HAAM Day keeps Austin musicians and music scene healthy

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUTX

KUT 90.5 | By Seema Mathur / Published September 13, 2022 at 5:01 AM CDT

James Bookert had had a seizure on his couch.

“I don’t remember any of it,” the Austin musician who goes by San Gabriel said. “I woke up and had an oxygen mask on my face.”

Paramedics rushed him to Seton Hospital, he said, where he had an array of tests — from brain CT scans to an MRI.

“All of those are really expensive procedures, which I definitely would not have been able to pay for,” Bookert said.

Michael Minasi / KUT
San Gabriel poses for a photo before a popup performance at J&J Spirits in January.

He got help from the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, or HAAM, a nonprofit that subsidizes health insurance plans for musicians so they can access emergency, primary and specialty care.

“I don’t know what most of us musicians would do for health care,” Bookert said. “I honestly think we’d all just ignore it.”

Today, San Gabriel and more than 200 other Austin musicians are performing from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m at several venues around Austin as part of HAAM Day, the biggest annual fundraiser for the organization.

“The compensation is not so great when it comes to getting paid for a gig,” said Paul Scott, HAAM’s CEO. “That’s why we feel like it’s so critical that we take some of this burden off our musicians when it comes to accessing medical care.”

Scott points out that music has about a $2 billion a year economic impact on the Austin community, yet 80% of the musicians HAAM helps earn about $24,000 a year.

Partner relationships allow HAAM to add unique benefits beyond traditional health care, Scott said. It also partners with an ear, nose and throat specialist who makes custom earplugs to protect musicians’ hearing.

HAAM currently helps about 3,000 musicians access health care. To qualify, musicians must meet a specific criteria showing they are indeed “working” musicians, be at a certain income level and live in the Austin area.

Scott said HAAM hopes to raise $800,000 — a critical part of its budget — today. Most of the money comes from sponsorships, but Scott said, he hopes members of the community will also make donations on HAAM’s website

Musicians play for free on HAAM Day and there’s no cost to attend a show. For a full lineup, go here.

Bookert said it’s an honor to perform and a way to say thank you for Austin’s support.

“HAAM has been been so instrumental in being able to keep myself healthy,” he said.

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