Eye on GSO
A different kind of musical journey
By Billy Eye
“When we are courageous and creative, the world becomes accessible.” – We Carry Kevan
In the September 2021 issue of O.Henry, Eye introduced you to musician/ producer Tom Troyer who, in addition to recording with some remarkable local bands, was part of an amazing experience captured on film. “It’s kind of a musical journey,” Troyer says.
In the summer of 2016, Troyer and five of his friends were planning to backpack across Europe. One of those embarking was Kevan Chandler, who at a young age was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 2, a rare neuromuscular disease that has left him bound to an electric wheelchair. Lugging Kevan’s wheelchair around Europe wasn’t going to be practical, says Troyer. Instead, they would carry him. “We took a backpack we bought at REI and kind of just reinforced it.”
After adjusting the hinges and the stitching, they “added pillows and different detachable Velcro sections” to help make traveling in the backpack more comfortable for Kevan.
With this device, Kevan piggybacked his way around the continent, danced in the streets of Paris, hiked the rolling hills of Ireland, even scaled the 1,400-year-old monastic fortress of Skellig Michael.
Troyer, a multi-instrumentalist, points to a ukulele on the wall of his recording studio.
“I got that in Paris because we had a guy with us doing a documentary about our trip,” he tells me. “I would take out my phone and use the ukulele to record little demos and stuff. Then I put together the soundtrack based off of [the] demos when we got back.”
Check out the trailer for that documentary, The View From Here: A We Carry Kevan Film.
That European vacation turned into a nonprofit, We Carry Kevan (WCK), which collaborated with backpack maker Deuter to produce a model for the public. “Deuter borrowed that prototype we made,” Troyer says, “And they standardized production on a run of 300 of those backpacks based off of our designs.”
It worked so well the first time that the gang set out on another adventure.
“We traveled to China in 2018,” Troyer notes. “And distributed some of those backpacks to different orphanages. Kevan actually met his wife there [in China]. He and Katie have been married almost a year now.”
Here’s Episode 1 of We Carry Kevan – In China, an ongoing series documenting their second trek.
Billy Eye is OG — Original Greensboro.