Tomorrow, March 8, the Hook & Ladder will be hosting a special benefit concert for Libby Johnson, a beloved friend of many in the Minnesota music community. The benefit is a labor of love by those close to Johnson, in an attempt to make life for her and her family easier as she undergoes cancer treatment. Har Mar Superstar is headlining the benefit, with local acts Ripper and In Corridors performing as well.
Music has always been an important aspect of life for Libby Johnson. In the late ’90s to early 2000s, she was a member of the Fargo-based, all-girl punk band, Bombshell. It was around this time that Johnson first met Sean Tillmann, otherwise known as Har Mar Superstar, who was then playing in a band called Calvin Krime. After moving to the Twin Cities, Johnson continued to be an active member of the local music scene. She now works in the therapy and mental health fields and is often described by her friends as someone who loves to help others.
Early this January, Johnson was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor located on her vocal chords. She will soon be beginning an aggressive, two-month-long treatment regimen. In an effort to relieve some of the financial strain this will put on her and her young family, Johnson’s friends have organized this benefit at the Hook & Ladder, as well as creating a crowdfunding page to collect donations.
“My cancer is laryngeal cancer caused by the HPV virus,” wrote Johnson in a Facebook message. “I’m trying to raise awareness and reduce stigma. It’s becoming more and more common and I’m hoping people will recognize symptoms and go see their doctors — and of course vaccinate their children! I’m obsessed with something good coming out of this.”
The benefit was orchestrated by two of Johnson’s close friends, Annie Sparrows — who was a member of both the Soviettes and Awesome Snakes — and Sean Tillmann. It all started when Sparrows asked if Tillman would perform at another benefit for Johnson that is set to take place in May. Tillmann was unavailable and instead suggested planning another benefit that he could participate in.
“I think the whole thing came together within about 24 hours after that,” Tillmann wrote in an e-mail. “It was pretty amazing. Together we sent out about six texts, and it was all in place. That’s how much people love Libby.”
It’s not just the people planning the event who have a desire to help Johnson. though — every musician on the bill for Wednesday night has a connection to her and has known her for many years. As Tillmann described it, “This is definitely a group of friends doing whatever we can to help out.”
Even the choosing of the venue was ultimately influenced by another local music connection of Johnson’s. Lori Barbero, drummer for Babes in Toyland, is a close friend of both Tillmann and Johnson and occasionally volunteers at the Hook & Ladder, making it an easy decision to have the benefit there.
The only downside to the smaller, intimate venue is that only so many people can fit in the place, which is why Tillmann is encouraging everyone to get their tickets in advance. He also mentioned how excited he is to be playing at a smaller Minneapolis venue again and that he is “ready to sing up in people’s faces and share the love.”
Tickets to the benefit are $20 — $19 of which goes straight to Johnson and her family — and can be purchased here.
Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University.