Known for their charitable leanings, the 10 Desert Bluegrass Association members of which Ocotillo Rain & Thunder are comprised are well regarded as the “bluegrass band that gives back.”
The band is comprised of frontman Jeff Collins on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, as well as Jolene Berg (bass), Gene Berg (banjo), Holly Tripp (harmonies), Nancy Hildreth (mandolin), and guitarists DeWayne Tripp, Curt Holmes, Jim Wagner, Joe Wilkie and Hank Hassenpat. You can often find them performing traditional Americana music spanning from “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” to Old Crow Medicine Show and Darius Rucker’s hit “Wagon Wheel” at local farmers markets and festivals around Tucson and its surrounding area.
What sets the band apart from other Tucsonan bluegrass outlets, however, is their propensity toward giving back to the community. Since their founding, the band has continuously given all of its profits, whether through tips or from direct payment, to a different charity each month.
“The best thing about being a part of this band is that it doesn’t even feel like work,” mused Collins during an intermission at Ocotillo Rain & Thunder’s recent show at the St. Philips Plaza Farmers Market. “We have fun, and donating all of the money that we make during the month through having fun to a charity is an amazing bonus.”
This month, Ocotillo Rain & Thunder have set their sights on CurePSP.
CurePSP is a non-profit charity organization dedicated toward researching and discovering developments in the currently non-curable degenerative neurological disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). PSP is an highly uncommon mental disorder which cannot be detected with a brain scan. It often goes undiagnosed until it is too late to stop, having famously killed actor Dudley Moore in 2002.
Joining the group as a guest star for the month is banjoist and slide guitarist Dave Polston, also a member of country, bluegrass and gospel fusion band 2 Lazy 2 Ranch. Polston’s joining up with the band during their October run has a particular meaning close to his heart as his wife suffered from PSP, ultimately passing away from the disease three years ago.
“The parts of the brain that control their eye muscles and throat muscles die,” Polston explained to the crowd in between performances. “They lose their ability to see and focus, talk and swallow. It’s such a horrible, horrible disease, and the worst part is that your mind is still with you all the way up until the end. They’re just trapped in their bodies.”
“Dudley Moore actually got fired from his last two movie sets because people had thought he was drunk on the job,” Polston continued. “My wife had fallen several times herself, having broken her nose and her hand before finally getting a diagnosis two years into it. They were able to finally diagnose her because of her vertical eye movement. She was no longer able to look down without having to move her head.”
The band later reported on its Facebook page that a kickoff show in honor of CurePSP was a success, having “collected serious tip money at St. Philips Plaza today.”
You can visit Ocotillo Rain & Thunder’s official website at ocotillorain.blogspot.com for more information on the band and their upcoming show dates, including incoming October performances Tohono Chul Bistro, Kino Sports Complex, and at the Dove Mountain Farmers Market.
To find out more about CurePSP and its mission, you can visit the organization’s official webpage at psp.org.