Music News

Planes Mistaken for Stars Frontman Gared O'Donnell Diagnosed With Cancer

Gared O'Donnell fronting Planes Mistaken for Stars during a reunion show at 3 Kings Tavern in 2011.
Gared O'Donnell fronting Planes Mistaken for Stars during a reunion show at 3 Kings Tavern in 2011. Aaron Thackeray

While working on material for a new Planes Mistaken for Stars album, frontman Gared O’Donnell was diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer. For more than a decade, O’Donnell has been living in Peoria, Illinois, where the band formed in 1997 before relocating to Denver two years later.

Emily Francis, who was a longtime tour manager for Planes Mistaken for Stars, says that O’Donnell is going to go through the steps of chemo and radiation, but he and his family are still researching the best options. Francis also set up a GoFundMe campaign for O'Donnell.

“Gared and his family are also working on finding resources that might help save his voice, which many of you know is one of his true loves with singing in his band Planes Mistaken for Stars,” Francis wrote on the GoFundMe page. “This is a huge blow to him and his family, but they are taking it head on, day by day as Gared does, and he is going to fight the fight.”

In a phone interview, Francis, who works in artist transportation for festivals all over the country, including Coachella and Riot Fest, says O’Donnell loves music more than any musician she’s met.

“The difference with a lot of people that I run into is that his music is his soul,” she says, “and that's something that I think translates into the music, just like with the other bandmembers."

Francis says O’Donnell was always such a charismatic person who could usually talk his way out of any situation, “which pissed some people off, but that's the charming side of Garrett — his charisma.”

O’Donnell, one of the most passionate people she knows, also taught her that she should never say "Goodbye" on the phone, but rather “Good journey,” Francis says.

“When we talk on the phone, I could never say ‘Goodbye’ to him,” she recalls. “We’d be hanging out. We would have to say ‘Good journey,’ because there were no goodbyes. That's just the type of person that he is.”

And O’Donnell’s friendship went deeper than family, Francis says. Everyone was like a brother or sister to him.

"He will always remember their names,” Francis says. “And he always has the best stories. He’s a unique soul, that's for sure.

Because of his charismatic energy, Francis says O’Donnell always has people latching on to him.

“They all have that same connection, that same bond,” she says. “It's rare that people have that, that they can have that effect on people, and it's really important. I hope Gared realizes how many lives he's actually touched by this. I hope that gives him the energy and the positivity to fight.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon