Riverside Market and Cafe

Riverside Market and Cafe (Robert Duyos / Sun Sentinel / October 3, 2013)

Local folk musician Phil Barnes' first audience was his older brother, Adam Barnes.

At age 3, Adam, was hit by a car and lost his ability to walk, move, speak or even eat through his mouth. But he could smile.

And that's how they communicated. Phil would play his songs, and Adam would smile.

"Not so much in the beginning because I wasn't that good," Phil says laughing. "But when I got a bit better, yes. I thought it made him happier, and that's why I kept doing it."

That's also the reason Phil joined the South Florida branch of Musicians on Call, a national organization that works with musician volunteers who play music for patients in hospitals. Almost four years after he joined, Phil now runs the South Florida branch.

He's organizing a fundraiser for Musicians on Call on Wednesday at the Riverside Market and Café in Fort Lauderdale, where he will also perform. The South Florida branch currently has programs at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, South Miami Hospital and Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami.

"Sometimes [patients are] in a really bad mood. Sometimes they're on a terrible day. So we can bring the musician in, and he plays a happy song, and that totally changes the dynamic in the room," he says.

Besides performing for patients, Barnes also trains musicians to visit the hospitals, and he works as a guide for the musicians volunteering. A musician and a guide see about 30 patients per hospital visit.

Yet, he says there's only so much training he can provide. "You're walking into a dynamic that is very difficult," he says. "It can make me cry. There's no training that can stop you from having feelings. It's OK."

Adam Barnes died in 2013, when he didn't come out of a routine surgery. But Barnes still likes to make patients smile.

"When you make someone smile, or clap, or sing, or just seeing their eyes water, any type of response that you can see, it really moves you," he says. "Just being able to take musicians there and change 20 to 30 people's days can be a really cool experience."

The fundraiser begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at 608 SW 12th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. $10 includes one draft beer from sponsor Florida Beer Company. Visit TheRiversideMarket.com or MusiciansOnCall.org.

bduarte@sunsentinel.com, @babicorb or 954-356-4710