Carolyn Schwarz

The band Charlie Belle plays during a Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) event at Noodles & Company.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians held its eighth annual city-wide fundraiser on Tuesday, featuring live performances from over 200 artists.

From 6 a.m. Tuesday to 2 a.m. Wednesday, 290 local businesses, such as Whole Foods, Noodles & Company and Whataburger, participated by making a cash donation or by donating 5 percent of their day’s proceeds. The funds help provide access to health care for uninsured musicians.

“With Austin being the live music capital of the world, musicians bring almost $2 billion into the city’s economy, but the musicians themselves live on very low incomes,” said Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the alliance.

Austin’s culture banks on the eight to nine thousand musicians residing in the city, according to Schwarz. These musicians have little to no health care, she said.

“Of the 3,000 musicians we have helped, the average income is about $16,000 per year,” Schwarz said. “On that income, you are paying your rent and buying your food, but not able to pay for health insurance.”

Founded in 2005, the health alliance partners with Austin area health care agencies to provide medical, dental, mental, hearing, vision and nutrition services to members.

The community can contribute by eating and shopping at participating venues and filling tip jars for performing musicians. Last year, the organization raised $312,000.

“It’s a beautiful city-wide event, where our musicians donate their time and talent, and the community gets to have fun while listening to music,” Schwarz said. “We are relying on this fundraiser for a third of our budget this year, so it’s very important to us.”

Erin Houser, an volunteer ambassador for the organization, said she is personally connected to the cause.

“My husband has been a professional musician for years and was a member,” Houser said. “Here in Austin, because there are so many musicians, it’s hard for a working musician to actually make a living wage.”

Several musicians performed near the UT campus, including alumnus “SaulPaul,” who played outside Texas Hillel.

“To me, the most fun and ostentatious part of this day is the fact that you get to see music in traditional and non-traditional locations,” Schwarz said.

Students dining in Noodles & Company listened to live performances by Charlie Belle. Biology major Karthik Raja said he enjoyed the entertainment and planned to learn more about the program.

The health care alliance set a goal of $350,000 for this year’s fundraiser.

“It’s a uniquely Austin kind of event,” Schwarz said. “And a uniquely Austin organization.”

The Greg Williams Quartet plays to the lunch crowd for HAAM benefit day on Congress St. Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jono Foley | Daily Texan Staff

Without health insurance, many Austin musicians would be without work or the ability to support their busy schedules, said Nakia Reynoso of Nakia and the Blues Grifters.

He said that without the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians there would have been many days where he would be in bed, sick and unable to perform.

Downtown Austin was made into a music venue Tuesday as part of a day-long benefit for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The benefit included more than 170 performances by local Austin musicians, including Nakia and the Blues Grifters, Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys, Greg Williams Quartet and others at participating retailers, music stores and restaurants, said executive director of HAAM Carolyn Schwarz.

“It’s a way for everyone to get involved. You just go out and do what you normally do,” Schwarz said. “When you shop at one of the venues, 5 percent of all the sales go toward the musicians.”

HAAM provides affordable health care for low-income, working Austin musicians who live on an income of less than $27,000 a year. The benefit, which is now in its sixth year, is hosted by HAAM in hopes that it will reach a goal of $250,000 from business grants, donations and sales during the benefit. Participating venues included Whole Foods, Waterloo Records, Thundercloud Subs, Romeo’s Italian Grill and Bar and others.

“The benefit is for the musicians and the city,” said Waterloo Records manager Matt McCarroll. “We want to keep our Austin musicians healthy. This has been going on as long as I’ve been here, and it’s certainly going to be happening a while longer.”

Schwarz urged people to come out in support of Austin musicians, saying that $30,000 would come from sales at participating vendors alone, highlighting the fundraising ability of Tuesday’s drive.

“Every dollar counts — whether it’s $1 or $10,” Schwarz said. “It just really means a lot to us to get this message out to help our musicians get the health care they need.” 

Printed on October 5, 2011 as: "Benefit held for musicians' health care"