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Local musicians prepare for annual ‘benefit bash’

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category icon Arts & Entertainment, Camas, Hometown, Latest News, News, Washougal
Contributed photo courtesy Angela Bunda The Bitchins, a Portland-based rock-and-horn band, reunites once per yaer to put on a benefit concert to raise money for the Parkinson's Resources of Oregon nonprofit organization.

Angela Bunda decided to step back from her music career in 2015 after the birth of her first child. But since then, the 1999 Washougal High School graduate has been able to maintain a connection to her passion for music thanks to her involvement with The Bitchins, a Portland-based rock/horn band that performs just once per year to raise funds for people affected by a disease that afflicts one of its members.

“This band kind of became my once-a-year getaway. I get to go back to my life before I had kids, where I can wear my fancy clothes and get on stage and sing again,” said Bunda, one of the band’s lead vocalists. “Now that I have three children, I’m out of the music scene day-to-day, but this band is like my salvation. (It gives me a place to) go and still live my old life and have a ball and not have to (commit myself further).”

Bunda and the rest of The Bitchins will hold their annual “Benefit Bash” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at The Same Old New Gemini Bar and Grill in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with 100% of the proceeds going to Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon (PRO), a Beaverton, Oregon-based nonprofit that provides support services to individuals in Oregon and Southwest Washington whose lives have been impacted by Parkinson’s disease.

“You’ll have a great time,” saxophone player and vocalist Phil Hodapp, formerly of Camas, said. “It’s not a concert. It’s a show. You’ll get to participate in the show.”

“When he says it’s a show, it’s not like you sit down and watch a band play and leave,” Bunda added. “There’s interactive stuff. It entertains you and makes you want to get up and join in.”

Bunda described The Bitchins as a “high-power, full-force funk and rock band” that plays horn-heavy tunes by musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and others.

“It’s a mix of funk and rock and soul — just basically everything that makes you feel alive,” she said.

The Bitchins formed in 1998, when four ex-classmates (including current member Greg Van Winkle), who had played together in a band when they were in high school in Southern California, reunited on the first weekend of February to play golf, watch the Super Bowl, jam together one more time and reminisce.

They decided to turn the reunion into an annual tradition, and added two saxophone players for their 1999 performance. They added two more horn musicians the next year, and by the mid-2000s, The Bitchins had swelled to 15 members, some of whom travel from other states or countries to participate in the band’s yearly “reunion” event, which is usually held at a Portland-area venue.

“On (the first) day, we started inviting family and friends to come to enjoy the love of music we share with us,” the band members said in their YouTube video description. “Those people enjoyed the vibe and the music so much that they invited their friends and family. What began as a potluck and jam session among friends on Super Bowl Saturday began to (draw) crowds of 200 to 500 people.”

The band members have “camaraderie and respect for each other,” which are “nice because you don’t find (those things) all the time with musicians,” Bunda said.

“To tell you what great musicians they all are, we get one rehearsal,” Hodapp said. “We put together a four-hour show with one rehearsal. When people come to see us, energy exudes from the stage. That love, that family kind of thing, really makes it feel different than a lot of bands you would go to see.”

For the first several years, the band members split the proceeds from the event amongst themselves. But when Hodapp told his bandmates in 2015 that he had Parkinson’s disease, they decided to donate all of the funds to the PRO.

“When everyone found out that Phil had been battling (Parkinson’s), we were like, ‘You know, it’s one gig a year. We don’t need this money. Why don’t we put it to good use and donate it to a good cause?’” Bunda said. “That’s what we (decided) to do from then on.”

“I’m so blessed to have bandmates — family members, I consider them — that are willing to (donate the proceeds to PRO),” Hodapp added. “I’m incredibly humbled that they would do that.”

The band has donated almost $20,000 to the PRO so far, Hodapp said.

“Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon is just a great organization,” Bunda said. “They not only help you figure out how to survive this disease, but they help you thrive and find the resources you need to live your most full life, and that’s what Phil’s doing. He’s definitely an inspiration to all those people out there who might be facing the same thing and feel a little intimidated by what their future might hold.”

‘Most people don’t get to live this long’

Hodapp first noticed symptoms of his condition in 1992, shortly after he moved to Camas.

Hodapp, who has lived in Battle Ground since 2017, said, at first, he couldn’t figure out what was happening to his body.

“I started having some twitches and some pains in my hands, and couldn’t control things (in my hands),” he said. “The doctors couldn’t figure out what it was,” he said. “They would give me a whole bunch of multiple sclerosis pills and say, ‘Take these and we’ll see if they fix it.’ Then they’d say, ‘Here take this other set of pills.’ There were four things — multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ALS and one other — that they were bouncing back and forth with, and they just basically destroyed my life with medications that didn’t do anything other than give me side effects.”

Hodapp searched for an accurate diagnosis for five years. In 1997, he found a doctor who finally figured out what was causing his array of symptoms.

