Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering
CRUZ BAY — When word got around that a popular musician and well-loved son of St. John had fallen to a sudden illness, there were many who quickly mounted a mission of the heart.
Within one week, efforts were rolled out to help Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering, leader of a popular reggae band that had made a name for itself long enough to produce a new generation of talent.
The famous bandleader, singer, guitarist and community activist has been moved from intensive care at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Puerto Rico on Sunday and is in stable condition.
The St. John Recovery Fund, a Go Fund Me Internet account and a radio telethon are among the different ways friends and supporters of Pickering and the Inner Visions Band have chosen to rally around the stricken artist. (The exact nature of the malady that sent Pickering to intensive care was not disclosed by family members speaking to St. John Tradewinds over the weekend.)
“He’s stable right now, that’s all the doctor is telling me,” said Irma Pickering, his mother.
What some friends and supporters have described are circumstances that have befallen many on St. John who make their lives as self employed persons in a tough, seasonal economy: A devastating illness or injury met by limited resources and little to no access to health insurance.
Fundraiser Now Beneficiary
They’re the kind of circumstances friends say have moved Grasshopper to lead his band onto stages, onto beaches, into concert venues and block parties to help people and institutions in need. Some of the first people to step forward on his behalf said for that reason and many more, they were raising enough money for Pickering to get transport off island and the best chances to get well at a Veterans facility.
Cid Hamling, owner of Connections Secretarial Service spoke about the efforts six days after word first got around. Hamling activated the Recovery Fund along with Perdita Stapleton and got in touch with the Office of Veteran’s Affairs.
“They’re working on it,” she said, with a note of frustration. The four and a half day Easter holiday weekend was slowing things down.
“Yesterday Akibo (Grasshopper’s son) was playing guitar in the room and Grasshopper was tapping his foot, and that’s a good sign,” she said.
But others are stepping up as well. Inner Visions’ booking agent April Steyert said the Go Fund Me page on Pickering’s Facebook page (Facebook/Phillip Hopper Pickering) had amassed $10,500.
Steyert praised the telethon run Friday and Saturday by a local Internet radio deejay, Daddy Lion Chandell, dubbed “Operation Grasshopper.” The sum grew by almost $3,000 on Friday.
With the individual donations came messages of encouragement: “Healing thoughts, Grasshopper,” said one.
From Tampa, Florida: “Praying for a speedy recovery.”
Closer to home: “What’s happening here? I hear u r in need, brother …”
Fans posted a photo of a lighthouse at sunset and a performance shot from a club called the Wild Hare. There was a You Tube performance of an
Inner Visions song, “My Father’s Prayer,” and more messages from the heart:
“Grasshopper, sending healing thoughts your way. The world misses you.”
Sentiments online for Pickering’s recovery “have been overwhelmingly positive,” said Steyert who first met Grasshopper in an online reggae chat room around 2000. They formed a friendship, which grew into a business relationship in 2006 when Inner Visions travelled to Ashville, NC to perform.
With no idea of what was involved in booking a reggae band on tour, Steyert took the task on, sending Inner Visions on to the college circuit, where they gained in popularity. That popularity even took the band to the famed Stone Pony Bar is Asbury Park, New Jersey, musical home to the state’s most famous son, Bruce Springsteen.
“You can’t help but have a lot of respect for him and his compassion and understanding of people,” Steyert said.
“Compassion for People”
Mary Bartolucci with the St. John Cancer Fund shared that thought.
“He’s a founding member of the St. John Cancer Fund,” Bartolucci said. “He’s been with us from the beginning. He certainly has been generous, donating his time with the band, with emceeing the event and with working on the music committee.”
Bartolucci, Pickering and a small dedicated band, including Cynthia Smith, had first formed around the American Cancer Society’s St. John Relay for Life event in the three years it appeared. They stayed together through the formation of the island’s cancer fund, which they say helped more than 40 people in 2013 with medical costs and costs associated with diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Although she did not express what role she was playing in the current effort to pay for medical transport and stateside treatment for Grasshopper, Bartolucci forecast a shining outcome.
Adonis Morton, this year’s cancer walkathon emcee, said he too was answering the call to help, having been called by Patty Nolan at Caravan Auto to host a fundraising block party.
The benefit fundraiser, he said, is scheduled for April 11.
Benefit Block Party April 11
“We’re raising some funds and we’ll be happy to do it,” Morton said. “We haven’t gotten the official word to officially turn it into a block party,” he said, adding that Nolan was working the details out and the event, in whatever form, would take place in the area of the Caravan shop and garage.
“Any effort to help Grasshopper, I’m 100 percent there,” Morton said.
Back at Connections, Hamling’s counter sidekick, Mary Pat Brown, said a $10,000 loan was offered to the recovery fund, in anticipation that generous support would cover the figure and surpass it. All donations to assist in meeting the medical costs, she said, were welcome.
“He’s just such a fine, upstanding man and a great human being, all around,” said Brown.
And as the mission grew in numbers and strength, there were those who sounded the same note as Bartolucci.
“I have always felt very strongly that he is going to recover fully. Because he has more work to do,” she said.