Larry McKurtis’ life changed forever on Nov. 6.
“I was at work, and I felt funny all morning, and I passed out,” McKurtis said during a recent phone interview. “I was just standing by the truck, and I fell down on the ground, and I woke up a few minutes later and couldn’t get up. I was with it—I knew everything that was going on—but I couldn’t breathe very well.
“I went to the hospital and (found out I) had a pulmonary embolism, a giant blood clot that went from my leg and was blocking my heart and lungs. It was pretty bad. I almost kicked it right there; there were a few times where I coded and died, and they had to bring me back. I was in the hospital just shy of two months.”
McKurtis is a constant supporter of the music scene and well-known as an outdoorsman. The former Nevada chapter president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was the subject of For Thousands of Miles, a film about his bike journey across the United States. McKurtis does so much to help out the local arts community—and now the community is helping him. Local musician Josh Patten has organized Larrypalooza!, a benefit for Larry and his wife, Kelly, featuring live music from Renewer, Chrome Ghost, Drag Me Under and BeachMaster, at 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Holland Project, with an afterparty at Corrigan’s Lost Highway.
Larry McKurtis moved to Reno in 2008, attracted by both the scenery and the proximity to his parents.
“I like being in the mountains,” McKurtis said. “It’s also kind of close to home, so I can help out my folks who are older now. It’s mainly about just being in the nice weather up here. It’s nice and cool in the wintertime. Summers are too hot, but you can go up high and get away from it.”
McKurtis explained how he became part of the local music scene.
“I got really bad frostbite actually, a couple weeks before I moved to town, so I couldn’t really play music for a while,” he said. “The doctor actually told me I couldn’t play ever again, so I sold all of my gear, like, six months after the fact, and the feeling in my fingers came back a year after that. I’m kind of older—I’m 40—so it’s cool to see the newer music scene, like the Holland Project, and all the stuff that the kids are doing now. It’s thriving. I feel like the old guy now standing in the back at shows.”
If McKurtis wasn’t at a show in his free time, he was likely fly fishing, cycling or doing something else outdoors.
“I know everybody who rode a bike for the last 20 years in town,” McKurtis said. “It’s a really tight core group, and that’s still flowering, too, which is pretty cool. Cycling, fly fishing and hiking—outdoor stuff—has always been my way of getting out and healing myself. Music as well; right now, music’s pretty much the only thing I can do. I was just fixing up a bass and grinding frets for the last couple hours. Fixing guitars and playing is how I’ve been passing my time since I got out of the hospital.”
The road to recovery has not been easy, yet McKurtis remains determined, and finds strength in the knowledge that he’s beat the odds before.
“I had dialysis, and they said I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life at one point, and I beat that, which is awesome,” McKurtis said. “I’ve had all kinds of smaller issues, and I conquered all those. The big one now is I don’t have feeling in my left foot and part of my right foot. We still don’t know what’s causing it, so I’m learning how to walk again. I started in a wheelchair, then went to a walker, and now I’m on a cane. I’m getting there; it’s just hard as a 40-year-old person, because you’re not supposed to be that way. It’s been a challenge mentally and physically. I just have to look at it every day and take it one day at a time and try not to get ahead of myself.”
McKurtis said three things keep him going: “Music, my wife and my dog.”
“My wife, No. 1, I wouldn’t be here without her,” McKurtis said. “She’s taking care of me, and everything is just amazing. Kelly, she’s the real hero in all this, so a billion shout outs to her. She takes care of me every day. … All I’ve got to do is eat, workout and live. I’m very lucky to have that.
“Playing guitar every day, working on guitars—that’s a thing I kind of dabbled with before, but since I got home, I’ve been buying tons of tools, like luthier tools, and getting more serious about it. I’m thinking about maybe doing a side job of setting up and rebuilding guitars and stuff, so that’s been fun learning a new skill.”
Since McKurtis is not able to easily go to shows right now, he’s using his time to turn his experiences into songs.
“That’s been cathartic, too,” he said. “… I was supposed to be dead many times. There were many times the doctors told my family, ‘We don’t know if he’s going to make it.’ Going over all that and just being here, it still hasn’t really hit me. It’s so much to process still. All the music writing and stuff is definitely from a stranger place, but it’s very deep and meaningful to me.”
