Wanz Dover's Near-Death Experience the Nightmare of Uninsured Musicians

Wanz Dover has been a full-time music hustler in North Texas for 25 years.
Wanz Dover has been a full-time music hustler in North Texas for 25 years.
Jonathan Zizzo

Wanz Dover is a veteran of the Dallas music scene. He's been part of it for over 20 years and is one of the best live performers in the city. (If you don't believe it, just catch his band Black Dotz live.) Dover does regular DJ sets all over town, has another band called Panda X with Convextion, cranks out incredible weekly mixes and, as a contributor to the Dallas Observer music section, takes music journalism very seriously. Earlier this week, we came very close to losing him.

On Tuesday, Dover had an emergency operation. He had been in pain for a while after taking a spill off the stage at Three Links during a Black Dotz show, which isn’t unusual. He decided to wait it out, thinking it was something minor. But the pain got worse, and after an initial visit to a walk-in clinic, he gradually became very ill. Dover called a friend in Seattle who is a doctor, explained his symptoms and was advised to go to the E.R. immediately.

The situation was caught just in time. Doctors told Dover that, had he waited another day to come in, he would not have survived. After undergoing surgery, he will be in the hospital recovering for weeks. The North Texas music scene is lucky to have him and he says he feels grateful now to be here. It is hard to imagine this scene without him. Now he needs to focus on relaxing and getting better. Dover is so devoted to his music career that one of the first calls he made was to a promoter to explain he would not be able to make it to a show. But in this difficult time he has to worry about ridiculous medical bills and lost income. You see, Dover — like so many other musicians and creatives — doesn't have health insurance.

The exact same thing could have happened to any number of his friends in the music scene. Stevie James, a blues guitarist and singer making a living by playing weekly gigs at The Free Man and other venues, is another full-time musician without health insurance. James admits that when he doesn’t feel good he basically tries to sleep it off. He sees lack of healthcare as a widespread issue among local musicians. “It comes with the territory,” says James. “If you’re a coalminer, you might get black lung. I don’t really worry about it. But I should.”

There are local musicians who have lumps they aren’t getting checked, untreated hernias and surgeries they need but can’t afford. Some of them have families who are uninsured. And being a musician is a high-risk occupation, even for those who have health insurance. Musicians often get very little sleep, perform in front of drunk people, develop problems with substance abuse, smoke cigarettes and carry heavy equipment. “My back is so messed up from carrying my gear,” James says, before adding that he wishes he had dental insurance. He doesn’t have enough income listed on his tax return to apply for federal health insurance and doubts he could afford it anyway.

Musicians are independent contractors, so they do not get paid days off. Dover is a full-time musician, living off the money he makes gigging with his band and DJing. James admits that he has performed sick several times, which also isn’t unusual for musicians. He remembers performing with allergies so extreme that he could not even see, singing with a sore throat and stepping off stage long enough to puke.

“We just kind of get by on hope,” James says. “Hope nothing bad happens.” But it can happen at anytime. Dover seemed perfectly healthy until he suddenly wasn’t. If you get a regular full-time job, health insurance and some sort of savings plan often come along with it. But musicians are left to educate themselves on how to get healthcare, save money and develop a business plan. “A lot of us are probably eligible for pensions or government aid we don’t even know exists,” says James, before wondering how some musicians get grants. “Maybe I could get a grant to teach other musicians how to get a grant,” he jokes.

But that actually makes good sense. There are many people who make great music but could use some education about other aspects of their chosen path. “We need a guild or something,” says James. “There are a lot of musicians in this town who are geniuses, but highly specialized. They only know how to do that one thing.”

Dover is humbled and deeply touched by the well wishes he has received from friends and fans. Fellow musicians and promoters are now rallying together to put on a fundraising event to help Dover pay his medical bills and get by for the next several weeks without generating any income. A website is also being set up to gather donations. We'll update this post with additional information on how to help Dover's cause as those plans are finalized.

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