Eight years ago, Rhett Miller's brother, Ross, also a musician, felt compelled to figure out how he and his famous brother could help a friend of his. A wife of one of Ross's friends was battling cystic fibrosis, so the two Millers got to work on a plan that would raise some money for the cause.
"We decided to learn about CF so we could see what we could do about it," says Miller over the phone as he walks in the sand of California's Hermosa Beach, where the Old 97's front man prepares to play a solo show. "There's so many things in the world that you feel like you can't do anything to help, but this felt like something I could do something about."
In pretty short order, the CF Concert Series was formed and began with an event at the Granada Theater in 2007 with Miller headlining the show. In the years since, the event has become more than just a highly anticipated one with a host of other well-known performers, such as Ben Kweller and Sarah Jaffe, joining Miller. More importantly, it's also become a highly helpful annual shindig.
"We are very excited to keep this tradition going," says Ryan Minter of the Northeast Texas Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "This event, like many others, was started by volunteers with a passion for curing CF and over the years it has grown into an official Cystic Fibrosis Foundation event. It's wonderful that a night as fun and entertaining as this one has been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars to fight CF."
Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that affects the lungs as well as the liver and pancreas. A person with CF often suffers from lung infections and has a tremendously tough time breathing in most cases. It's a painful disease to endure and the life expectancy of someone with CF ranges between 37 and 40 years. But there have been positive strides in the research and treatment of CF, and the life expectancy of someone with CF has increased gradually in recent times.
The fact that the event has been a success combined with the encouraging nature of the life expectancy increase in CF patients have helped keep Miller focused on his goal of simply helping create awareness, even with all of his other full-time music commitments.
"Cystic fibrosis used to be looked at as some incurable disease," he says. "But now, people are looking at it as something they can live with and be treated for. I met a boy at the first CF show we did when he was eight years old, and we've become friends, and now he's 16 years old, which is so cool."
In 2009, Miller took part in the hilarious, star-studded and completely fictional "We Are the World"-style benefit on the television show 30 Rock. Miller, along with Elvis Costello, the Beastie Boys, Moby and many others joined voices to help land a kidney for Alan Alda, who played the role of Alec Baldwin's father. Perhaps Miller took inspiration from such a big-time concept. This year's concert features The O's, Prophets and Outlaws and the highly buzzed-about Austin duo the Wind + the Wave. There will also be a VIP reception performance from Ronnie Fauss and Miller himself, who recently collaborated on Fauss' song "Eighteen Wheels."
For Miller, the goal was never to have a one-off benefit show for CF and simply move on to the next worthy cause.
"I always tend to think big and long-term," Miller admits. "When we started, I hoped it would turn into an annual event, and I'm not surprised that it has. My job is to play guitar and sing, and sometimes I get to do that in a situation where it actually helps people."
But for the Foundation, this is one of many events of all types and sizes that go into helping fight cystic fibrosis and help the families affected by it. Minter is quick to stress the importance of simply becoming involved and making a mark locally in order to help on a grander scale.
"One concert, one walk, one bake sale or one bike ride," Minter explains. "Individually they might seem somewhat insignificant, but it's the sum of events like these in cities across the country that allows us to fund the research to cure CF. We're making major breakthroughs to improve the lives of those with CF and events like the CF Concert Series are the only reason that's possible."
It's no secret to know that artists often need inspiration, and Miller has drawn on everything from his youthful past in Dallas, great works of literature and raucous nights on the road to write the songs that have made the Old 97's such a beloved act. The same certainly goes for his continuing on with the annual CF Concert Series, as he seems to never be short of inspiration for his dedication to this particular cause.
"Just knowing how cool and brave the people living with CF are to where they're truly living with it gives me hope that I can keep helping."
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