On Nov. 16, Dominique Stedham, the partner of McKurtis’ brother-in-law, started a GoFundMe to help out Larry and Kelly. As of this writing, more than $21,000 has been raised.
“It’s amazing, the amount of people donating to it, or people texting me so much that when I turned my phone on, it exploded,” McKurtis said. “… I had no idea there could be that much support at that level. What Josh and Kyle Akins and Dominique are doing, as well as everybody else like Travis Quinn and my wife with this whole concert thing, it’s insane. … I feel very loved, and as a person, it’s hard for me to accept a lot of love at times. I’ve always been kind of quiet, on my own as a lone wolf, so it’s kind of weird—and just great. It makes me speechless thinking about it, how the community can show that much love to one person like that. My wife and I and my family are very, very grateful for all of that continued support.”
Patten, during a phone interview, described McKurtis as a “unique and singular character.”
“He’s legendary in Reno to a lot of people, and he’s touched a lot of people in this world,” Patten said. “He had the closest brush with death, but part of his legend is his inhuman stubbornness and strength. In different aspects and at different times of his life, he’s just gone and really defied what people thought was possible. He’s been this larger-than-life sort of character, so his recovery was both surprising and unsurprising. It was surprising because none of the doctors expected it, but beyond that, it was completely in character and on brand for him as a person.”
Patten and McKurtis bonded during the formation of Patten’s band, BeachMaster.
“We’ve seen a lot of music together, and we played music together for a period of time, kind of in a birthing stage of the band that I’m currently playing in,” Patten said. “He was the bass player for maybe about a year of that. … Larry was a very formative part of that whole process, just from his presence, his input, his personality and all of that. Ultimately, he decided that it wasn’t a project that he had the time or energy for at the time, so we parted completely amicably, and that band has since fully come into fruition, and we’ll be playing at the benefit. We wouldn’t be named BeachMaster if it weren’t for Larry. A lot of things would probably be much different if it weren’t for Larry.”
Patten said the decision to put together a show for his friend was a no-brainer.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to pull anything like this off, but my initial reaction was, ‘Well, they’re going to need some support financially to recoup some of these losses, and both Kelly and Larry haven’t been able to work since the incident, so there’s definitely a need,’” he said. “These are beloved members of our community.”
The goal of Larrypalooza, apart from providing financial help, is to celebrate Reno’s “crazy Uncle Larry.”
“Having a concert to raise money is maybe a medium-effective way to actually do a fundraiser, but what’s equally important is that we get to actually bring together so many people in Larry’s community and in his life into the same room—and it’s a celebration,” Patten said. “We’ll try to loosen your wallet a little bit, but for the most part, if you don’t have five bucks to your name, we want you there anyway.”
After the concert, the party will move to Corrigan’s Lost Highway. A raffle and silent auction will take place as the band Clarko performs.
“The show will be the first four bands at the Holland Project, accessible to anybody of all ages,” Patten said. “After the four bands play, there’s going to be a fifth band that plays at Corrigan’s Lost Highway, where I work. The bar is going to be donating a percentage of the night’s proceeds to Larry and Kelly as well, so we’re going to try to just expand as many different fronts as we can to approach the fundraising aspect of this thing.”
Patten said McKurtis’ planned attendance is the most important part of Larrypalooza!
“This is about celebrating our homie beating death in this scenario,” Patten said. “So there was no way that I was going to put this together until it was really clear that Larry would be able to actually be there at it, and participate and enjoy it—and receive not just the money, but receive all of that support from the people around him.”
Larrypalooza! will take place at 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Holland Project, 140 Vesta St., in Reno. Donations will be accepted at the door or online at www.gofundme.com/f/medical-relief-and-recovery-for-larry-mckurtis. For more information, call 775-448-6500, or visit hollandreno.org. The after-show will take place at 10 p.m. at Corrigan’s Lost Highway, 1526 S. Wells Ave., in Reno. Visit www.instagram.com/corrigans_losthighway for more information.