For Kingston-born band Suze, their annual Christmas show has become a chance to gather their faithful in a familiar setting and celebrate the holiday to the soundtrack of their funk-heavy rock ‘n’ roll. But this year, the groove-peddling quartet will turn their yuletide soiree into a tribute, in more ways than one.
Suze will perform at 10 p.m. Monday at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township. They’ll perform one set of Suze originals and one set in tribute to celebrated jamband moe.. In honor of the band’s late friend Brent P. Evans, a portion of proceeds from the show will be donated to Carve 4 Cancer, a non-profit organization Evans founded to raise money for blood-cancer research.
Evans was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma in 2010, and, even during his initial battle, had a plan to bring people together to spread awareness about the disease.
In that timeframe, Suze frontman Adam McKinley and Evans met for the first time when a mutual friend suggested they travel together to see moe., a favorite of both men.
“We rode together and started talking like we’d been friends for a long time,” McKinley said. “He told me about his original diagnosis.”
After a successful round of treatment, Evans organized the pre-cursor to Carve 4 Cancer at Rodano’s in Wilkes-Barre, and Suze became one of the first bands to play the event.
Through the years, Evans’ fund-raiser grew to be a successful gathering. The avid snowboarder held events first at Montage Mountain in Scranton and then at Jack Frost/Big Boulder in Carbon County, and McKinley became the only musician to play every event Evans arranged.
The two grew closer as Evans battled his own cancer while continuing to advocate for others.
“We shared this … there’s a Little Feat song called ‘Willin” that became our mantra. We’d go back and forth on Facebook with #willin’,” McKinley said.
Evans passed away in July after his cancer returned, and McKinley said he lost someone he felt he knew on a personal level despite not having spent a lifetime getting acquainted.
In its eighth year, Suze’s Christmas show became a fitting outlet to remember Evans.
“When it came to the Christmas show, we’d bill it as the Christmas show, but we always just did a normal show,” McKinley said. “For the longest time, I’ve wanted to do a tribute show.”
As chance would have it, Suze guitarist Adam Gabriel and his wife Kelly suggested to McKinley that Suze play a tribute to moe.
“moe. was one of our earliest influences as a band, and still is to this day,” McKinley said. “Being that Brent was a moe. fan, we thought, ‘Why don’t we take a portion of what we made and donate it to Carve 4 Cancer.”
But the Gabriels hadn’t recalled that McKinley’s first encounter with Evans was on a car ride to see the popular jam ensemble.
“It slapped me in the face,” McKinley said. “It almost took my breath away. It was almost on a spiritual level that, ‘Wow, this makes so much sense to do that. A lot of Brent’s friends and people who know him are all moe. fans too. It was too perfect to be ignored.”
McKinley said he expects the crowd to be a welcome mix of people who want to hear a set of moe. and people who want to support Carve 4 Cancer.
The foundation, in the meantime, has become a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is partnered directly with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Dr. Andrei Shustov at University of Washington, Medicine Advancement.
The annual Carve 4 Cancer event will be held on Feb. 3 at Blue Mountain Ski Area in Palmerton, and Suze will perform.
“When he was first diagnosed,” McKinley said of Evans, “he was given around four months to live, and he lived for eight years. Just by him living as long as he did, he’s probably saved thousands of lives because he allowed his disease to be researched. That’s where the whole “Willin’” thing came from: “Willin’” to keep fighting and battle it out. He unknowingly touched so many lives.”
Suze is finishing work on a new record the band hopes to debut in February or March. For information on future performances, visit suzerocks.com.