Ever since the deadly fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, in February claimed the lives of 100 during a Great White show, the band and some of its metal brethren have been trying to raise money to benefit the tragedy's victims.
Despite their best intentions, though, some of those fundraising efforts have been hampered by everything from insurance hassles and a fear of association with the tragedy to disagreements between late guitarist Ty Longley's nine-months-pregnant girlfriend and his family over whom the funds should benefit.
As Great White prepare to hit the road for the first time since the deadly fire and Longley's girlfriend nears her due date, the dust appears to have settled and more help is finally on the way.
"It does seem like there have been a lot of obstacles thrown in their way," said Victoria Potvin, one of the fire's survivors and the president and co-founder of the Station Family Fund, the only fund that directly benefits the survivors and victims of the Station fire. To date, Potvin said the nonprofit, volunteer-staffed Fund has raised just over $10,000 for victims and their families, more than two-thirds of which has already been distributed to help pay off auto loans and funeral bills, as well as assist with mortgage payments, groceries, rent, car insurance and utilities.
Great White were eager to help victims from the start, but endless hassles over finances, insurance and uncertainty over how to channel money to victims kept the band off the road for four months, according to their attorney. "It took us [that long] to get connected with the Family Fund because so many charities couldn't commit to getting money to the victims," said Great White attorney Ed
McPherson. One day after talking to the Providence Journal in late April about the band's first attempt to mount a benefit tour (see "Great White Announce Benefit Tour For Club Fire Victims"), McPherson was contacted by Potvin and the band finally was able to map out an itinerary.
That tour was eventually scrapped because Great White were unable to secure insurance that would cover fellow acts L.A. Guns and XYZ, but a scaled down tour benefiting the Fund entitled Help Us, Help Our Own, replaced it; that tour is slated to kick off in Sterling, Colorado on Tuesday at the Logan County Exhibit Center.
Long out of the public eye, Great White singer Jack Russell and guitarist Mark Kendall issued a statement in advance of the outing. "Our wish with this tour is to help all of the victims in every way possible — especially in creating greater awareness for the fund and their purpose. As a band, the only thing we can do for our fans and their families that were involved in the tragedy is to pray for them and play for them. We lost 100 friends in that fire, and our hearts are deeply broken."
McPherson said the band — which has abandoned using pyrotechnics in its show — could not start raising money for the victims in earnest until it nailed down proper insurance for what was originally going to be a 55-city tour. That task proved near impossible, he said. "One view is that, in light of Rhode Island, this is the safest band ever," McPherson said. "But people just don't want to get involved in the quagmire."
The hassles continued, most recently for a huge festival that was scheduled to take place over the Fourth of July weekend in Tampa, Florida. Metalfest 2003 was slated to donate 10 percent of its proceeds to the Family Fund and Baby Longley Fund, according to its official Web site (since taken down). The show was canceled when local fire marshals raised concerns about fire safety and capacity issues. Metalfest was expected to draw 18,000 fans to the East Bay Raceway Park to see sets by Lynch Mob, Bullet Boys, Bang Tango, Firehouse and adult video star Christi Lake; it has been postponed until Labor Day according to Potvin. The show's promoters could not be reached by press time.
In addition to the benefit difficulties, there were strains between the parents of guitarist Longley -- who perished in the fire -- and his girlfriend, Heidi Peralta, who is about to give birth to their child. Heidi established the Baby
Longley Fund as a savings account for the couple's unborn child. But she took
issue with a fund established with the help of Longley's parents, J. Patrick
Longley and Mary Fredericksen, the Ty Longley Memorial Fund. Peralta was
initially concerned about how the money from that fund would be distributed to her and Longley's
child and she feared it was not in the spirit of Ty's memory, as some of the
money was earmarked not for victims or the baby, but for music scholarships in
Longley's hometown of Sharon, Pennsylvania.
The animosity boiled over to the point that the family and Peralta feuded in the press over Longley's ashes and the official tylongley.com website. His parents eventually created a new site, tylongley.org. Peralta said she has since begun making amends with Longley's mother -- Patrick Longley has said in interviews that
only a small portion of the Memorial Fund proceeds will go to scholarships ‚ and is preparing for the birth of the baby, due in three weeks.
A number of Great White's contemporaries have also stepped up to help in various ways, among them: Slaughter,
Firehouse, White Lion, Dokken, Def Leppard, John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff, Quiet Riot, Skid Row, Tesla and most notably, Poison.
"[Poison singer] Bret Michaels stayed for four hours at a meet-and-greet with 75 survivors after a [recent] Poison show," Potvin said. "People are afraid of this, especially other bands, because it hits so close to home," Peralta said. "But what Poison did was almost heroic."
New benefits for the victims continue to be announced. Among the upcoming events where volunteers will collect for the Family Fund are a Monday night show by Dio and Iron Maiden in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Def Leppard shows in Rhode Island (August 16) and Massachusetts (August 19). A comedy show in Rhode Island at the Providence Performance Arts Center on August 22 hosted by Colin Quinn and featuring a number of other comedians will also raise funds for the charity.