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Catching Up With Victoria Williams

By Gary Wien

originally published: 04/26/2017

Catching Up With Victoria WilliamsFor many music fans in the 90s, Victoria Williams was their introduction to Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  The Louisiana born Williams was a rising star in the indie world, touring as the opening act for Neil Young when she first began having neurological problems.  Faced with a sudden bout of medical bills and without health insurance, 14 artists including Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum, Lou Reed, and The Waterboys covered songs written by Williams on a tribute album entitled “Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams.”  The album did so well that it led to the creation of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, an organization that aids musicians with their medical bills.

The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund went through a period of hard times but rebounded and now is regularly supported by hundreds of musicians, corporations, and music fans. The organization works with venues across the country and holds benefit concerts from time to time.  One such concert is a “Strange 80s” benefit taking place on Sunday, May 14 at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles, California.  Hosted by Finn Wolfhard of the Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” the event will feature performances by Finn and a rotating case of rock stars and celebrities covering timeless songs from the 80s.  All proceeds go to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

Performers scheduled to play the benefit include Tenacious D, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and Sarah Silverman, plus Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Jane Wiedlin (Go Go’s), Adam & John (Taking Back Sunday), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Pearl Aday, Michael Starr (Steel Panther), Richard and Johnny (Filter), Dave Kushner (Velvet Revolver), Dan Konopka (OkGo), Deap Vally, John Feldmann (Goldfinger), Marko Desantis (Sugarcult), Stephen (Anberlin) and more.

When New Jersey Stage heard about the benefit, we thought it was a good time to see how Victoria Williams was doing these days.  MS is a disease that affects a pair of writers of this magazine and we know that it affects everyone differently.  Members of the magazine staff have been raising money and taking part in this year’s Walk MS in Lake Como, which takes place Sunday, April 30.  If you would like to make a donation, click here.

How are you doing?
I am doing good.

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The Sweet Relief album was sort of my introduction to MS.  Do you feel that many know of your work because of MS?
Well definitely people who have the unfortunate diagnose of MS.  A lot of people got in touch with me, asking what I was taking and stuff like that.


What was it that originally led you to be tested for MS?
I was out touring, opening for Neil Young and I was playing solo.  It was like two week spurts and then you’d have two weeks off.  I remember I was playing a gig one night and I had to leave the next day to go on the next spurt.  It was hard for me to walk and I went to a chiropractor because I thought there was something wrong with my back.  I thought I might have pulled something.  He said I think you have MS.  I thought he was crazy!

I went on to do the tour and as the tour went on my hands weren’t working and the tour manager said “You’ve got to go to a hospital and find out what’s wrong with you.” I went and they did a lot of tests and where they found the MS was in the MRI.  They saw the scars in my brain and that’s when I was diagnosed with MS.


Do you remember what you felt when you heard the diagnose?
I think I thought it was muscular dystrophy in my head.  I was mixed up.  Luckily I’ve just gone on having faith.  That’s the thing.  I have faith that everything’s going to be alright.  Like it was a good thing that I was able to start Sweet Relief.  A lot of people have gotten help from it.  For me, every day is one day at a time.


At the time, many MS drugs were just beginning to be introduced.  Were you able to get on one?
I was trying to do all natural stuff, but my doctor said “you’re getting too many symptoms, you’ve got to start taking drugs.” So that’s when I started taking shots.  I would be walking and see a big step and be like “woh! How can I get my feet to go up this big step?” Some stuff never came back.  My feet are still kind of numb and my hands are still kind of numb.

Can you still play guitar and write songs?
Yes, I can.  What I’ve been doing when I’m playing is I do a lot of improvising, which is how I started.  I started out doing improvising but when I got a record deal they said, “You have to play the same songs every time because you’re promoting your record.” But now it’s been good because I do a lot of improvisation which I love doing.  I feel it’s such a gift.


Do you still do live shows?
Yes, I do.  I just played one recently, but it wasn’t my stuff.  It was a benefit for autism at a theatre in Glendale with a lot of other people doing the Big Pink (The Band’s) record.  They assigned the songs and I was assigned “Rocking Chair.” I also sang backup for a lot of people.  There were a lot of people there I hadn’t seen in years.  It was fun to do that.


