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Monday, December 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast with Haze
The Daily
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Paulie Fest fosters hope and healing following the loss of beloved Madison guitarist Paul Heenan
Music therapy
Paul Heenan had personal connections to many of the acts playing the fest.
Credit:Peter Fee

The death of Paul "Paulie" Heenan has scarred his family, his friends and the city itself, particularly its vibrant music scene. The 30-year-old guitarist, sound engineer and east-side resident was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness during a confrontation on Nov. 9.

This tragic incident has made the Madison Police Department the target of intense scrutiny. And the scrutiny has evolved into petitions and candlelight vigils as the state Department of Justice concluded that Heimsness' decisions were appropriate for the situation.

Many of Heenan's friends and loved ones have been part of this effort, but some wish the focus would shift back to the high points of his life, not the circumstances of his death.

One of those friends is Kevin Pellerin. He's helped organize Paulie Fest, a fundraiser and tribute concert at the High Noon Saloon on May 31 and June 1.

"This first year is going to be different because it's the year of Paulie's passing," he says.

Pellerin wants the community to remember how Heenan touched others' lives through his passion for music. He and Heenan met more than 12 years ago, through mutual friends in a rock band called Monovox. Heenan worked in a local guitar shop and would fix Monovox's guitars. He later became a member.

Pellerin and seven of Heenan's other friends started a charitable foundation called Paulie's Gift. Paulie Fest will serve as its kickoff.

"Things came together beautifully because of [Heenan's] relationship with so many musicians," Pellerin says. "Every single band in the festival has a lot of meaning. I don't think he would have hand-selected any better bands himself."

Heenan had personal connections to many of the acts playing the fest. The jazz combos from his alma mater, Oregon High School, will open the event on Friday. Heenan had agreed to play guitar for Mojo Radio, a rock band performing on Friday night, right before he died. He also played guitar on a 2004 EP he engineered for Twin Cities band Solid Gold, who'll perform on Saturday. And he was preparing to record Cowboy Winter, a local soul-rock band who'll also play on Saturday.

Some of Heenan's closest friends were members of Hometown Sweethearts, the rock band that will close Friday night's show. Drummer Scott Beardsley is one of them. Beardsley and Heenan were roommates before Heenan moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and again after he moved back to Madison. They also worked together at DNA Music Labs.

Beardsley says Saturday night will likely include a tribute set featuring Heenan's friends and bandmates.

Beardsley hopes Paulie Fest will "get some sort of good out of this situation" by helping Heenan's family and friends rally around a positive cause.

A minimum of $1,000 from ticket sales and merchandise, including shirts and screen-printed gig posters, will go toward the Fender Music Foundation, which provides instruments to schools and music therapy programs. A silent auction will also raise funds for the foundation.

Beardsley and Pellerin's love for Heenan is palpable. Still, Pellerin says the founders of Paulie's Gift carefully considered the Heenan family's feelings while organizing the festival.

"I love Paulie's parents as much as I loved him," Pellerin says, adding that Heenan's parents were happy to see their son's friends gather to honor him and his love of music.

"We just wanted them to be comfortable. We wanted them to know we were creating something to celebrate his life and let them handle it on their terms," Pellerin says.

Pellerin hopes Paulie's Gift can become a full-fledged nonprofit and continue to promote music education. He also wants Paulie Fest to become an annual event.

No matter what happens, it's clear that Heenan's kindness, generosity and love of music have made a lasting impression in Madison.

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