“I found a doctor who said, ‘You have Parkinson’s, and with your progression and the way things are going now and what’s happened before, we give you five years until you’re in a nursing home and 10 years to live, so you should start making your plans,’” Hodapp said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that impacts the brain and nervous system, and occurs when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough dopamine, a chemical that’s vital to a person’s ability to move, according to the PRO website.

Many people experience slowed movement and tremors along with muscle stiffness and changes in balance and non-motor changes that can include anxiety, depression and disrupted sleep.

“At that point, my son had just been conceived. I made a commitment to myself, and then when he was born, I held him up in my arms, and I said, ‘I will live long enough to watch you graduate from high school so that I can be a dad as you grow up,’” Hodapp said. “He graduated from Camas High School in 2016, and he’s going for his doctorate. Through the grace of God and the love of my family and friends and modern medicine and grit and determination, (I’m still alive). I’ve been blessed. Most people don’t get to live this long.”

Hodapp relies on his family members, friends and faith to overcome the everyday challenges of Parkinson’s disease.

“I have people who love me that help me. I have an abiding faith in God,” Hodapp said, adding that he tries to take things one day at a time.

“Sometimes you just can’t look that far ahead,” he said. “You just have to look at the next thing that you have to do. This is true of anybody — you lay in bed and you think, ‘I just don’t want to face today. I don’t want to get up.’ So what’s the next thing? OK, get your feet out of the bed. That’s the next thing you have to do. Then you’re like, ‘All right, I’m up. What is the next thing that I have to do?’”

Hodapp said he started to struggle mentally after his son graduated from high school in 2016.

“Here’s the main purpose of being alive moving out and going to college,” he said.

Hodapp responded by changing his diet and starting a strict exercise regimen, alterations that helped him find purpose once again.

“I was 80 pounds overweight at that point. I couldn’t walk more than a block or a block-and-a-half without getting dizzy and falling over,” he said. “I found a trainer and started exercising. Eventually I ran two half-marathons. I’ve done more 5K- and 10K-runs than I can count. I climbed Mount Saint Helens two years ago. Every day, I think, ‘What is the next thing?’ When I first started with the exercise, it was: ‘I walked a block and didn’t have to stop. Tomorrow, can I walk two blocks? Can I run a block and walk a block?’”

Bunda said Hodapp’s resilience has been inspiring.

“Phil has charisma and pizzazz and zest for life,” Bunda said of Hodapp. “It’s awesome to see a friend face a hardship and do it gracefully and with such determination. I think it exudes the depth of his character.”

There’s one other thing that keeps Hodapp going: his passion for music — and The Bitchins.

“I don’t ever want to stop doing this,” he said. “Once a year, it’s very special. I’ll do it as long as I can still walk on the stage and play.”

Music brings ‘life-changing’ experiences to Washougal native

Bunda, who was known as Angela Eckman while growing up in Washougal, was a member of the Washougal High School choir and graduated from the local high school in 1999.

“All of the (school’s music) trophies from the ’90s (were won) during my years there,” she said. “Music and choir was a huge part of my life.”

Bunda received a singing scholarship at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and joined the university’s prestigious, traveling 20-piece brass band.

“They only had two singers in the band, and one of the singers graduated, so they were looking for a new one, and they never, ever picked a freshman. I was so blessed that they picked me, and so I got to sing with them,” she said.

“That year we were able to travel to Australia and Papua New Guinea on a one-month ‘mission through music’ to spread the music of God and brass band. Papua New Guinea is a third-world country, so the people there had never seen 30 white people at once before. It was absolutely life-changing for me, a person from Washougal who had never really seen much diversity,” Bunda said. “It was a life-altering experience. It was amazing.”

After returning to Clark County several years later, Bunda and a friend formed a band called “The Hot Property” that played various gigs in Vancouver and Portland from 2004 to 2015.

“During that time, I worked for the Camas Police Department during the daytime, and during the nighttime, I’d stay out all night long and sing with my band,” she said.

She stepped back from The Hot Property in 2015, when she had her first of her three children. But by then, she had already joined The Bitchins.

“I had been singing with another band called The Bob Miller Almost All-Star Band for a couple years. One year, we played the Fort Vancouver firework show, and one of the guys that was in that band had played with The Bitchins, and he said that they needed some new singers, and he had suggested me,” she said. “By the grace of God, through being in a couple really good bands with top notch people, I was able to get recommended, and I came to this group in 2013 or 2014, and they were awesome. They’re just incredible.

“I’ve been in a few bands myself over the years, and you (get used to) people coming and going,” she continued. “It’s kind of a moving, living thing where people are filtering in and out. This band has maintained the same players, give or take. If someone has something come up, we get a fill-in, but otherwise, it’s the same people every single year. And they’re excited to come. To keep such a strong group together just makes you that much better every year because you have the right chemistry and the right balance. It really is something special.”

Tickets to The Bitchins’ “Benefit Bash” cost $20 each and can be purchased by visiting https://bit.ly/bitchinsbash2024.