in their own words
Local nonprofit HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) provides financial assistance and heath care resources to thousands of working musicians living over 250% below our nation’s poverty line. In a city so dependent on live music to generate revenue and tourism, it’s surprising how many artists (many of whom regularly perform several nights a week) sincerely struggle to make ends meet.
It’s not just fear of being short on rent, or having to decide against dinner in favor of gas money for the band van; what happens when someone with no savings has a sudden, serious health problem?
HAAM’s founders knew that musicians tended to ignore issues, preferring to wait it out to avoid doctor’s bills and delays to practice schedules. They also knew that last-resort emergency room visits are ridiculously costly, and that recovery times especially impact musicians, who need to be getting onstage to make money in the first place.
Drummer Deano Cote knows all to well how complicated it can be to arrange health care with such strained resources. After moving to Austin to pursue music professionally, he was diagnosed with several chronic diseases requiring constant care. Luckily, HAAM helped him through it. Here’s his story, in his own words.
Cote moved to Texas in 2008 with his band, Copper Pocket; with a degree in Musical Education from the University of Rhode Island, over two decades of drumming experience and, luckily, a sister already living in Austin (Sonya Cote, Executive Chef at musical wonderland East Side Showroom), he was ready to get started in the Live Music Capital.
“I thought, wow, this is the best of both worlds: music and family."
After Copper Pocket disbanded, Cote began playing with big local names including Jeremy Nail, Graham Wilkinson, Dustin Welch, Jamie Thomas and Lisa Marshall, eventually scoring a two-year touring gig with Brandon Jenkins.
“You can imagine it was quite the culture shock being a Yankee and playing country music at honky-tonks in small towns all over Texas," he says.
While he was mostly focusing on his career, Cote knew there were some practical things to take care of after he relocated.
"When I moved to Austin, I had very little money and was trying to build up my musical career. I was no longer eligible for my mother's health insurance and had recently lost my college coverage. I could not afford health insurance on my own. Frankly, I didn't feel like I needed it; I was young and healthy and felt I could spend my money on more relevant things."
While he might have been alright just winging it, his parents had other ideas.
"With the advice of my mother (who has proven time and again that she really does know best), I explored my options, just to be safe, and found HAAM. It was advertised around town and stuck in my mind. I finally took the steps to sign up when members of Graham Wilkinson's band told be how great it was."
And that was that. Or so Cote thought:
"A few months after I signed up I began feeling ill, getting weaker and weaker with horrible stomach pains. After months of hospital visits, doctors visits, countless tests and days I couldn’t work, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and ulcertive colitis."
This news would be devastating to any young, active person, especially when they have to navigate bill collectors, ongoing care and costs of medicine.
"HAAM was very instrumental in getting me the proper treatment and the best doctors. They has helped me deal with my health issues in a very affordable way, including free medicine that, without coverage, would cost me at least $500 a month. And, while I was battling Crohn's and colitis, I was also touring so I could continue my music career."
The entire process was eye-opening, for a number of reasons.
"I was never too concerned with the health care issues in this country until I was diagnosed with a chronic disease (typical mindset: out of sight out of mind). I feel it does indicate a failure in the healthcare system. When I was on the phone for weeks on end with every insurance company imaginable, I never felt more like a number than a person."
Of course, it’s harder when you have to explain that you’re an artist; it’s a tough industry to pursue a career in, even more difficult to hold on to during challenging times.
"It is an upwards battle for anyone starting their own business and building something from the ground up. Being a musician is exactly that: it's being in business for yourself. Austin is special, because they have kept live music thriving in a iPod-and-headphones age. It wasn't until recently I realized that nothing I am working for and building up matters without my health."
And that’s exactly the foundation of HAAM’s organization: They know that a musician’s health is crucial to their performance, and they seek to take the anxiety, guesswork and fear out of maintaining that most important instrument.
In the end, Cote’s experience with HAAM has made him an advocate for their services:
"I recommend HAAM to all musicians, and I would love to see more organizations like this for different types of artists and young entrepreneurs who need help getting there start in a healthy state, physically and mentally."
These days, Cote is back to work, playing with the band SORNE. He recently recorded his first solo album, under the name Deano, which you can expect to hear next month. Most importantly? He’s healthy, and working—and HAAM has his back.