Mike Wiebe still sounds out of breath. It's been more than a week since the Riverboat Gamblers singer fell off the bar in a crowd-surfing accident at South by Southwest, and most of those intervening days were spent in the hospital with a tube stuck in his chest. Wiebe collapsed his lung in the fall, and the medical bills mounted quickly.
"It was really stupid," Wiebe says over the phone from Austin, where the Denton native relocated more than a decade ago. The Gamblers were playing a show that day at Jackalope on the final weekend of SXSW. "It was a fantastic show," he says. "I was like a little kid getting overstimulated. I just got too excited."
As video of the accident shows, Wiebe was walking along the bar talking to the crowd, most of whom were holding their drinks in the air, when he tipped backwards expecting to get caught. "The bar was nice enough to hook basically everybody in the crowd up with a drink and I made the bad mistake of trying to crowd surf when people were in mid cheers," Wiebe says.
He landed flat on his back.
For Wiebe, who constantly puts himself in harm's way while performing, this might've seemed pretty routine. Winded and immediately in pain, he was helped to his feet and managed to finish off the set. Soon afterward he headed back home, took some pain pills and fell asleep, but when he woke up in the middle of the night and still didn't feel better he decided to head to the emergency room.
At first, Wiebe says, "They were all very blasé about it." But then they wheeled him into another room to conduct more X-rays. "The tone shifted where the X-ray lady was immediately just the most prompt and kind [person] but not giving me anymore information," Wiebe says. "I was like, 'Oh no, something's wrong."
Finally they informed him that he'd collapsed his left lung. "That was just the last thing I expected," he admits. He adds, laughing, "I immediately threw up."
Wiebe was hospitalized until Thursday evening, with a tube planted in his lungs to pump out fluid. "Every day I was like, 'How am I going to pay for this?'" he says. "I just kind of figured, well, this will be this giant bill I have to pay off over the rest of my life."
That's when Damon O'Manic, a friend of the Gamblers and a bartender who was working across the street at the time of Wiebe's fall, decided to do something about it. "I was in an accident myself recently so I know how quickly those bills can pile up," O'Manic says. "So I asked Mike if he'd be comfortable with me going ahead [with a fundraiser] and he said, 'Uh, sure, I guess. He was a little self conscious about it. I could tell he felt like he didn't deserve that, which I thought was ridiculous."
O'Manic started a GoFundMe campaign last Wednesday and within 48 hours it had raised over $14,000 to help with Wiebe's medical expenses. "I was really glad to see it worked," O'Manic says. "He's a great guy all around. He's a great person and an amazing entertainer."
Having raised that much money so quickly, Wiebe decided to shut down the campaign.
"I didn't expect that at all, especially for such a dumb thing. It was kind of my fault," says Wiebe, who admits that the response from fans gets him "kind of choked up." While he hasn't gotten the bill yet from the hospital, he figures the money raised should already be enough. "Anything that's left over I'll figure out how to give to somebody in a similar situation."
Fortunately for the band, they hadn't had any shows scheduled after SXSW, so Wiebe's convalescence hasn't disrupted their plans too badly. "We did have to cancel some really good shows that I'm bummed about the day after the accident," he says. But the experience has certainly given him pause.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I play a lot safer than I used to," says Wiebe. He's broken his hand and needed surgery, even "hit the bass player with the mic and fucked up his teeth," but never anything as serious as this. "I want the show to be exciting and kind of break the fourth wall," he says. "But I don't want to break myself to break the fourth wall anymore."
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