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Tucson has spotlight in four-day country benefit concert

Tucson has spotlight in four-day country benefit concert

One of country music’s biggest live-streaming concerts of the COVID-19 era is originating from Jessica Northey-Shaw’s Tucson living room.

Northey-Shaw, a trailblazing country music social media influencer who has more than 332,000 followers on Twitter and 236,000 followers on her Country Sway Facebook page, has assembled more than 40 country music artists from around the country to participate in “Summer Sway: Couches, Cocktails & Country Music,” a four-day “streamathon” to raise money and awareness for the Nashville-based Music Health Alliance.

“Right now, because of the tornadoes in Nashville (in early March) and COVID, they need the help,” Northey-Shaw said last week as she was putting the finishing touches on the four-day online festival that will stream on her Country Sway Facebook page (facebook.com/CountrySway) from Thursday, Aug. 27, to Sunday, Aug. 30.

The alliance, launched in 2013 by former artist manager Tatum Allsep, provides health-related resources for full-time professional musicians, assisting them in finding affordable health insurance and providing emergency aid to those facing a health emergency.

Since March when COVID-19 led to a nationwide quarantine, the nonprofit organization, which Allsep runs, has expanded its services to include basic life necessities.

“We have had over 1,700 new clients in a 12-week span across the nation. The need is not just healthcare access. It is the most basic life necessity of food, diapers, rent,” she said last week. “The need in our industry is like nothing I have ever seen. The industry lost 100% of its income when the world stopped.”

With no end in sight as venues nationwide remain closed and artists remain unable to tour, “it has been a really difficult season for our industry for sure, and it’s still going.”

Northey-Shaw organized the online festival following the success of a daylong virtual country music festival she organized in early April featuring Tucson artists.

Thousands of people tuned into the event, which included performances by her husband Billy Shaw Jr., Caiden Brewer, Drew Cooper, Kayleigh Mathews, Brooke Kelsey and a half dozen others.

Mathews and Shaw are the only local artists on the lineup for “Couches, Cocktails & Country Music,” which kicks off at noon Thursday and runs from noon to 9 p.m. daily through Sunday.

Most of the artists are up-and-comers and newbies, artists etching out independent careers from around the country and Canada. One group, Royal South, has a member who comes from London.

“We are believers that music heals the soul — and we hope we can share some sunshine during this dark time,” Southern Halo’s Nata and Tinka Morris said in a written statement.

“It’s an honor anytime I can do something for my brothers and sisters in the music industry,” said Shaw. “I feel like we’re one big family and right now the gig industry is being devastated and there are so many in need. I’ve been through seasons in my life where I’ve relied on help and when I’m on the opposite side of the coin there’s no other option but to pitch in.”

Music Health Alliance has benefited from several fundraising efforts throughout the pandemic, but none as ambitious as this, Allsep said.

“The virtual streaming fest is a brilliant idea,” she said. “When they (Country Sway) were looking for a charity partner and they really wanted to do something for the music industry directly, it was a really good fit. We can make a small amount of money go a long way.”

The lineup also includes veteran artists Jamie O’Neal, who had a hit early in her career with the song “There Is No Arizona;” and Kristian Bush, half of the platinum-selling duo Sugarland.

“Much has to be done to bring the industry back and keep the smaller venues from closing down. I don’t exactly know how or when the industry will come back as it once was, I only know we all need music and playing live in front of fans is my favorite thing to do,” said O’Neal in a written statement.

Throughout the streamathon — think telethon in the virtual world — the audience can donate to the alliance.

“I’ve heard about Music Health Alliance around town here in Nashville and when I found out they were involved in this to raise funds and raise awareness, I told them I was all in,” said country newcomer Paige King Johnson, whose career was sidetracked when COVID-19 hit just as her debut single “Water Down the Whiskey” was picking up steam. “Tell me whatever you need me to do to help out because I think we all need a little help.”

Northey-Shaw has been hosting streaming events throughout the pandemic, often turning over her Country Sway Facebook page to young artists to give them a bigger platform. Some 80,000 tuned in when Canadian country Singer Brett Kissel took over her page.

Louisiana country radio station Mustang 107.1 also is presenting “Couches, Cocktails & Country Music.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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