Corky Miller video/producer David Lane editor/producer
By Claire Levine
It’s been nearly six years since a surgeon gave Pete Krebs a 50-50 chance of living beyond six months.
The surgeon removed the desmoplastic melanoma – an extremely aggressive form of skin cancer – and routine tests show that Pete is cancer free. But the memory of cancer is always with him. So is his deep gratitude for the generosity of the Portland community – and the peace of mind the Jeremy Wilson Foundation (JWF) brought him when he thought that peace was beyond his reach.
Pete has been making his living on the Portland music scene since 1988, when he played clubs like Satyricon in punk bands. He later played with members of the psychedelic folk ensembles Holy Modal Rounders and the Clamtones as well as other types of rock and Gypsy jazz, and he pursued an interest in roots music that started with his first trip to a record store.
Eventually, Pete became a Portland favorite for his classic country vocals and his danceable country swing bands. But in 2013, his career was short-circuited by a tiny pinhead-sized pain in the back of his neck. After twice being told it was nothing, a third doctor visit led to a biopsy – and a melanoma diagnosis.
Following the surgery came a period of physical recovery – and a wait to learn if the cancer had spread. Meanwhile, Pete wasn’t working and didn’t know when he would return to the stage. A family member sent an email letting the community know that Pete needed financial help. “Almost immediately, various musical communities started organizing benefits,” Pete said. The Decemberists and members of Black Prairie put on a big fundraising show, as did the Laurelthirst Public House and the swing dance community.
Pete said, “Looking back, I realize I wasn’t really present for any of this.” He was in a fog of worry and fear that made it impossible for him to focus on day-to-day events, let alone on paying bills.
“Imagine having a migraine headache, receiving an eviction notice and your partner telling you she’s leaving all in one day.” Pete said that’s the kind of stress and confusion that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
As soon as the fundraising plea went out, Jeremy Wilson stepped in to offer help from the foundation that bears his name. JWF is an all-volunteer organization based in Portland that helps career musicians facing a medical crisis.
In addition to helping raise money, JWF made sure the funds were used in the way most helpful to Pete. “They paid my mortgage and they paid my grocery bills and all the utilities. And if I needed someone to buy groceries or help in other ways, they arranged that, too.”
The foundation pays vendors directly, rather than giving it to the musicians. This protects the artists from increased tax liability or loss of benefits, like Social Security Disability, they might be eligible for. “JWF allowed me to focus on the big picture, the big problems. You need to have the space to experience what’s happening to you directly, and that’s one of the big gifts I received from the foundation.”
It was many months before Pete was able to return to a full performance schedule. During that time, the foundation was there to make sure Pete could stay in his home and pay his bills. And Jeremy continued to check in with Pete even after he started playing, just to see if he needed anything.
“Musicians’ work has a public service aspect: we strengthen the community and we hope that our music makes people happy. But most of us don’t have a safety net. We don’t have retirement plans or savings, and we’re lucky if we can make the monthly payment for health insurance,” Pete said.
For Portland musicians, that safety net is often JWF. It has distributed nearly $500,000.00 to musician and their families in Portland and Clark County. You can help the foundation expand its support by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Jeremy Wilson Foundation 501(c)3 by sending a check to Jeremy Wilson Foundation, 1028 SE Water Ave., Suite 230, Portland, OR 97214, or visiting thejwf.org.
Your support makes music!