Some of the best local bands in Memphis will get together this weekend to raise funds for the mentally ill. Since starting in 2013, the Memphians in Support of The Mentally Ill (MISOMI) benefit has given all of the proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Memphis (NAMI Memphis), an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with mental illness and their families. MISOMI founder and organizer Graham Winchester said that given his musical background, a concert was the most logical way to raise funds.
"I wanted to start something that could directly help the community with fund-raising, and I knew I wanted to use my passion of music to do it," Winchester said. "Several years ago, I remember watching a documentary about multiple cases of horrific abuse to mental health patients at hospitals all over the world. You could probably even replace the word patients with prisoners. I was filled with anger mixed with a sense of duty to try to do something about it. On a personal level, I've known many people with mental illnesses and have always had a huge sensitivity to their well-being."
Started in 1985, NAMI Memphis is a grassroots organization that advocates for people with mental illness and their families by providing support, education, and resources. According to a 2013 study by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, more than 130,000 adults in Memphis and Shelby County suffer from a mental illness. Winchester said he first found out about NAMI Memphis as a child when he and his family would frequently donate to the organization.
Each year the MISOMI benefit has gotten bigger (the first benefit featured six bands while this year's features 11), and Winchester said that he received lots of requests from bands interested in joining the cause. Even if some bands had to be turned away, Saturday night's lineup features some of the best live bands in the Memphis rock-and-roll scene, with appearances by Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks, Dead Soldiers, Devil Train, Zigadoo Moneyclips, and more. Winchester said he was amazed at all the support he got from local musicians interested in playing the benefit.
"Since the first one, it has been shocking how many bands have asked to play, and most of the time they say that they have a friend or family member that makes the cause near and dear to them," Winchester said. "I always say yes to as many bands as possible that ask to play because everyone should be able to get in on MISOMI. It's a community-builder, and what makes something like MISOMI work is everyone's involvement."
Winchester said that he would like to see the MISOMI benefit turn into a two-night festival with multiple venues and sponsors, but that changing the way society views mental illness is higher on his agenda.
"I would love for the MISOMI concerts to be that one ridiculously fun and successful show every band and musician in town wants to play," Winchester said. "But on a broader level, I want the festival to be a representation of a wider change in how we as a society view mental illness. Memphis is already a hub for physical illness hospitals that are world-renowned and well-run. What if we were also the central hub for mental health care? No single city is. It would generate money, jobs, respect, and most importantly, health and help for people afflicted all over the world."
As for the bands, Winchester said he's excited about catching the debut of Doctor Brown and getting the Dead Soldiers on board for MISOMI:
"A band like the Dead Soldiers could play the Hi-Tone every night of the year and make a fortune off door cover, but their joining the bill shows tremendous support for what the night is all about: the greater cause."
Additional donations for NAMI Memphis will be accepted during the show.