Are you thinking about putting out new music sometime? You released a live album from the 90s for this year’s Record Store Day, but it’s been a while since your last album of new material.
I think I will put out a new album of songs, but I don’t know when.  I live here on this ranch with so many things to do every day.  There are plenty of animals here.  It seems like every day is full.  I hope to do a record this year, but I’ve said that for years and I haven’t done it yet.  It doesn’t mean I can’t.  God willing, I can.

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Riverside Rhythm and Rhyme Presents Patrick Fitzsimmons On December 16
(SUCCASUNNA, NJ) -- Riverside Rhythm and Rhyme (RR&R) presents Patrick Fitzsimmons on Sunday, December 16 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm at the Investors Bank Theatre in Succasunna. Tickets are $20 for general admission; $15 for RAA/SSG/JAM members; and free for those under 18.
Outpost in the Burbs Presents Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams
(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- Outpost in the Burbs presents Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams on Saturday, December 8th at 8:00pm at the First Congregational Church, 40 South Fullerton Avenue.  Opening the show will be New York City-based singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson. Outpost volunteers will be accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys for the holiday season for Toys for Tots at the show.
Jann Klose and The Voice's Josett Diaz To Perform At Ethical Brew To Benefit A Cause Close To Home
(TEANECK, NJ) -- On Saturday, December 8th, singer-songwriter and recording artist, Jann Klose will perform at Ethical Brew on behalf of Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, a community arts and cultural center for children and teens located in Bronx, New York.  Doors open at 7:30, show begins at 8:00pm.
Kenny Chesney To Perform At Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Focusing on smaller venues and markets not directly impacted by his massive stadium tours, Kenny Chesney sought to make his Songs for the Saints 2019 Tour mirror the intimacy of its namesake album. Inspired by the resilience of the people around him, Chesney doubles down on the human connection for his 2019 tour by seeking those members of No Shoes Nation who have spent the past decade and a half making the trip to stadium markets for what is now a summer tradition. On Saturday, May 11, 2019 he brings the tour to Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena in Atlantic City, NJ.
State Theatre New Jersey presents Cirque Dreams Holidaze
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Cirque Dreams Holidaze on Friday, December 7 at 8:00pm, Saturday, December 8 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday, December 9 at 2:00pm. Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a division of Cirque du Soleil, has become a critically acclaimed, state-of-the-art Broadway musical, and a fun-filled, holiday family show. Tickets range from $35-$98.

"Great Music!" Tavares and Harold Melvin's Blue Notes LIVE! at the Strand Theater
The music of the 1970s is alive and well this Saturday, November 3, 2018 at Lakewood, NJ’s Strand Theater with a concert by the ’70’s R&B and soul groups Tavares and Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes!
"An Amazing Musical Genius!" Brian Wilson LIVE! at the State Theatre
In the music room in the back of our house, there’s an electric bass and amp, two acoustic guitars, a microphone and PA speakers, several pieces of music recording equipment, and a bookcase filled with books on music, not to mention a slew of assorted music memorabilia. But, perhaps, one of the most highly prized items in the room is hanging directly above the piano next to the college music diplomas.
Jazz Saxophonist Don Braden LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s a breezy day for a new installment of the Jazz On a Sunday Afternoon concert series at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Sunday Oct. 27, 2018 afternoon. Today’s special 3pm performance is entitled Earth, Wind and Wonder and is presented by jazz saxophonist Don Braden.
Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge LIVE! at The Strand, Lakewood
The stars are out this Saturday Oct. 26, 2018 evening in Lakewood, NJ for a “Golden Oldies” concert featuring Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge!
PODCAST: Grammy Winner Terri Lyne Carrington At TD James Moody Jazz Festival
Drummer, leader, and composer Terri Lyne Carrington made history as the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz for her album “Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue.” Now, she brings her interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Money Jungle” to the TD James Moody Jazz Festival at NJPAC on November 11, 2018, as part of a program called “Jazz Vinyl Revisited.” Producer Susan Wallner talks to Carrington about her connections to the jazz greats Clark Terry and Max Roach; her newest project, the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice; and why she thinks drummers make natural leaders.

Event calendar
Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018

The Madness of George III @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm and 7:00pm


Warren Miller’s Face of Winter @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 7:30pm

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