Community tunes in to Maynard
"Everybody loves Maynard Silva and everybody really wants to give back to him all that he gave to us," says Barbara Puciul-Hoy, about how local musicians have banded together to plan a lavish benefit concert for him this weekend. Promising to be the blowout of the season, Sunday's upbeat bash at Outerland will raise funds to help the well-loved Island bluesman who has been fighting cancer for nearly three years.
Mr. Silva may be laid low at the moment by cancer and radiation treatments, but his spirit and wit are as high as ever. His familiar, genial voice on the phone line quickly disperses any trepidation about intruding on his privacy or sapping his energy.
Mr. Silva has been staring down the disease since August 2005, when he was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He recovered from treatment and went back to his busy life, sign painting and performing. He prevailed in the next round, too, when a year later potentially cancerous nodules were discovered in his lung. After surgery and chemotherapy he thought he was finally done with the disease. But cancer showed up in a different form last December when, after Mr. Silva had a violent seizure, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He was rushed to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for emergency surgery ("The helicopter ride was great," he jokes.) The tumor's location made it appear difficult to remove; the outcome was uncertain. But luck smiled on the musician.
"That brain surgery was the easiest surgery I ever had," says Mr. Silva with a gravelly chuckle. "I was walking that afternoon, and I played a gig four days later - with doctor's permission too! He said 'Sing a little blues? I think that'll be good for you.'"
He appeared as scheduled at a First Night concert, delighting his many Island friends. Having severely fractured his shoulder during the seizure, he set his guitar aside and began playing harmonica instead. This February he underwent radiation therapy to make sure no cancerous nodules remained. When he did not regain his strength, a CAT scan revealed a tumor on his aorta.
Exhausted after two rounds of radiation, he and his wife, artist Basia Jaworska Silva, stick close to home and each other, making the most of the time as they wait to see what comes next.
"You can't say you're lucky when you've got this much cancer," says Mr. Silva. "But I've been lucky about the people who take care of me, especially my lovely wife."
Sitting nearby, Ms. Silva, his wife of 15 months, takes the phone. She and Mr. Silva met in 1998, were together for six years, then went their separate ways. They got back together in 2006 and married a few months later in January, 2007, when Mr. Silva was in the midst of chemotherapy. "We didn't waste any time," she says.
"It's been a good time together even though we have a strange bedfellow," says Ms. Silva. "It's changed the complexion of the marriage, in some way deepened it. You think of what you mean to each other and appreciate what you have. "You get to know each other a lot faster and deeper."
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
She adds, "We sure get silly a lot," and laughs. "Sometimes it gets so intense all we can do is be totally zany. It helps you survive it. Together we can laugh up a storm!"
The community has been a shelter and a safety net, Ms. Silva says, expressing appreciation for helpful SSA staff, friends who offer transportation to off-Island medical appointments, and the Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, which provides everything from emotional support and advice to financial help.
After years of being restless, Ms. Silva finds herself content staying home with her husband, making sure he eats and drinks, keeping him comfortable, sharing the days. "This is the journey in," she says.
Many Island musicians credit Mr. Silva with giving them a valuable boost when they were just getting started. And it is usually Mr. Silva himself who is on stage at fundraisers, playing for neighbors in need. "I've always tried to help people out when I could," he says.
Slim Bob Berosh, one of the benefit's organizers, recalls hearing about Mr. Silva when he moved to the Island in 1990. "Everyone told me 'You've got to hear Maynard Silva play.' When I finally heard him I understood why. He's such a gifted guy."
The young guitarist was struck by Mr. Silva's versatility and thrilled to know someone who had met and played with veteran blues greats. He loves to perform with Mr. Silva and admires his gift for tailoring his music to the mood of the audience. "He's one of the most laid back people I know," Mr. Berosh says. He'll make up lyrics. Not everyone is that free-spirited."
"He was so encouraging," says Ms. Puciul-Hoy, who played as a novice musician with Mr. Silva years ago. Like others, she is amazed at how Mr. Silva has continued performing, even soon after surgery.
"I think music can heal you," she says. "Maybe he feels that too. You always feel so good after you play."
"I've been involved with their music since they were wet behind the ears," says Mr. Silva about the two concert organizers. "I love 'em both. They're good-hearted people."
Friends have come up with a fittingly colorful way to honor the ailing musician, and are asking concertgoers to wear red, high-top, Converse sneakers, Mr. Silva's trademark footwear.
Sunday night's benefit begins on a bluegrass note with the popular young bands Ballyhoo and Squash Meadow setting the mood for an outdoor barbeque. The show includes sets by the Luckey Strikes, a new rockabilly band featuring Ms. Puciul-Hoy and Mr. Berosh, Lorna Ashe, Don Groover, and Steve Carreira, followed by Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Then an array of special guests will take the stage.
"People are just touched by Maynard so they all want to be part of the event," says Ms. Puciul-Hoy. "Everyone loves them both. Maynard and Basia are such giving people."
Mr. Silva hopes to feel well enough to show up at Sunday's shindig. He wants to soak up the positive energy even though he can't participate. But although he won't actually be at the microphone, everyone will feel the positive energy that comes from him.
Benefit BBQ and concert for Maynard Silva, Sunday, May 4, Outerland, Martha's Vineyard Airport. Doors open 7 pm. Tickets $20 at the door. 508-693-1137.
Donations can also be mailed to You've Got a Friend, P.O. Box 1317, West Tisbury, MA 02575. Gifts will be acknowledged with a return receipt.