It’s called Myxopapillary ependymoma, a rare condition where the spinal cord produces small malignant tumors inside the body. It’s nasty, it’s paralyzing, and it kills its victims five to 35 years after diagnosis. But as Mike Watkins, 26-year-old bassist for Vegas band Nous, smashes into best friend Dave McCraw while moshing his brains out to local metal act Parannoyd during a benefit show in his honor July 16 at the Cheyenne Saloon, you’d never guess he’s sick. Or that he might not live to see his 50th birthday. “It’s kind of cool to see people come together [for me],” Watkins says appreciatively.
Since his diagnosis two years ago, Watkins quit his state construction maintenance job due to terrible back pain. But his $500-a-month insurance bills for radiation treatments haven’t stopped with his employment. Watkins’ story, and his band’s overwhelmingly positive reception at April’s Live Indie Rock Wars, inspired New York-based music promotion company Best of Bands and its founder, Tyler Buhl, to set up tonight’s gig to help out Watkins. “I saw Mike performing at the festival and took up the cause,” says Buhl, who initially noticed something was different about Watkins when the bassist sat down while playing his instrument.
Along with Parannoyd, hard rockers Anew Betrayal and alternative pop bands Theory of Flight and The Underground Rebels bring in fans—the bar is half-full on a typically dead Wednesday night—and funds for the ailing bassist.
Overall, though, this night at the Cheyenne is about more than bands and fans getting together. It’s a reminder that the sometimes overlooked and underappreciated Vegas alt-rock scene cares about its own. “We’re all … connected,” Theory of Flight singer Beau Hodges says. “Everyone’s here to be supportive. It’s not a competition.”
Sums up Watkins: “We’re all pretty tight; everyone’s around for each other. It’s just one great big family.”