Six or seven years ago, a pair of St. Louis rock bands forged a friendship based less on a similar sound and more on the members' personalities and shared, sardonic sense of humor. The Blind Eyes, which began as a nervy garage-pop trio, and Kentucky Knife Fight, a quintet that mixed bar-band blues with dark-hearted aggression, found themselves sharing in-town bills and a few out-of-town tours as both groups carved out space in the local music scene. Their friendship culminated in three years' worth of New Year's Eve parties at Off Broadway, where the bands combined powers to cover hits by the Smiths, the Beastie Boys, R.E.M. and more.
Both groups called it quits a few years back, but this weekend the Blind Eyes are reuniting for a one-night-only performance — and once again, Kentucky Knife Fight is involved. The show is a fundraiser in benefit of research for Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a rare disease that leaves those affected with severely fragile skin that is prone to a near-constant state of blisters and wounds. Two-year old Rowan Holler has EB, and her parents — former Kentucky Knife Fight singer Jason Holler and his wife Kate — shepherd their daughter through a regular routine of wound-dressing, doctors' appointments and around-the-clock care to protect her fragile skin.
There is currently no cure for this disease, but a group of the Hollers' friends have partnered to raise money and awareness for EB. In addition to the Blind Eyes set, Pretty Little Empire's Justin Johnson and William Godfred will perform, and KDHX DJ Chris Bay will spin between the bands. The event takes place on Saturday, October 21 at RKDE (2720 Cherokee Street).
The benefit was planned without Holler's involvement; he and his wife were informed a few weeks before the show was announced. "We were really moved," Holler says over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, where he and his family relocated when Kate was pregnant to be near her family. "I think I cried — I'm pretty sure I did. It was really moving, really touching."
The reunion of the Blind Eyes is of special importance to Holler, who speaks with fondness of sharing stages with the group. "It was a surprise to us, but if someone would have asked what St. Louis band you would like play at something like this, I would have picked them," says Holler. "Our bands played so many shows together in several states, and we were always really close as friends."
For Blind Eyes' guitarist and singer Seth Porter, the choice to resurrect his old band in service of a good friend was an easy one.
"When the organizers came to us with this proposal, it seemed like a great chance to use whatever small amount of drawing power we have to benefit a good cause," says Porter. "The Hollers are the loveliest people, so anything to help them — in this case, indirectly: they insisted all of the money go to the EB Research Partnership — was a no-brainer."
Nate Burrell, an organizer and local photographer, has spent time with the family and was moved by the dedication of the parents and the tenacity of young Rowan.
"When thinking of the Hollers and Rowan's medical condition, the three words that jump to the front of the line, in my mind, are fragility, patience and resilience," says Burrell. "To see a sweet little girl with skin abrasions is sad in itself, but knowing there is nothing you can do to fully prevent it is heartbreaking."
It's a sentiment echoed by Holler, who didn't attempt to mask the weariness that comes with aiding a chronically ill daughter. "Caring for your child is such an undertaking, such work," Holler says. "It's touched every part of our lives and it's just such a crazy thing that there's this disorder that I hadn't heard of three years ago. And now here it is; every moment of my life is spent thinking about it or doing something spent catering to it."
Talking with Holler, the numbers begin to overwhelm: Rowan takes fifteen different medications daily; she visits the doctor at least every seven days; she was hospitalized three times in the span of 60 days at the beginning of the year. And her bandages, which need to be changed three times a week, can take between 90 minutes and four hours to wrap. Holler is quick to credit his wife, Kate, for wearing many hats — that of a mom, a nurse and a secretary to keep track of appointments, bills and insurance matters.
"Kate's taking all that on," he says. "And so she, like I, had no idea that this is how things would be upon moving here. But I think she's doing a wonderful job."
Holler hopes that this weekend's benefit will raise awareness for a little-known disease with a hope toward a cure. "It's often called 'the worst disease you've never heard of,' which is accurate," Holler says. "Our great hope is that they find a cure, so that's important to us rather than us getting the money.
"Lord knows we can all use money," he adds, "but I think it's just really short-sighted to take the donations for our own sake when what we really need is a cure for this — for our daughter and for other kids."
Those who cannot make it to the show, but would still like to donate, can do so here.