Local musician Kevin Rumley understands the challenges veterans face after leaving the armed forces.
“I always tell civilians when I talk about the Marines that it’s all about violence and destruction. It is how to kill another human being,” Rumley says. “There’s no ‘how to be a good human and love your neighbor’ — any of that.”
Rumley, who was injured in 2004 by an improvised explosive device while serving on the Iraq-Syria border, underwent 32 surgeries over the course of 18 months at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Told he would never walk again and in chronic physical pain, he developed an opioid and heroin addiction.
But Rumley defied the odds, getting back on his feet in 2005 and achieving sobriety in 2010. Over the last five years, he’s worked as the program director for the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, a rigorous two-year program for veterans facing felony charges.
“Instead of sending vets to prison where nothing changes, we focus on treatment and healing and connection,” Rumley says. “And we help each veteran find what their passion is. If someone asks me what I do, that would be it — helping someone find their passion.”
For Rumley himself, that passion is music, and its role in his journey has proved inspirational to folks in the program, as well as those outside of his work.
No magic bullet
Throughout most of Rumley’s life, drums have been a constant. But along with creating beats, the instrument proved a healing force amid his recovery from surgery. While on a weekend home pass from Walter Reed, his friends helped set up his kit in his parents’ living room and wheeled him over.
“I hadn’t played drums in 2 1/2 years,” Rumley says. “But that was that moment where I was like, ‘Oh! Here it is.’ It was that reconnection, even though I hadn’t experienced it in so long.”
In 2006, Rumley, with those very same friends — Alex Keena, Ricky Powderly and Tim Shull — relocated to Asheville and formed the rock group Bandazian.
Jeremy Boger, a local bassist, was in attendance at their first local performance.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to get in a band with this guy. That’s the best drummer I’ve ever seen,’” Boger says. “And the next year, we were in Cobra Horse.”
Boger’s friendship proved essential for Rumley as the drummer dealt with addiction and struggled with unaddressed post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Rumley says Boger played an active role as a constant cheerleader, friend and ally as he sought to escape his destructive cycle.
“I attempted recovery probably eight or nine times, and each time I would get a little further and then I’d backslide. I had a lot of shame and stigma about myself,” Rumley says. “I just had beat myself up so much, and eventually I was in the VA hospital. I was inpatient — just one day at a time.
“And here I am, so many one-days later, having 11-plus years of recovery. There was no magic bullet. Everything had to happen as it did, but if a veterans court was there, it probably would have moved things along a lot quicker.”
Rumley adds that, as many people in early recovery from addiction discover, once they begin to change their lifestyle for the positive, many friends fall to the wayside. Different pathways in life emerge, and people grow apart.
“Despite this happening in my life, Jeremy [Boger] was always a constant force of encouragement and support,” he continues. “He never stopped supporting my recovery and keeping me engaged through music. Be it Cobra Horse or just recording with different projects he was working on, Jeremy was always there for me as a friend.”
Garage band gratitude
Cobra Horse disbanded in summer 2011 when Boger moved halfway across the country to pursue a degree in civil engineering from the University of Kansas. But missing music after nearly a decade’s hiatus — during which he completed the KU program, moved back to Asheville and began work as a general contractor — Boger started writing and recording original solo material. In 2019, he recruited Rumley to play drums. While laying down tracks for Golden Eagles and the Friends and Covers collection in the cozy studio that Boger built in his backyard, he saw how important the camaraderie was for his longtime friend.
“Kevin would come over or we’d go rehearse, and that’s his therapy,” Boger says. “He does therapy [for other people] all day, and then he needs to recharge. He lives in this very binary [professional] world, and then he comes to play music and there’s an infinite variety of options.”
Boger’s latest solo project, The Race to Mars, was released in early January as a digital album. To celebrate the occasion, he, Rumley and bandmates Billy Sheeran, Joshua Carpenter and J Seger are performing at The Grey Eagle on Thursday, Jan. 27. That night, sales of all three Boger albums, screen-printed concert posters featuring his original artwork and the band’s cut of ticket sales will be donated to the nonprofit Western North Carolina Veterans Treatment Court Foundation, which was formed in 2018 to fill the gaps for needs not being met by county funding.
“I thought I could give the money to [the foundation], because I’ve seen what it’s done for Kevin, and I know what it’s doing for other people,” Boger says. “I think I was just wanting to say thanks to Kevin for being awesome for so many years.”
Rumley is immensely thankful for what he feels is a “selfless” act from his friend and emphasizes the program’s benefits to those who have served the country but have experienced difficult times readjusting to civilian life. Stable housing, employment, health care through the VA system, being reunited with their children and having a sense of purpose are among the opportunities the program provides.
In tandem with producing positive results, it’s also cost-effective. According to Rumley, $1,500 puts a veteran through the entire program, compared with nearly $80,000 to send them to prison for the same duration. Buncombe County and the Governor’s Crime Commission provide funding for 30 participants at a time, but the foundation helps make an even greater difference.
“This includes housing support for homeless veterans, food, transportation, dental, mental health and more,” Rumley says. “The nonprofit arm supports all justice-involved veterans in Western North Carolina, not just those in the VTC.”
Along with funds raised from The Grey Eagle show, Boger will continue to donate sales to the foundation from all three of his albums through the end of January. And for community members who can pony up $1,500 to put a veteran through the program, Boger, Rumley and their bandmates will record a cover song of the donor’s choosing. In turn, the cycle of friendship and support will continue with music as its guiding force.
“I love this idea that you can only give from your overflow. You can’t give from your reserves, and if I didn’t have music and I didn’t have all those outlets, I’d be depleted,” Rumley says. “It’s energizing to play music together live, and it’s energizing to listen to the album.”
WHAT: Jeremy Boger & The Golden Eagles with Ouroboros Boys
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave. avl.mx/b35
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 27, at 8 p.m. $10