Wiley Willis, usually recognizable by his signature page boy cap and the facial tattoos on both his temples, is hiding in plain sight at the Up the Pups benefit show at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. A red bubble coat surrounds his bald, tattooed head and his heavily tattooed arms, leaving only the tattoos on his hands visible.
Willis is the vocalist of two Chicago bands: old style hardcore band 2Minute Minor and punk band October Bird of Death, the latter of which is playing tonight’s benefit show for the For Our Friends dog rescue in Bayside, New York. Tonight’s show is just one part of the fundraising process that Willis began after meeting his fiancé’s sister’s pit bull, Lily.
Lily was used by her abusive former owners as a breeding dog. She lived in a cramped cage and had not been outside for over two years before she came to For Our Friends, and her troubles didn’t end after she was adopted. After being abused, Lily was nervous around new people, especially men, and it took Willis a long time gain Lily’s trust.
“I showed her I loved her and wanted to be friends with her. I would lay on the couch with a box full of treats and she would be on the other side of the room shaking. I would throw little bits of treats to her and throw them closer and closer to myself,” said Willis. “After a few hours of doing this, I feel asleep on the couch and when I woke up she was laying right by me on the floor. I woke up and it scared her and we started this process all over again until we became friends. Now Lily is family to me.”
After bonding with Lily, Willis says that she now holds a huge place in his heart, which is why he was inspired to begin the Up the Pups fundraising movement.
Up the Pups began when Willis, who works in a print shop, had the idea to print and sell custom shirts at cheap wholesale prices in order to maximize profits for the shelter. However, it wasn’t until Willis’s bandmate Zach Bridier suggested an Up the Pups compilation record that the idea really took off.
“I got a hold of all my personal favorite bands and bands we have played shows with. Everyone was so thrilled to be a part of it,” said Willis. “Putting the [compilation] together was actually fairly simple because so many people wanted to be a part of it.”
The hard part was the tight time crunch Willis and his bandmates were operating under. In under two weeks, 30 bands were recruited to donate a song to the compilation, including Willis’s band 2Minute Minor, which recorded an original track entitled “Up the Pups” specifically for the cause. The compilation was released exclusively online in October, and a limited-run of fifty 3” vinyl records will be sold in February with all profits donated to the shelter.
However, selling records and shirts for For Our Friends was only part of Willis’s plan. Willis, who has played benefit shows for Chicago homeless shelters, the Little Village Summer Softball League and other non-profit organizations, knew that an Up the Pups benefit show would be the perfect way to showcase local talent while also benefitting adoptable dogs like Lily.
It was through a friend that Willis was introduced to Jaime Trecker, one of the managers at an experimental cultural center in Bridgeport called the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Trecker and his partner, Jeremy Kitchen, book Punk Rock and Donuts, a bi-monthly concert series that provides patrons with free coffee and donuts from local sponsors and, most importantly, punk rock bands that play music for a charitable cause.
“The whole point of our daytime shows is to have a place for people to see the bands without alcohol, to be able to take kids to the shows, and have it be before our sensible bedtimes,” said Trecker. “The night shows are almost always benefits for one cause or another. Jeremy chose [Up the Pups] as we are big animal lovers and winter is a tough time on animals.”
After selecting Up the Pups as their charitable cause, Trecker and Kitchen helped Willis book a show at Co-Prosperity Sphere that included seven of the fifteen Chicago bands from the Up the Pups compilation record. The event featured a full bar, with all proceeds going to support For Our Friends, and free coffee and donuts for everyone.
Even after the success of the Up the Pups show, Willis is uncertain if he will continue to fundraise for the shelter, but he is currently planning benefit shows for equally worthy causes, such as Cornerstone Community Outreach, a homeless shelter in Uptown.
You can catch October Bird of Death at Brauer House in Lombard on March 22, or at Liar’s Club on March 30.