BANGOR, Maine — As a musician for the last 20 years and a professional musician for the last 10, Heath Bartley knew he had made a lot of friends and fans and met a lot of great people through music.
Up until the last two weeks, though, he had no idea just how many of each he had.
The Mars Hill native and one-third of a popular local band named Overdrive has been overwhelmed by the support he has received since being seriously injured in a car accident while driving home from a gig in Ellsworth in the early morning hours of Dec. 5.
That accident, caused by a patch of black ice on Route 1A in Dedham that caused his Nissan Altima to slide off the road and into a telephone pole, left the 33-year-old guitarist and lead singer with multiple broken bones, damaged ligaments and dislocations.
Six weeks and five surgeries (two on each knee) later, Bartley is on the road to recovery, but it is a long road that still has an estimated four to six months of treatment and rehabilitation to go, and it’s an expensive road to travel, especially without insurance.
While Bartley was in the hospital recovering from a broken right pelvis, dislocated right hip, major ligament damage in both knees, and a broken left ankle and left fibula, bandmate and friend Pete Nickerson was doing something to help make that journey a little less expensive.
Nickerson, with the help of Raena’s Pub owner Raena Everett and Raena’s bartender and fellow County native Melissa Smith-Towle, organized a Jan. 2 benefit concert to help defray Bartley’s medical expenses.
“Pete plays for me every Thursday with Third Degree, our house band, and it kind of just came up,” Everett said. “We wanted to strike while it was fresh in everyone’s mind.”
The result was a 12-hour, 12-band event at the popular Bangor bar that drew an estimated 800 fans, friends and supporters and raised $4,700.
“To find out there are so many people out there who are so supportive and care about me is really something,” said Hartley, who was discharged from the hospital Dec. 30 and is on the mend at his mother Barbara’s home in Mars Hill. “You don’t realize how many people you’ve met or interacted with along the way.”
Not bad for something organized off the cuff and over the space of just two weeks.
“I was just looking to get three or four bands together and raise a few hundred bucks,” said Nickerson, who plays bass guitar and sings in Overdrive. “It was packed from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. It way exceeded my expectations.”
The event even drew support from the competition, as Benjamin’s on Franklin Street donated its own prepared dishes and snacks.
“So much of it had to do with Facebook,” Nickerson added. “Once I put it out there, I didn’t have to make calls because I was getting so many. Believe it or not, it actually got to the point where I had to turn bands down because we were totally full up. I never expected that.”
Bartley considers himself fortunate.
“It could have been a lot worse. I consider myself so completely lucky to be able to continue my music career,” said Bartley, who waited an hour for emergency personnel to free him from his car using the Jaws of Life. “My seat belt and air bags completely saved my life.
“I wish I’d gotten the name of the guy who found me and stopped to help. His wife called 911 while he came over.”
Despite the concert’s success, efforts continue to raise funds for Bartley, who still faces a long rehabilitation process and daunting medical bills.
“He’s looking at between half a million to a million dollars in medical expenses,” Nickerson said. “We’re thinking about doing some smaller fundraisers, like maybe at Brewster’s in Brewer,” where Nickerson plays weekly solo acoustic sets.
In the meantime, Bartley is working on his recovery and looking forward to rejoining bandmates Nickerson and drummer Scott Hamel.
“My life will continue,” Bartley said. “I don’t want this to be something where it’s a big charity case. There are a lot of people in worse shape.”
Donations for Bartley may be sent to P.O. Box 662, Mars Hill 04758.