Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney Rally Around Nashville Songwriter Travis Meadows

The songwriter was sidelined by complications from an emergency surgery in late February, and a community responded.

Written by Jon Gugala
Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney Rally Around Nashville Songwriter Travis Meadows
Travis Meadows; Photo credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

Karen Sikes and her husband David met Travis Meadows through a friend in 2012. But Meadows, a Nashville songwriter who has penned cuts for Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen, and Eric Church, among many others, was distinct among all the other artists they’d met. “His music touches every part of you,” Sikes, who lives in Atlanta, says. Over nearly a decade, she and many others connected to Meadows’ vulnerable songs of weakness and hope, pain and resolution, becoming fans and more than fans. When Meadows would come to town on his modest, small-venue tours, he and his wife would stay with her family. Her kids have grown up with him, and when she has a bad day, she plays his song “Better Boat,” which Kenny Chesney cut in 2018 for his record Songs for the Saints, on repeat. She even had some of its lyrics tattooed on her back. “From that moment we just went all in on his music,” she says.

But despite the fact that Meadows has fans around the world—just poke around his private artist Facebook page to find check-ins both foreign and domestic—he’s not especially well known outside of core songwriter circles, and he remains one of your favorite artist’s favorite artists. So when a sudden medical emergency and its resulting complications sidelined him in late February 2021, there was little fanfare and even less awareness. A humble YouTube video, filmed and posted by himself on March 9, was simply to let his friends and fans (a blurry line, if ever there was one) know that he was OK. “I’m alive, I’m good, and I’m so grateful for your support,” he said, his voice faint and halting. “You make me want to keep trying.”

“People had been asking, ‘What can we do?’” says Sikes of her small community of Meadows fans. His songs meant so much to their group. So she, through Meadows’ wife Katy, received his blessing to launch a GoFundMe on his behalf to cover medical bills related to an unexpected 11-day hospital stay. Sikes, with her husband and four other fans, dubbed themselves the Fund(Risers), a play on Meadows’ song “Riser,” which Bentley cut in 2014 as the titular track to his record, later naming his summer tour after it, where its message of determination and overcoming seemed especially poignant under the circumstances. The group set to work on a modest endeavor for a modest man, and Sikes herself says that while she hoped some of the people who had garnered success off Meadows’ work might contribute, “We weren’t counting on that.” Rather, it was a grassroots initiative, a small-dollar affair.

The results, however, have been anything but small.

Launched at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, with a seemingly exorbitant number of $20,000, it raised $5,000 in the first hour alone. Sikes was frantically texting with Meadows throughout on whether to reign in a seemingly breakaway train. It crested the initial goal, which was raised, and then raised, and then raised again. “It really has just gone crazy,” she says. At the time of this writing, it’s over $125,000 with no signs of slowing.

The initial goal of covering some medical bills has now been stretched to accommodate loss of income and speech therapy at nearby Vanderbilt Speech Center. After all, while Meadows’ songs have been cut by some of the biggest artists in country music, “Unless they go number one,” Sikes says, “you’re not getting a ton.”

While plenty of everyday people have contributed their widow’s mites to Meadows’ recovery fund, there have been a few particularly large donations. Bentley and Chesney both confirmed through reps donations made under their names for $10,000 each, and while Owen would neither confirm nor deny a $5,000 donation made in his name through a rep, he did offer his best to Meadows. “Jake is tremendously saddened by Travis’s health challenges and is hoping for him to recover fully and get back to being the creative force that he is,” wrote Keith Gale of Good Company Entertainment. Anonymous donations have ranged in amounts up to five figures.

For now, Sikes says the goal will no longer be raised—really more a formality than anything—but the fund will remain open for donations through a planned benefit on April 8 at Nashville venue 3rd and Lindsley. “The bills will be ongoing,” she says of the Meadows’ road to recovery.

Meadows’ reps were not able to connect the musician with Sounds Like Nashville at the time of writing, but under the circumstances, it’s understandable. Therefore, we quote he own words from his video to friends and fans on his status, as serious as it is. “Every day all of this feels like it is a little more alive,” he said, pausing to swallow and sip some water. “Not as quick as I want it to be, [but] little by little, I’ll get there.”