North Texas' music scene lost a bright star in March with the tragic and untimely death of popular musician Jayson Wortham, who died after a battle with lymphoma.
Wortham played in Denton bands such as Mandarin & Dove Hunter and also founded Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio, the all-ages music venue in Denton that hosted countless touring alternative-rock shows.
Wortham was survived by his wife, Memory Wortham, and their two young daughters, as well as an older son, and it's for them that a group of musicians has organized a benefit called the Valhalla Festival, which takes place on June 29 at Lola's in Fort Worth.
Beyond the righteousness of the charitable component, this one's noteworthy for Dallas music fans in that it will feature some highly acclaimed names as well as a semi-reunion of Doosu, an epic local rock band from the '90s that hasn't played together in nearly 20 years.
A rock band with prog-rock splendor, Doosu was founded in 1993 by a quartet of young musicians, some barely out of high school. They released three albums before disbanding in 2002.
The members went on to play in other bands, such as the Burden Brothers, Dove Hunter, Jump Rope Girls, and the Mermaid Purse.
Other high-watt names on the bill include Polyphonic Spree founder Tim DeLaughter, guitarist Mike Graff, percussionist Michael Jerome, space dub band Sub Oslo, The Cush, Def Rain, Son of Stan, Duell, and the Royal Sons.
The spark behind the festival is Chad DeAtley, former bassist for Doosu and one of Wortham's closest friends, who made what turned out to be a deathbed promise.
"Jayson and I played together in Dove Hunter, and we also worked together, so we were pretty much inseparable for a decade," DeAtley says. "After Dove Hunter kind of fizzled, I hadn't seen Jayson for a couple months, when he told me in March 2018 he'd been diagnosed with cancer."
Having witnessed family members go through chemotherapy, Wortham didn't want to follow that path. "He wasn't planning on dying but he said, 'I'm not going down that road,'" DeAtley says.
Wortham took the homeopathic route, focusing on factors such as nutrition. A Gofundme was established, benefit concerts were thrown, and Wortham and his wife auctioned off art and other memorabilia.
DeAtley vowed to his friend while he was still alive that he would organize a benefit for his kids and his medical bills, then brainstormed with Brian Forella, owner of Lola's in Fort Worth, for ideas. It was Forella, a Doosu fan, who suggested a reunion.
A full reunion was not possible because one of the original songwriters, Eric Shutt, left the local rock scene more than a decade ago, and original drummer Todd Harwell declined.
But magically, DeAtley and Doosu co-founder Casey Hess were in the midst of remastering Aqua Vita, Doosu's 1999 album, for a 20-year anniversary re-release. Hess said yes, and the sort-of reunion was on.
Hess recruited two musicians with whom he's played in other bands: celebrity drummer Taz Bentley, of Reverend Horton Heat and Burden Brothers fame, and Jeff Gruber, who played with Hess in early 2000s band Descender.
"The biggest weight being carried here is by Casey," DeAtley says. "He's doing all the heavy lifting with having to re-learn all the Doosu parts and youthful vocals. He's been in a lot of bands since then. I think the last time Doosu played was 2003."
Wortham died on March 31 at the age of 47, before he could see the benefit come together — which has only stoked DeAtley's desire to make it happen.
"That's why we decided to call it Valhalla, a place of honor," he says.