Pictured: The Rural Kings featuring Mila Maring-Sims and (far right) Kelly Sims.
Southern Illinois acoustic-music icons Kelly and Mila Maring-Sims, along with a host of fellow musical friends and performers, will present their latest CD, Level Best, Friday, December 9 at the Old Feed Store.
Kelly and Mila Maring-Sims have written and performed around Southern Illinois for more than two decades. Now, with the release of their latest CD, Level Best, the notion of music having healing power takes on a whole new meaning as the two attempt to channel it into the fight of a lifetime. Sims, like more than forty-four million people around the world, is currently waging a valiant fight against the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
As the illness progresses, the healing power of music has been central to the battle that he and his wife put up on a daily basis. Level Best, with its seventeen joy-filled tracks, is a celebration of the music that continues to bring healing into Sims’s life, beginning with its leadoff song, “Still Standing.” Cowritten by Sims and Scottie Palmer and recorded live with an iPhone around the couple’s kitchen table, the song celebrates the strength and endurance of the human spirit.
The album’s remaining tracks follow suit, with sweet harmonies, haunting melodies, and soulful musicianship. From Maring-Sims’s aching lyrical tribute to estate sales, “A Dollar for Your Memories,” to Sims’s heart-wrenching vocals and stirring guitar licks on Doug Anderson’s “Last Ride,” the collection of music runs the entire gamut of human emotion, and leaves nothing unsaid.
“We feel like, with this album, we’re inviting folks to sit down and hear what we’ve been doing for years, which is making music around our kitchen table,” Maring-Sims tells Nightlife. “We’ve talked about doing something like this for many years, but time got away and circumstances became complicated. A friend of ours, Doug Anderson, who used to play with Ol’ Moose and Bone Dry River Band, told us that he was going to be taking a new job in Texas. He told us, ‘I’d like to help you record this. How about if I take care of all the studio work on this, and we make this project with half my tunes and half yours?’ So we mapped out five or six of our songs and five or six of his songs, but we only got through two of his songs before he moved away. It forced me to take a couple of more originals of mine, so between July and two weeks ago we recorded pretty much all of it.”
Level Best’s release is bittersweet for the duo, as, at present, no further performances are planned beyond Friday night’s concert. The unpredictability of Sims’s symptoms has made planning live performances difficult. Maring-Sims tells Nightlife that Doug Anderson wrote “Last Ride,” one of the album’s most touching songs, with this in mind.
Unlike most Alzheimer’s sufferers, Sims has no hereditary history of the disease, which struck when he was just fifty-three years old. (He’s now fifty-eight.) The diagnosis was a shock to both doctors and family, but Maring-Sims hopes that sharing their story will educate people, especially those in rural areas who could fall victim to similar circumstances. Sims probably got Alzheimer’s from complications that arose from a tick-borne illness, Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Sims, however, like a handful of people who contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever, didn’t develop the rash that is one of the disease’s hallmark symptoms.
“When he finally did get antibiotic treatment and all the bacteria was killed out, he had some lasting damage to the blood vessels supplying his brain,” Maring-Sims says. “The neurologist described it as a brain injury resulting from this tick disease. We followed up and went to Mayo Clinic, and they diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s. They said he had developed the classic Alzheimer’s plaques as a result of the Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”
“I say this is a public service,” Maring-Sims adds. “Who in Southern Illinois does not get tick bites? Everyone here gets tick bites, and it’s important to be very mindful of what follows a tick bite. If you have any inkling at all that you aren’t feeling well, if you have any flu-like symptoms, you should really follow up on it. It’s important to get treatment for these tick-borne illnesses. All it takes is a very simple antibiotic. If we had gotten that kind of treatment early on, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today. We want people to know that these tick borne diseases can lead to very dire circumstances and that they should be very mindful of that.”
What has not been lost to Alzheimer’s is the way that Sims’s fingers fly up and down the strings of a guitar.
“Fortunately, with regard to music, Kelly is just so intuitive, and he just feels it,” Maring-Sims days. “That’s all on autopilot for him. It’s ingrained in his soul. We play music every day. He still plays the most amazing licks you’ve ever heard. But we can’t always pick and choose how energetic he’ll be on a given a day. We spend a lot of time tending to our pets now. Music is a key. Music and our pets are very therapeutic for us now. And we are very hopeful. Usually early onset Alzheimer’s progresses very rapidly, and we’ve done really well for five years. There have been gradual and subtle changes. They are marked changes, but we just adapt our day to day lives.”
The Simses’ demonstrate their passion for animals and animal rescue through their not-for-profit organization, the Angelina Foundation, which will benefit from a silent auction held at the concert. In addition, the couple will donate $5 of each $20 ticket to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.
“They are very, very efficient and dedicating in directing all of their donated funds toward their mission,” Maring-Sims says. “Their mission is to directly fund cutting-edge research that will ultimately lead to a cure. We really wanted the funds to go toward research, and we are going to have a PayPal link from our song ‘Level Best’ linked to their organization specifically.”
Doug Anderson, Josh Morrison, Mark Stoffel, Nate Graham, Robert Bowlin, Jenny Johnson, Geoff Maring, and Lew Hendrix will join the Simses at the Old Feed Store.
“We are so blessed in so many ways and on so many levels,” Maring-Sims says. “With regard to this project, the musicians have been so gracious in lending their talents and their time. It really is a who’s who of folks that donated to this project. This is definitely a celebration. That’s the spirit with which we embarked upon the project. We’re celebrating all of these folks that have been part of our journey and all of the music that we’ve made around our kitchen table. This may very well be our last project. We don’t have anything else waiting in the wings, so we want this to be a celebration.”
Search Facebook for more about the Angelina Foundation. For more about the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, go to <http://CureAlz.org>.
who: Kelly Sims, Mila Maring and Friends
what: Level Best (bluegrass CD release party)
where: Old Feed Store
when: Friday, December 9