There have been some memorable moments over the years, like the Figgs doing a one-off cover of Cheech & Chong’s “Earache My Eye.” Or Hayes reuniting his pre-Figgs band Duckbills for a one-off set. Or Shods leader Kevin Stevenson (who also has MS) bringing his girlfriend onstage to thrash through a couple of Black Flag numbers. Nichols even came close to getting the top name on her wishlist: Ian McLagan, the British keyboardist who died last year. McLagan’s Small Faces bandmate Ronnie Lane was the first notable rocker to go public with MS, and the mid-80s benefit shows for Lane (with Clapton, Jimmy Page, and other notables) were an inspiration to her. “[Getting McLagan] was something we worked on for a while, and it came down to him being willing if the scheduling put him in the area. I’m a little sorry that never worked out.”

Photo: Eric Law

The Dents will be part of Crash Safely. Photo: Eric Law.

But this year’s lineup is no slouch: Hard ‘n’ heavy rockers Township are rightly a local favorite, and Fireking’s recent Double Trouble is one of the year’s most impressive local releases, two discs’ worth of stellar pop melody and adventurous arrangements. Muck & the Mires’ mix of punk and Merseybeat never fails, and they’re in strong fighting shape after touring both Japan and Spain over the summer. The Dents (including co-frontwomen Michelle Paulhus and Jenny Dee of the Deelinquents) technically split up years ago and only play on special occasions; and Boston punk trailblazers Unnatural Axe, known for the 1977 gem “They Saved Hitler’s Brain,” are playing their only show of the year. Prizes getting raffled off include a Red Sox baseball and a Patriots football, respectively signed by David Pedroia and Jerod Mayo.

As always it’s a party with a purpose (proceeds go to the National MS Society), and Nichols admits that Crash Safely is one of the brighter spots in her life with MS. “It’s very different for every single person who has it, and it is also very hard to explain, because you can’t always see it. If someone looks fine or feels fine, that might be what their status is today, but it can change from hour to hour. It can make things especially hard in an employment setting—Sometimes you get a symptom that’s new, like when one of my eyes decided it was time to get blurry. Some employers in Boston are a little more forgiving than others.”

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Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.

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