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Help CougarPants' drummer Jessica Hughes battle MS at Jessfest

A small world resides within these city limits: Connections are constantly being revealed, demonstrating how tightly-woven this city's community of artists and musicians really is. And when it all comes together on behalf of one of its fellows, the result is a true labor of love like Jessfest, a benefit concert and silent auction starting at 2 p.m. today at Denver FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. The proceeds will help Jessica Hughes, the drummer for Denver indie band CougarPants, cope with the costs of a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

"I'm lucky to live in Denver right now, because the community I've become a part of while living here is unique and generous and genuine," says Hughes."The support I've received for this event is just one of many examples of this."

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Hughes wasn't too worried about the numbness and tingling in her hands and feet when it first started -- she chalked it up to a case of carpal tunnel. She could deal with it, and going to the doctor didn't seem feasible without insurance, anyway. But things got worse. "My motor skills started to suffer significantly," she remembers. "It got so bad after a few months I started to drop my drumsticks while playing. I decided to bite the bullet, wait for some insurance to kick in, and go see a doctor."

When that doctor suggested she might have multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that affects anywhere between 2 and 150 people in every 100,000, "I thought she must be full of it," Hughes recalls. "I reluctantly took her referral to a neurologist... I'm glad I went, because after some MRIs, she told me we needed to start treatment immediately." After several months of seeing no results in her treatment, Hughes opted for a "riskier, more aggressive (and expensive)" alternative -- one that costs about $900 a month, but that she credits with keeping her out of a wheelchair.

When the first bill came, Hughes and her mother were "both quite upset and distraught t at the idea of having to pay this every month," she remembers, and Gina Cuomo, Hughes' manager at the Denver FilmCenter where she works, proposed a benefit show to help cover the costs. Hughes was hesitant, but went ahead with the idea with the FilmCenter's help, and the response has been sweeping.

The FilmCenter is hosting Jessfest in its space, and the Denver Film Society is sponsoring it for tax purposes. At 2 p.m., the silent auction will begin; local artists and businesses have donated a bounty of merch and prizes: Jessfest buttons and T-shirts, one-of-a-kind mix tapes, an acupuncture session, chapbooks, hair-styling services, a curate-your-own-Watching-Hour with Denver Film Society's Keith Garcia. One confident gentleman is even auctioning off a date. And then there are all the works donated by more than a dozen local artists, including Sigri Strand, Sara Century and Carly Rose Moser, as well as designs by Whitney Stephens and David Sprankle, who made the "FUMS" logo and the event's flier.

At 6 p.m., the benefit concert starts: Local bands Time, Thrifty Astronaut and CougarPants are playing. That's right -- Jessica Hughes is still drumming, and has no intention to stop any time soon. For a while, she was discouraged by her "screwy hands" -- but her bandmate kept her going. "My bandmate and dear friend, Robin Walker, helped so much with this," Hughes says. "I was really discouraged and depressed in the beginning because I couldn't play drums the 'right' way anymore. Robin gave me a loving slap in the face of sorts and said to me, 'Who cares? Just play!'"

And play she will -- Jessfest promises to be a vibrant night of food (donated by Taste of Philly), art and music, sponsored by an eclectic mix of artists only Denver could produce. If you want to help Hughes out but can't make Jessfest, check out the Indiegogo page dedicated to the cause.

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Shaughnessy Speirs