Friday, February 24, 2017

Robert Nesbit/Housing Fest Interview

Robert Nesbit
written by Daniel Coston
Interview in February 2017 issue of Tangents Magazine

Too things loom large in Robert Nesbit’s life. Music, and social work. Nesbit combined these two subjects in 2014 with his first Concert To End Homelessness, featuring a sold-out show with the Blind Boys Of Alabama. After a successful second show last year with Josh Ritter, and Charlotte’s own Matrimony, the show returns to the Fillmore Charlotte on March 11th with a headlining set from new soul rebels St. Paul & The Broken Bones. For Nesbit and many others, this is more than a concert. It is a chance for music to have real impact on what many in Charlotte deal with on a daily basis. Nesbit talked about the concert and more via email.

Tangents Magazine: How did Housing Fest come about?

Robert Nesbit: The idea for HousingFest developed with my friend Katie Church who organizes the concert with me. We were both working at Urban Ministry Centers Moore Place. Being musicians and music lovers, we began to think about the history of social justice movements and the role music played in them. We thought a benefit concert would be a powerful way to raise awareness and funds to help Urban Ministry Center end homelessness. We wanted to connect with young music lovers and provide an accessible, meaningful avenue for them to be part of ending homelessness in Charlotte.

We reached out to Gregg McCraw at Maxx Music. He agreed to provide the Neighborhood Theatre as a venue and promote the show.  Then we began to email different agents and artists about being part of the bill. From there, things began to take shape.

Tangents: How did you land the Blind Boys Of Alabama come about for the first year’s headliner?

Nesbit: Jim Lauderdale was the first person to commit to play HousingFest and his agent also booked the Blind Boys of Alabama. I asked if they would be interested in being part of the show. They were and it was a good fit for the first year. 

Tangents: Jim Lauderdale has also been a part of the first two Housing Fests. How did Jim get involved?

Nesbit: Jim and I both have roots in Troutman, NC. (That’s where my dad’s family is from.) Jim’s father, Chap Lauderdale, was a minister at the First ARP Church in Troutman. Jim’s parents knew my grandparents and extended family.

When I was getting serious about playing music, my grandparents told me about Jim who was the most successful musician they knew. As I explored Jim’s music, I felt like we were kindred spirits. We were both from the same area and loved American roots music.

I spoke to Jim about the idea for HousingFest at a music festival at NC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem in 2013. He was interested and encouraged me to reach out to his booking agent. He’s been a tremendous supporter of the show and our work to end homelessness. He’s a hero of mine. 

Unfortunately, he’s not able to be part of the show this year, but will certainly be back for future years!

Tangents: Talk about this year’s show. How did St. Paul get involved?

Nesbit: Every year Katie and I spend countless hours talking about potential artists to play HousingFest. We both enjoyed Paul’s music and had seen him live. I reached out to his booking agent, Frank Riley at High Road Touring. 

As it turns out, Paul is passionate about ending homelessness. He volunteers with a charity in his hometown of Birmingham, AL. He also played a benefit concert for them. We’re excited to have him on board - we know he will be a great champion of the cause. 

Tangents: What does this show mean to the charity, or charities that it benefits?

Nesbit: HousingFest is presented by the Urban Ministry Center. Urban is Charlotte’s leading homeless services agency, serving our community for the last 20 years. They provide over 250 units of housing with support services for the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte. $2 from every ticket sold goes to Urban. We also have sponsorship options for individuals and companies interested in helping end homelessness. 

Tangents: What has been your proudest moment in doing these shows?

Nesbit: There have been quite a few highlights, but selling out the Neighborhood Theatre in our first year stands out. 900 people, supporting the cause and enjoying the music, inspired us to keep growing the concert.

Tangents: What can other musicians do to get involved in doing a show like this?

Nesbit: There are so many ways to give back to the community. 

Our good friend Justin Fedor is a talented musician who organizes his own series of benefit concerts for the Levine Children’s Hospital. Definitely check these shows out! He has been a tremendous supporter of HousingFest, helping us with logistics and playing last year’s concert. 

Musicians can always unite others around a cause with music. But something as simple as playing for people who don’t get to hear music often (assisted living centers, schools, homeless shelters) is a simple and meaningful way to give back. 

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