Country for Cancer: Sawyer Brown headlines second annual concert to support Wyoming cancer patients
By Kristy Bleizeffer Aug 5, 2015
Ten years ago, Wyoming’s favorite rodeo champion and country music star, Chris LeDoux, died of a rare form of cancer. He was 56.
In tribute, the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation founded Country for Cancer to raise money for Wyoming cancer patients. Western Underground, LeDoux’s touring band, headlined the inaugural concert. (Read Ned LeDoux’s touching tribute to his dad here.)
This year, Sawyer Brown headlines the second Country for Cancer concert on Oct. 9. The country rock band shared the same manager with Chris LeDoux and toured with him for several years.
“Everybody thought it was a strange pairing with us and Chris LeDoux because he was this cowboy and we were this country rock band. But we had this great cross section of fans that loved both bands,” said Mark Miller, lead singer and songwriter for Sawyer Brown. “The further west we go, the fans get more real. They are authentic – and that’s what I loved about Chris LeDoux. He was a real man’s man.”
In this interview with The Pulse, Miller talks about touring with Sawyer Brown for 35 years, his friend Chris LeDoux and how cancer has touched his life and the lives of too many others.
You’ve been touring for more than three decades. What keeps you going?
This year is our 35th year on the road. When we are on tour and we see what joy we are creating and that God has blessed us to be able to write songs and make music, I think that is what keeps us going. I remember that joy just from being a kid, being a fan of music and listening to classic rock – Billy Joel, Elton John, the Beach Boys. When I hear those songs, they take me back to a special place, and I can see that in our fans. It is so awesome to get to experience that firsthand.
You have such a strong presence on the stage. Was that something you developed over time or something that was just always there?
My musical background goes all the way back to being in church. I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and if you know anything about Pentecostals, you know that we really get into our music. It was a celebration, and that is still how I feel about performing. On stage, I am goofy and I am silly. Some people call it dancing, and I just call it jumping around. I get caught up in that same thing that the audience does. If I can let my hair down – not that I have any left now – and if I can get the audience to do the same, then it is going to be a good show.
How has cancer touched your life?
My wife’s mother died of lung cancer. I have a Christian record label and one of the artists I produce had his kidney removed from cancer. And, of course, losing Chris LeDoux. You could probably talk to 10 out of 10 people and they would say that cancer has reached them in some form or fashion.
It is absolutely something that we always need to keep in the forefront because it is so relevant. Since the beginning of our career, we have been involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. I can tell you that visiting that hospital with those children, that is a life-changing experience for anyone.
How did Chris LeDoux’s cancer diagnosis impact the country community?
We toured with Chris for probably a couple of years, and we had the same manager. I was a very, very good friend with Chris and was very close to him. The thing you have to know about Chris LeDoux is he was a total man’s man. Had I not had the same manager as Chris, I probably wouldn’t have known very much about his cancer or that he was trying to get a transplant. That is how private Chris was. Most of us didn’t know how serious his cancer was until the final days. I never ever saw Chris down about any of it.
There was never an issue or situation that it was ever going to be about him. He was amazing and was an incredible man. He was a man’s man, and I loved Chris LeDoux for that. Just being around him, and we were very close especially those years we toured together. He was always up and always strong. I would say, other than his family, I do not know if anyone would have seen Chris when he was weak.
Do you remember how you heard about his passing?
I got a call from my manager. He wanted to tell me before it hit the news, and I was at home when he told me. It was a very private moment. I only think Chris and his family were there at the end.
This concert will benefit our Angels Cancer Care Program, providing support to Wyoming cancer patients through non-medical needs such as food vouchers, wigs, medication costs and other support. Speaking from your own family’s experience, how important is this kind of help after a cancer diagnosis?
There is nothing more important than the human touch. Just knowing that someone cares and is walking there beside you, in whatever capacity, can be meaningful. Whether it is providing transportation to or from the facility or simply saying, “Hey, I am here,” these things are huge. They’re a big deal. I am a Christian man, a solid believer, and I believe that is what we are called to do for each other. This kind of service is so important to cancer families.
How do you feel about coming back to Wyoming?
Our biggest fan base is in the Midwest all the way to the big sky in the Northwest. Our buses are always headed in that direction. The further west we go, it is just so beautiful, so we love that. The fans are real, they are authentic – and that’s what I loved about Chris LeDoux, too.
Everybody thought it was a strange pairing with us and Chris LeDoux because he was this cowboy and we were this country rock band. But the pairing was incredible. We had this great cross section of fans that loved both bands. That is what I will say about folks in Wyoming: We always believed that our music was just honest and real. I am not a cowboy, and I wear tennis shoes on stage. They loved that about me because I am not a cowboy. I am not going to get up there when in Wyoming and put on a cowboy hat. They love that. The folks from Wyoming, in Montana, they just accept you for who you are. That is the biggest fresh air for me when we get to come to Wyoming.
We did several shows in Wyoming with Chris. We would make Chris go on last when we played there because his fan base was so huge.
Does the fact that this concert is a benefit for Wyoming cancer patients add any more pressure?
Every time we walk on stage, we feel that pressure, to be honest. We feel there is a need and that is the reason we are there.
This will be all that much more special knowing the situation. To know that there will people in the crowd that night, cancer patients, who just need to forget about everything other than enjoying that music and that show, that is going to feel absolutely awesome.
If you go …
What: Second annual Country for Cancer, a tribute concert for Wyoming's cancer survivors
When: Doors open at 6 p.m. Oct. 9, concert starts at 7 p.m.
Where: Casper Events Center
Tickets: $30 to $40, available at CasperEventsCenter.com. Money raised benefits the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation's Angels Cancer Care Program, serving cancer patients across Wyoming.