Local band rallies in fan’s cancer battle

Well-known local music fan Vern Smith (pictured), 64, has been diagnosed with esophagus cancer. Members of his favorite local band, Bullet, have organized an all-you-can-eat spaghetti benefit dinner to raise funds to help Smith cover expenses as he battles cancer. The event will be from 1 to 6 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 12, at Whiskey's Roadhouse, 3207 N. Main St., Rockford. Photo provided

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

A local music fan has plenty of support in his battle with cancer. Vern Smith, sometimes known as “Dancin’ Vern,” has been a fixture at live music venues for more than four decades. When the news hit the music community that Smith had been diagnosed with esophagus cancer, it didn’t take long for friends and musicians to join forces and help him raise funds for his medical expenses.

Sunday, Sept. 12, the public is welcome to attend a benefit for Smith, 64, at Whiskey’s Roadhouse. The event will feature live music from classic rock band Bullet, Vern’s favorite.

Not just a dancer, Vern is a true music enthusiast. From Robert Johnson to Cheap Trick, Vern’s heard it all and has seen hundreds of live acts over the years, including Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Woodstock performance. His record and memorabilia collection is just as extensive.

“I told Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) about my records, and he couldn’t believe it,” Smith said. “He wanted to buy them, and I said, ‘No way, man.’”

It’s not uncommon to see Vern walking about town, wearing a rock and roll T-shirt and the signature leather-threaded jacket, given to him by members of Bullet in 2005.

“I remember Vern dancing in the ’70s,” Bullet drummer Mitch Whittington said. “He wore plaid suits and smoked cigars. He’s been friends of ours for 18 years, even before I was drumming for the band.”

The members of Bullet decided to organize the fund-raiser for Smith after learning of his illness three weeks ago.

“We hadn’t seen him in about a month because we had been doing a lot of private gigs,” Whittington said. “He wasn’t dancing the same, and he lost a lot of weight. When we asked him how he was doing, he told us he was sick and had some problems. I told Dalton (Poff), ‘We’ve got to do something for him now.’”

Smith said eating solid foods is slightly painful, and he is able to stay nourished with soup and hot liquid. As for the music, he’s still listening and dancing when he feels up to it.

“I feel good,” Vern said. “Sunday, there’s going to be spaghetti and then the Bullet band.”

The event is from noon to 6 p.m. Cost is $5.99 for the spaghetti dinner. Donations will be accepted.

Donations to Smith’s cause can also be made through the Arc of Winnebago, Boone and Ogle Counties.

Whiskey’s Roadhouse is at 3207 N. Main St. The club can be reached at (815) 877-8007. More information about Vern Smith is on his Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000349440055#!/pages/Vern/332409762565.

From the Sept. 8-14, 2010 issue

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