Nationally acclaimed blues singer Karen Lovely regularly lends her voice to good causes; this time it’s to help prevent unnecessary deaths by opioid overdose.
Lovely will perform piping hot blues during the Rogue Valley’s second annual International Overdose Awareness Day, set for 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, in Medford’s Pear Blossom Park, 312 E. Fourth St. It’s part of a worldwide endeavor to increase awareness of the opioid crisis and to train people in the use of Naloxone — a drug that can save the life of a person trapped in an overdose coma.
Guest speakers will explain how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose and representatives from about 25 local health and social service organizations will be there to distribute information on options for substance abuse treatment and related health issues.
The event has been organized by Max’s Mission, a local nonprofit founded by Julia and David Pinsky after they lost their son Max to a heroin overdose in 2013.
“The goal of Max’s Mission is to save lives and to teach people how to use Naloxone,” David Pinsky says. “It’s a nasal spray that works right away to restore breathing to a person who is in the process of dying from an overdose.” He adds that Max’s Mission will distribute free Naloxone at the event.
The gathering is also an opportunity for friends and family to pay their respects to loved ones who have passed. Max’s Mission plans to set up a board in the park for people to post photos, memories and messages pertaining to overdose victims.
“It’s important for us to gather together to remember our loved ones and to realize we are not alone in our loss,” Pinsky says.
Lovely agrees. “I have lost friends and family members to drugs,” she says. “Sadly, my children have lost friends to drug overdoses, some while they were still in high school.”
She admits that during some very difficult times in her life she tried to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol. “Although I experimented with drugs in my teens and early 20s, and could easily have died from some of the poor choices I made, there was never any drug that made me feel so good I wanted to do it every day,” she says. “But that’s just the luck of the draw; I could have easily been born with an addictive personality and gone a different route.”
Lovely stresses that it’s time to stop stigmatizing people who are addicted to drugs.
“I’ve watched people I love spiral into addiction very quickly, including middle-aged friends who never had a problem with drugs and alcohol, who suddenly got addicted to pain medication they were prescribed,” she says.
While the Overdose Awareness Day event will aim primarily on the serious goal of saving lives and freeing people of addiction, Lovely wants her performance — which begins at 6:45 p.m. — to cap off the day by just making people feel good.
“The audience can expect 45 minutes of killer original tunes,” she says. “We’ll be playing some songs off my new album, and in keeping with the focus of the day, we’ll be performing a couple of songs about addiction, and how it impacts not just the addict, but the family and friends who care about that person.”
Lovely’s backup musicians include Jack Hopfinger on lead guitar David Pinsky on rhythm guitar, Phil Newton on harmonica, Dave Clayton on bass and Mark Stever on drums. She notes that she has performed on stage with Hopfinger many times over the years, and she used to sing with a band led by Pinsky in Ashland more than 10 years ago.
“Although I connect with the entire band, and hear everything that everyone is playing, I tend to play off the lead guitar more,” she says. “With a great lead guitarist, there’s room for improvisation and spontaneity during certain parts of the songs, and I love that feeling of playing off one another and not knowing where we’re going to take the song.”
Since 2010, Lovely has won or been nominated for 10 national music awards, including nomination for the Blues Foundation’s 2018 Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist, the 2017 Muddy Award winner for Best National Recording for her album “Fish Outta Water,” which she released that year, and the 2016 Muddy Award winner for “Performance of the Year.”
Lovely loves performing for audiences.
“I want to establish connection — tell a story that will resonate with people and take them to another place for a couple of hours,” she says. “When I’m connecting with the band and the audience, it’s like flying or riding a perfect wave. I love afterwards, when people tell me how much my music means to them, that it touched something deep within.”
Pinsky says he looks forward to being on stage with Lovely again. “Karen and I have been friends for a long time,” he says. “Having her join with us in the effort to save lives by preventing drug overdose deaths means a lot to me — more than words can say.”
Food trucks will also be at the event, and Max’s Mission will give out free hot dogs while supplies last.
More information is available at maxsmission.org or karenlovely.com or by calling (458) 225-9760.