When he was in fourth grade, Joe Preti thought he was going to start playing drums, but when they got to the music store, things didn’t go as expected.
“My parents ambushed me by telling me I could take drum lessons and then convinced me, along with the man from the music store, that playing the accordion was much better," Preti said. “I hated it but when I got into high school, I convinced my dad to buy me an organ and that is when I joined my first band.”
Growing up in Central Nyack, Preti played in numerous bands, continuing to play organ into his mid-20s before moving over to electric piano. He got to a point where he even had a digital recording studio in his home.
Now, many of the musicians and bands Preti played with are returning to Rockland to play a massive four-hour show tonight beginning at 7 p.m. at the Rockland Community College Cultural Arts Theater.
Preti, however, won’t be at the show, or even in New York. Preti will be at home in Seattle. About two years ago, Preti, a diabetic, fell from the top of the staircase at his home due to low blood sugar. He’s paralyzed from the chest down and can’t travel.
They set up a non-profit through HelpHOPELive, and the show is being put on to raise money for Preti, who will spend next year working with a group in California called Project Walk, which looks to improve the lives of those with spinal cord injuries through intense activity-based recovery programs, education, support and encouragement. He’s already started working to regain strength, which has allowed him to start playing music again.
“I have no abdominal strength,” he said. “Initially, I could not support myself in order to play the piano but with constant exercise I have regained some abdominal strength. It is still difficult for me to play but I have gotten to the point where I can play for short periods of time. I have had to work to get to my current level of ability and will continue working to become stronger.”
Preti’s goal is to eventually stand up out of his wheelchair.
“Typically when people are paralyzed, the therapy is occupational where they teach you how to adapt to life in a wheelchair,” said Mark Preti, Joe’s younger brother and an organizer of the concert. “My brother’s never really accepted that.”
Joe Preti, 61, said he found out about the organization from Tony Abica, who worked at UPS. Preti worked at UPS but retired before his injury. He didn’t know Abica, who found out about Preti’s injury and reached out. Abica’s son was injured and paralyzed from the waist down, but after working with Project Walk was able to move his legs and peddle a stationary bike.
Preti was involved with the planning for the fundraiser. He said his therapy with Project Walk will cost about $110 an hour and he will go 39 hours a week, at a cost of about $4,290 a month. Plus, there’s living expenses since he and his wife will be in California. Preti’s ideas were to have a concert or golf tournament, but since golf is a bit out of season currently, they went with the concert. Preti and his best friend, David Snider, who lives in Colorado, started reaching out to bands.
Mark Preti, who said he considers Snider like another brother, said without Snider’s help, the concert couldn’t have been organized.
“Everybody knows everybody in the musician world,” Mark Preti said. “As soon as this thing was mentioned, nobody hesitated, everybody’s jumping in.”
Mark Preti’s excited for the concert partially because he grew up watching his brother and Snider play in bands or alongside a lot of the musicians on the bill for Thursday night.
“It’s going to be like a reunion,” he said. “It’s guys you haven’t seen in 30, 40 years.”
Some of the bands playing, many of which include local musicians or once local musicians returning to Rockland for the show, are Chip Larison and the Catfight Blues Band, Finn and the Sharks, The BAND Band, Danny Toan Band, Manhole and All Star Band.
“Think of it as a mini-Woodstock,” Mark Preti said. “There are so many artists that are performing and all different types of music.”
Joe Preti said he can’t believe how many musicians were willing to come out and help him. The musicians are all volunteering their time for the show. While Joe Preti won’t be there, Mark Preti said they’re hoping to stream Joe in via Skype or some other way to have him interact with the audience and musicians.
Preti has already made some strides in recovery. His wife wrote a letter about her husband’s injury while trying to secure donations for their trip to Project Walk. In it, she wrote that he was “left blind in his left eye as a direct result of the lifesaving surgery to stabilize his spine.” She also wrote that due to arthritis in both shoulders, pushing his wheelchair caused pain and spasms. He overcame those issues, though, with his wife, Pauline, serving as his 24-hour caregiver. And now, Joe Preit is looking to stand up from his wheelchair partially because he misses biking, walking and playing with his grandkids. But he’s also looking to stand up for one other reason.
“One of the first things I would love to do is be able to stand and hold my wife in my arms,” he said. “My wife’s name is Pauline and she is just amazing. She never left my side through four months of hospitals and nursing homes. She has not once faltered and has stood by me and taken care of me with no complaints. I am blessed to have her as my wife.”
Anyone interested in purchasing tickets to the show can go here or call Mark Preti at 845-494-4734. Tickets cost $40 each.