CARLINVILLE — Sam Oswald has endured — and he and his family again are inviting central Illinois to celebrate with them this weekend when SamJam: Unplugged on the Prairie takes the stage at the Macoupin County Fairgrounds for 12 hours of progressive bluegrass, Americana and roots music.
Oswald’s endurance is no small thing. In the 27 years since he was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis (NF) as a 4-year-old, he’s undergone spinal fusion and shunt revisions, as well as dealing with two brain tumors, bone-grafting on his legs, knee surgery, eye surgery and dermal tumor removal.
Four years ago, it was a rare and fast-moving cancerous tumor.
“My son Peter (II) and myself were talking about four years ago,” said Sam Oswald’s father, Peter Oswald. “My son Sam had just finished his chemo and radiation after a bout with a cancerous tumor and we were thinking it would be great to have some kind of celebration. But more than just being about Sam, it should be about NF.”
After tossing around the idea of a musical event, the senior Peter Oswald was thinking out loud when he mentioned Macoupin County Fairgrounds as a potential venue.
“Peter (II) turned around and told me the available weekend (at the fairgrounds), because he had already checked,” he said.
They focused on roots music because “that’s the kind of music Sam likes,” Peter Oswald said.
After the first year, it became an annual event.
“Most people are amazed at the quality and level of music we get in,” he said. “… Everything from contemporary folk music to blues music. … Then we have stuff that is more traditional bluegrass, contemporary bluegrass.”
This year’s lineup begins with Ivas John playing from noon to 2 p.m. John, who lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, helped establish that city’s Cross Rivers Blues Festival and the Southern Illinois Blues Society.
Springfield-based Americana trio The Deep Hollow will play from 2 to 4 p.m. The band’s “Devil” was the grand-prize winner in the American Songwriter’s 30th Anniversary Song Contest.
From 4 to 6 p.m., popular central Illinois musician Tom Irwin Friends will take the stage in an acoustic band configured just for SamJam, Peter Oswald said.
From 6 to 8 p.m., Nashville, Tennessee-based Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys will perform a blend of Motown soul, blues, folk, jazz and, possibly, techno beat. The band has performed at the Stagecoach Music Festival in California, the Shetland Island Folk Festival in Scotland, the Bluegrass Jamboree in Germany and acoustic festivals across the United States.
Trout Steak Revival will play from 8 to 10 p.m. The group won the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition and has won an Emmy Award for a soundtrack it contributed to a Rocky Mountain PBS show. The band was named Denver’s Best Bluegrass Band and were nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association as Momentum Band of the Year.
Closing out SamJam from 10 p.m. to midnight will be The Mighty Pines. The St. Louis band blends bluegrass with acoustic soul and rock ’n’ roll. Since forming in 2012, the band has released three albums and shared bills with such musicians as Sam Bush, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Greensky Bluegrass.
SamJam’s full slate of music will be punctuated with information about NF, Peter Oswald said.
“We’re hoping that everybody, by the time they leave, they’ll become a little more familiar with NF,” he said. “For people not knowing about it, there’s a higher incidence than you might think — one in 25,000. When you start looking at those kind of numbers, there are a lot of people who are never diagnosed unless they have severe symptoms.”
Despite his medical history, his father said Sam Oswald is doing well.
“Sam, for all the stuff he’s gone through, is actually one of the lucky ones,” he said. “He’s still living independently and getting along pretty good. Some people are affected pretty dramatically.”
That keeps the family working to put together SamJam. Since 2014, the concert has raised $46,000 to benefit the NF research and support group NF Midwest.
“The mystery of it, the scariness of it, is huge,” he said, recalling his library searches for information after his son’s diagnosis nearly 30 years ago. “It’s so much better now, being able to put your hands on information.”
Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. SamJam will be in the Bates Building at the fairgrounds, north of Carlinville, rain or shine.
Food, craft beer and wine will be available for purchase. A tub auction and a Caribbean cruise raffle also will be held. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children under 12. Camping also will be available. For more information, go to SamJam4NF.com.
By Angela Bauer
Angela Bauer can be reached at 217-408-2057.
Angela Bauer can be reached at 217-408-2057.