The blessing of friends Benefit: Members of the folk music pTC community put their dollars where their hearts are and come to the aid of one of their own.

November 29, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

They met as high school students in the Bronx and married young. Over the years, their love has accrued; not just for each other but for the stunningly rich trove of folk music that has proliferated around the world.

For 10 years, Tony Sica has been the host of "Detour," Baltimore's only folk-based radio show, which airs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays on WTMD (89.7 FM).

Under Joyce Sica's direction, an annual folk music series that began in a Mount Vernon Church has turned into a showcase for notable artists, including the electrifying Dougie MacLean, the Chenille Sisters, John Gorka, Cherish the Ladies, Catie Curtis, Patty Larkin and the Belfast-based band Craobh Rua.

Baltimore's modest but ardent community of folk musicians and fans is grateful for the Sicas' efforts to champion a living tradition often out-decibeled by predictably popular play formats. This year, it was their turn to help the Sicas.

In 1995, Tony Sica, 51, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a slow but stealthy form of cancer. At first, "Joyce kept it quiet," remembers Paul Hartman, editor of Dirty Linen, a traditional music magazine based in Baltimore. "She didn't know how to deal with it. ... She finally did at one concert explain why Tony wasn't there. It was really an emotional show."

After undergoing chemo and radiation therapy, Tony received a bone marrow transplant this past spring. The ordeal depleted the Sicas mentally and physically, and left them with a $190,000 debt not covered by insurance.

A large fund-raiser sponsored by the folk community last spring helped offset their expenses. Headliners Tom Paxton, Garnet Rogers and others who have benefited from the Sicas' support interrupted concert tours to aid their ailing friend.

Loyalty is key in the folk realm, says Sue Trainor, a singer/songwriter and manager of the Folkal Point in Columbia.

"It has to do with the economy of the community and the way we all behave about buying music and going to hear music. We, by and large, don't invest our time and discretionary income in things that aren't familiar to us," says Trainor, a close friend of the Sicas.

"It's the public radio that closes that gap. It makes the artists you never hear of, the tunes you never heard of, familiar. That's what keeps the performers coming into our area," Trainor says. "In the same way [you would] come running out to help a neighbor, we're raising some money and just thanking Tony for all he does and continues to do."

The Sicas' community responded with gestures beyond fund-raising. There were painting parties to spruce up their home for Tony's return from the hospital. And once word got out that he despised losing his hair from chemotherapy, hats poured in, 100 of them. Paxton sent one with a note: "There's life after hair."

One of Tony's earliest discoveries, Mary Chapin Carpenter, sent a dozen hats herself.

With the permission of the artists, Joyce Sica's folk concert series, now located at Mays Chapel United Methodist Church in Timonium, was videotaped weekly so Tony could watch performances at home. At one concert, the audience waved at the camera and shouted in unison, "Hi, Tony!"

When first stricken, Tony Sica says, "I sort of felt like I was cursed." Upon receiving the sustenance of so many, he realized, "I was really blessed with lots of friends. That really made a difference to me, to have so many people in my corner."

Moral support was as valuable to Joyce Sica, 50, as it was to her husband. "I know I would not have made it without these people," she says.

It's been six months since Sica left the hospital. At this point, the cancer is in remission. His energy and blood count are rebounding and he hopes to return to his job at Panasonic in January. If he can't, Sica will lose his corporate insurance coverage and have to pay his own.

Just in case the Sicas do lose their insurance, the folk community is sponsoring another benefit concert tonight, featuring local artists including Grace Griffith, Debi Smith, Al Petteway & Amy White and the group Terra Nova.

If all goes well, and the Sicas don't need all of the contributions, the couple hopes to establish a continuing health fund that will assist folk musicians and their families during catastrophic illnesses. Replenished by benefit concert receipts from around the country, the fund would be administered through the North American Folk Alliance.

For now, the Sicas are concentrating on situation normal. "I'm thrilled that they've kept going," their friend, Paul Hartman, says.

Joyce Sica has booked the concert series through May. If she wanted to, she could book it through the following season as well. But she'd rather take it "year by year," she says.

Recently, Tony Sica has been making brief appearances on "Detour" and plans to return to the program on a rotating basis with Hartman very soon.

"The music itself is a reason to keep battling back," Tony says. And come spring, "I want to play golf again."

Good Folks

What: Benefit folk music concert for the Tony Sica Health Fund

Where: Mays Chapel United Methodist Church, 11911 Jenifer Road, Timonium

When: 8: 30 tonight

Cost: $15 a person

Call: (410) 922-5210

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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