‘Bucket list party’ will raise money for State College area musician fighting cancer

Local musician Ken Volz was recently diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. A benefit to help offset his medical bills is set for Sunday in Pine Grove Mills.
Local musician Ken Volz was recently diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. A benefit to help offset his medical bills is set for Sunday in Pine Grove Mills. Photo provided

These days, local musician Ken Volz is getting by with a little help from his friends, and in the process he’s starting to check things off of his bucket list.

Volz, who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer and is in the early stages of chemotherapy treatments, will get to check off more item off his list Sunday at VFW Post 5825 in Pine Grove Mills at what is being called “Ken Volz’s Bucket List Party.” It starts at 3 p.m.

“There are some great people out there,” Volz said, as he peppered in shoutouts to friends and loved ones. “There are a lot of people out there who are reaching out to me, that I’ve performed with throughout the years, and there have been some wonderful things and wonderful people along the way. It’s been a fantastic time.”

The party is at the top of Volz’s bucket list, and it is also a fundraiser designed to help offset Volz’s medical bills stemming from what Volz describes as his “quality of life” treatments. So while the event is open to the public, those who attend are encouraged to bring a covered dish and to consider making a donation.

“He wanted to have a party,” Volz’s friend and party organizer Molly Hickey Gurskey said, “to have everyone join him and share his gift for music. The main goal for the party is to raise money for his cancer treatments and to raise money to help him complete his bucket list while he is still able.”

Those who attend are asked to carpool due to parking at the VFW, and since it is an event that will include alcoholic beverages, those who attend are also asked to come with (or be) a designated driver, to utilize Uber or a taxi, and to celebrate in a way that conveys reverence and love for one of central Pennsylvania’s iconic musical good guys.

“It’s about surrounding himself with people to build him up,” Hickey Gurskey said. “He’s such a kind soul. Everybody loves Kenny. The top of his list is to be surrounded by his friends.”

One of those friends is none other than Andy Tolins, a longtime caretaker of Centre County’s musical vortex. Tolins and Volz have played together in the Screaming Ducks for years, and the friendship continues as it evolves into this current manifestation.

“He’s a man with a thousand cuts on him,” Tolins said. “We want to celebrate him and hopefully give him a little bit of money to work with.”

It’s fitting Volz’s Bucket List Party is a music-centric event. Volz has been a staple of the central Pennsylvania music scene as a solo artist, a bandmate, and as a somewhat elusive spinster who seems to feel most at home in the midst of the complexities of the music he plays.

Volz was turned onto music at an early age, with a self-professed love of The Beatles’ music, and he started focusing on playing the guitar while serving in the United States Army’s 101 Airborne Division, stationed in Germany.

“I didn’t know anything,” Volz said, “but when I was in the military I borrowed this sergeant’s guitar and he liked the way I played better than him (laughs). I learned a lot of the chords on my own in the room, and I played in the dark.”

Doing so was a critical method of learning the depths of his new instrument.

“I would play in the dark because it was the only way to play,” Volz said. “Believe it or not, I was using my ear. My ear was more tuned because I was taking away my eyes and all my other senses, and me and the guitar became one.”

Volz was born in Brooklyn, New York, and found his way to State College after meeting the members of the State College-based band Partners in Crime, and that launched what has amounted to a decadeslong career in music, primarily here in central Pennsylvania. He’s one of the few musicians in our area who has played regular gigs week in and week out to crowds that enjoyed what they were experiencing. You just know he means it, and that he locks into whatever morphic resonance is going on with music. It just flows out of him, and into us. His heart, his sincerity, and his ceaseless humor is his magic.

Now, as he works his way through this phase of his journey, he has the people who love and appreciate him in mind, and through his wonderful Brooklyn voice lined with tears of gratitude, Volz was very clear about how he feels about it all.

“I kind of built an army of wonderful people around me, and I think they’re coming back for me. They remember me. They want to see me get better. There’s no cure for this, only the quality of life, only how I feel ... and I feel so great.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.