With Christmas nearing, Ben Tillman found himself confined to the spinal injuries unit of Prince of Wales Hospital - only 70 kilometres from his Thirroul home but worlds away from his old life of music, friends and freedom.
Unable to move his legs, weak and easily exhausted, he and his two business partners agreed they couldn't continue to operate Yours and Owls, the live music venue they started together in Wollongong 2½ years ago.
The venue was a labour of love, but the work could be all-consuming and difficult to spin into a profit.
Now Ben - the booker, the one who had built the relationships with the agencies and bands and kept the stage filled five nights a week - was in a wheelchair with an uncertain prognosis after a car accident.
The partners - Ben and long-time friends Balunn Jones and Adam Smith - resolved to sell the business.
But then Ben grew a bit stronger and more focused. He didn't want to give up on Owls and realised he didn't have to.
Like scores of Illawarra musicians who have found an audience at the little Kembla St venue, it did him good.
"I've started doing a bit of work from the hospital, behind the scenes stuff," he told the Mercury this week from his bed at Prince of Wales.
"It keeps my mind active and helps with the positivity as well. We might be getting another guy on board, we're excited about that. We're keen to step it up [this year] and keep doing what we're doing."
Owls, and the nearby Wollongong Town Hall, will be the site of a large benefit concert next Saturday aimed at supporting Ben financially, and in morale, as he continues a gruelling schedule of physical rehabilitation and moves closer to the day he can go home.
More than 20 area bands have volunteered to perform, many in deference to the opportunities the venue, and Ben, have laid open to area musicians.
More than just music though, the event will deliver a message about drink-driving.
Ben, 25, was at one of the big "Owls presents" music shows at the town hall on October 26 last year in the hours before the accident that seriously damaged his spine.
He caught a taxi home to Thirroul that night. His big regret is that he then drove, he says, with alcohol still in his system.
"I was just going to drop people off [at a party] and go home," he said.
"I've driven that road so many times. It's five minutes from my house ... "
It was about 2am when Ben's car clipped the kerb on Lawrence Hargrave Drive at Austinmer, crashed into a telegraph pole and rolled. His two passengers were unhurt ("thank God," he says) but the top of Ben's spinal cord was damaged at the C6 and C7 vertebrae.
"[Rehabilitation specialists] are just trying to get me to the point where I can get around independently," he said.
"They can't really do anything to encourage it - I guess the spinal cord's damaged and you just have to wait and see if it does repair. It can continue to repair for the next four years."
Ben said the accident had caused him to "do a lot of growing up" and forever altered his attitude to life, and specifically towards drink-driving: "it's not worth it, don't do it".
He plans to attend the benefit concert, called The OWL Party.
Visit wollongongtownhall.com.au to buy tickets.