PORT TOWNSEND — The blue-heartening of the town began earlier this year.
It happened when Aki Avelino, blues guitarist, longtime Port Townsender and self-described “old soul from the old school,” learned he had stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer.
This was when he also learned his many friends, and even some acquaintances, wanted to surround him with their support.
After Avelino mentioned he liked the simple image of a blue heart, people unleashed a storm of them.
Blue hearts appeared by the score on Facebook, on cards, on banners and even on 32 small flags flying on South Discovery Road. Those symbolized a friend’s empathy for his 32 radiation treatments. His friend told him she’ll keep the flags up until his scan Sept. 20 shows he’s free of cancer.
And this Sunday at the Pourhouse, blues and hearts will be in abundant supply during a concert-auction-party to benefit Avelino and his family.
The Jelly Rollers and the Hounds of Townsend will play roots, blues and Americana. Desserts, including Charlene Sunshine’s mile-high pie, will go to sweet-toothed bidders.
Artist Michelle Stay’s glass blue hearts will shine in the sun — or rain, either way. “Come out and hang out” is Avelino’s invitation to the get-together from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Pourhouse, 2231 Washington St.
“I’m so honored, and really awkward,” he said of this whole idea. He’s sought to support various local causes since moving here in 1995.
So it’s strange, Avelino feels, when you become a cause yourself.
Guests will have a chance at a variety of items in the auction; the Seal Dog Coffee Bar, the Pourhouse and a cadre of local dessert makers are contributing. They can also donate directly to the fund to help Avelino pay his steepening medical bills.
Yet “I don’t want people to not come because they can’t donate. Just come and party,” he said — no pity or advice necessary.
“Donate a smile,” added Mary Hilts Parry, the party’s planner.
Her husband Jon Parry, a member of the Hounds of Townsend, admits he’s also a little embarrassed. His band and the Jelly Rollers stepped in to book themselves for this gig, knowing full well numerous other bands would be up for it.
“Every band in town loves Aki, and would love to play,” Parry said, but “there’s not enough time — it would be Aki-Stock,” like Woodstock on the waterfront.
In any case, this is an unusual event considering the lineup.
The early members of the Jelly Rollers — Sean Divine, Darren Loucas, Dan Weber and Jim Steffen — became good friends with Avelino when they were all playing shows in Port Townsend during the late 1990s.
“He recruited us to play his wedding sometime around the turn of the millennium,” Divine recalled.
Since then the Jelly Rollers lineup has changed and the group has moved over to Seattle. But the original members will reunite for Sunday’s party.
Avelino’s daughter Anika Pearl may also bring her voice and guitar — but since she’s 17, she can only be on stage as a performer. She’ll have to leave the 21-and-older venue right after her set.
Anika “has developed into a wonderful singer and multi-instrumentalist,” said Divine, who knows father and daughter from jams and workshops at Centrum’s annual Acoustic Blues Festival here.
The gathering, the blue hearts, songs like “Love’s a Funny Thing” from the Hounds of Townsend — “all of this is toward healing,” said Betsy Hart, Avelino’s wife of 18 years. The pair have been deeply touched by the outpouring of kindness over the past many months.
In addition to radiation, Avelino endured 10 megadoses of chemotherapy, a period of time on a feeding tube and then another period when he couldn’t taste much of anything.
Now, more than two months after his treatments concluded, his sense of taste varies from day to day.
On Sept. 20, Avelino will see his doctors to find out if the chemo and radiation have wiped out all of the cancer cells. More treatment could be in his future.
Avelino was born 56 years ago in the Philippine capital of Manila. He served six years in the U.S. Navy, then worked in construction, fishing, home health care and restaurants, all while playing music with artists across the Northwest.
Another constant, added by Hart: He has been a devoted father, encouraging Anika to make her own music.
Avelino, in turn, expressed his gratitude to his wife. She has lived their vows, he said, of “in sickness and in health.”
“I can’t believe how awesome she is,” he said.
For those who cannot attend Sunday’s fundraiser, a GoFundMe account soon will be set up to further help the Avelino-Hart family with ongoing medical costs.
This week, however, organizer Mary Hilts Parry is focused on the live music, friendship and sense of hope to be dished out at the Pourhouse.
“When we’re all here,” she said, “people are going to feel this light, this love.”