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Rock for the Cure, to feature Lowest of the Low's Ron Hawkins, rolls into its fifth year

Music has the power to change lives for those with cancer.

Tom Lillis and fellow founders of the Against the Storm Foundation are proof.

Lillis and Joey Nicastro, another founder, launched Rock the Cure four years ago to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Western & Central New York.

Both served on the regional LLS board at the time and envisioned the annual concert as a way to marry their musical and blood cancer fundraising passions.

“We were thinking we would make this an annual event, but we wanted to see how the first one went,” said Lillis, a Bank of America senior vice president who lives in the Town of Tonawanda. “After the first year, we said we’ve got to do this every year.”

The fifth annual Rock for the Cure starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Tralf Music Hall, which again will provide its space free for the cause.

Ron Hawkins – well known to music fans for his work with Toronto-based Lowest of the Low, along with the Rusty Nails and Do Good Assassins – will headline the concert.

The Grace Stumberg Band and the Kensingtons also will play. Half the founders of the foundation – Lillis, Nicastro and Jack Freedenberg – are members of the latter group, which in 2018 was named the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation Band of the Year.

Tickets cost $20 and $25 and are available at,, Walmart and the Tralf box office at 622 Main St., Lillis said.

Q: You say Rock for the Cure raised $40,000 in its first four years and led you and others to co-write a song about 2 1/2 years ago called “Against the Storm” to help with the effort. That’s how Hawkins got involved?

Dick Shaner, one of the foundation founders, is a good friend of Ron’s and reached out to ask him if he would help us produce it. Ron said he'd be happy to because he and his family had a personal connection to the cause. Not only did he produce the song, but he also sang one of the versions and played organ on the second. We'll actually have the song for sale the night of the concert.

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Q: The foundation was established last year to help fight blood cancers and support other causes that will improve the health and quality of life for people in need. How has it worked so far?

We basically honed in on three events that will be our fundraising events. Last year, we did a cornhole tournament. We also did a golf outing at Transit Valley Country Club and then and now the concert. We’re going to do the other events again this year.

Q: So far, all the money has gone to LLS to supplement chapter fundraisers. Do you plan to broaden the foundation scope as you move ahead?

We're hoping that this grows to a point where we can perhaps provide research grants, connect with Roswell [Park Comprehensive Cancer Center] or a researcher, or to help patients, things like that, but the proceeds that we're collecting for the concert are really dedicated to LLS.

Q: How did you become involved in the overall effort?

I have a personal connection with my nephew, David Shelberg. My involvement with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society started when he was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 2 years old. As a result of that, I saw the benefits over time that the local chapter makes available to patients. I saw the tremendous benefit that money donated to research really means for patients and their quality of life – and life expectancy. … Today, my nephew is 29 years old. He's a police officer in Richmond, Va., and so it's a very successful story.

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