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For Pete’s Sake: Two Of The Figgs Are Riding In NYC’s ‘Bike MS’ To Help Raise Funds For The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (Exclusive)

Pete Hayes, drummer in Saratoga's longest-running indie band, who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2008, will be joined by his bandmate Pete Donnelly at the annual biking fundraiser.

Pete Hayes (center), flanked by his Figgs bandmates Mike Gent (left) and Pete Donnelly (right), was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2008, and has been fundraising for the National MS Society since then. (Nick Mintola)

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember when The Figgs ruled Saratoga Springs. (I sure do; I spent more than a year writing about it.) Even though the band’s members have all moved away from the city at this point, The Figgs still have an annual presence here and in the Capital Region, whether it’s homecoming shows at Caffè Lena in Saratoga or The Low Beat in Albany. You might even catch a few of them at Desperate Annie’s over the holidays, if you’re lucky.

One-third of what makes The Figgs The Figgs is drummer Pete Hayes, who was a Skidmore College student at the time he joined the band in 1989 and has been the band’s backbeat ever since. Hayes is also an accomplished songwriter in his own right, with credits on the band’s snaking catalog, running back to the early ’90s; and his Figgs bandmates give him a nightly pedestal on tour, a.k.a. “Pete Hayes Time,” where he comes out from behind the drums and performs songs as a temporary frontman.

In between the release of the band’s Follow Jean Through The Sea (2006) and The Man Who Fights Himself (2010), when Hayes was also performing with Steve Shiffman & the Land of No, things took a turn for the scary. Prior to a 2008 gig, he was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a type of incurable disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its nerve-protectors. Symptoms can include anything from numbness and fatigue to depression and lack of coordination—any of which could spell disaster for a touring drummer. (Hayes tells me that, during the gig, the entire right side of his body went numb, and he was missing cymbals and cues throughout the show, though his bandmates said he’d never sounded better.) While relapsing-remitting MS is often mild and highly treatable, it can still be an extremely debilitating disease. And some researchers have posited that it might be genetic. That might explain why Hayes’ sister, Rosemary, was diagnosed with the same type of MS a decade before he was.

Pete Hayes (fourth from the right) and his Maybe Sump’ms band and Bike MS team.

In the wake of his diagnosis, Hayes, who calls New York City home, decided to begin raising awareness for the disease and in turn, funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Despite not being that big of a cyclist—he tends to walk to work—Hayes decided his fundraising vehicle would be riding in NYC’s Bike MS, an annual fundraiser where participants team up with friends, family members and coworkers and bike around NYC, taking monetary donations up until the ride that are then transferred to the nonprofit. For those of you familiar with the Big Apple—and it’s all-day, every-day traffic snarls—what takes place during Bike MS sounds like nothing short of a miracle. Bikers can take one of three, traffic-free (!) routes throughout the city: a 30-mile ride around Manhattan, along the West Side Highway and FDR Drive; and a 50- or 100-mile option through the Holland Tunnel and back into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge.

Though Hayes works a day-job in film production accounting, instead of putting together a corporate team to help raise the money, he, always the consummate musician, decided to put together a rag-tag group of friends and music-heads that he calls a “band.” They’re called The Maybe Sump’ms—yes, that’s a double-double entendre on the acronym “MS”—who’ve been performing a benefit concert together, once a year, since 2008 and biking in the all-day event as well. Members/musicians of the band have included Steve Shiffman (leader of the band Hayes was playing in when he was diagnosed); Christopher Peifer of former Figgs guitarist Guy Lyons’ band, the Blockhouses; Todd Kersten, who was in Hayes’ Skidmore band Cement Bunny; and Michael Goldsman, with whom Hayes cowrote a number on The Figgs’ forthcoming record, Shady Grove, which is being released on September 20. On the 18th, Hayes’ bandmate Donnelly announced his participation in the event, too. “If you’re on the team and you play an instrument, you get to play in the band no matter how bad you are on that instrument,” says Hayes. Last year, the band ran through a full set of Velvet Underground songs that included a front-to-back performance of the band’s classic album Loaded. This year, The Maybe Sump’ms will be tackling Neil Young’s Re·ac·tor, one of the Canadian artist’s lesser-known albums (Hayes says he likes to make the band’s set list a “project” rather than just a bunch of well-known cover songs.)

Besides the once-a-year gig, The Maybe Sump’ms happen to also be really, really good fundraisers. “This is our 11th year doing [Bike MS], and we’ve consistently been in the top 20 fundraising teams,” says Hayes, who notes that the band competes against big corporate teams such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. The band also gets a sizable annual donation from Hayes’ day-job company, Green Slate. To date, The Maybe Sump’ms have raised more than $100,000 for the MS Society.

Annually, Bike MS reins in thousands of bikers in New York City alone—this year, 1785 have already signed up—and some 75,000 cyclists, nationally, for the worthy cause. To date, the nationwide event has raised more than $1.3 billion to stop MS.

At press time, Hayes, by himself, has raised more than $2800, with a goal of $5000, for the cause. (To donate to Hayes’ coffers, click here.) And heck, if you’re an aspiring musician, who also enjoys cycling; experiencing NYC whizzing past you on a bike (sans people shouting at you to “get the f*ck out of the way”); and fighting the good fight against MS, you might also consider joining The Maybe Sump’ms team—no audition required. Join them here.

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Will Levith

Will Levith is the Director of Content for saratogaliving.com and the Executive Editor for saratoga living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others.

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