Last year, on August 26, 2019, the music community lost Neal Casal, a multi-dimensional songwriter, singer and guitarist who was both beloved as a solo artist and as a band member of several acclaimed ensembles.
In the North Bay, Casal was best known for his involvement in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood as well as his many appearances on stage and in studio with the likes of Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Vetiver and the Skiffle Players.
Heavily influenced by bands like the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones, Casal was also a member of bands Hazy Malaze, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, GospelBeacH, Hard Working Americans and Circles Around The Sun. Casal’s extensive body of solo work, features more than a dozen albums, and Casal was also a record producer and an avid photographer.
Now, the newly formed Neal Casal Music Foundation is officially launching as a nonprofit organization and is hosting a Kickstarter campaign online to raise funds for the purpose of honoring Casal’s memory and sharing his musical legacy and the body of work he left behind, including an extensive archive of unreleased material.
The nonprofit foundation is also funding a series of charitable initiatives, beginning with a program to provide instruments and music lessons to students in New Jersey and New York state schools where Casal was born and raised. The organization will also be making donations to mental health organizations such as MusiCares, Backline and others that support musicians in need. In fact, the foundation has already donated over $25,000 to MusiCares from it’s preliminary tribute concert fundraiser that took place at the Capitol Theatre in New York on September 25, 2019; one month after Casal died by suicide.
Casal’s longtime manager Gary Waldman, along with a team of Casal’s closest friends is spearheading the foundation.
“In a note left behind, Neal told the story of how he got his first guitar when he was 13,” Waldman says in a statement. “As he explained it, ‘I remember the day on one of those drives where dad asked what I wanted for Christmas and I said an Atari, and he said ‘c’mon Neal, you can do better than that. I always see you with your radio playing music; do you want more records? Do you want to play an instrument? I want to get you something useful. I sheepishly said I like guitar, and his eyes lit up and he said, sure I’ll get you a guitar, at least you’ll be learning something.’”
With that idea in mind, the foundation’s concept is to shine a light on Casal’s artistry and provide resources to raise money for positive change though music. For the foundation’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign, donors can choose to pledge $10 to $1500 or more, and the campaign is providing two primary donation packages as a reward for donating; a tribute album, Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal, and a coffee table photography book, Tomorrow’s Sky: Photographs by Neal Casal.
The double CD/triple vinyl tribute album, featuring more than 30 of Casal’s songs, is being co-produced by Dave Schools of Widespread Panic and Grammy-winning producer and engineer Jim Scott.
Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal features almost 30 artists and bands, including Billy Strings, Jaime Wyatt, Circles Around the Sun, Vetiver, Cass McCombs, Shooter Jennings, Leslie Mendelson, Warren Haynes, Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Jason Crosby, Beachwood Sparks and many others.
The photography book, available now for pre-order on the Kickstarter campaign, comes from one of Casal’s last wishes; that a book be made of the photographs he took over the last 20-plus years while on the road as a musician and global explorer.
Tomorrow’s Sky is a stunning hard cover book that features over 250 of Casal’s beautiful photographs. Broken up into six sections covering travel, surfing, music and more, the book is essentially a biographical document of where Casal was at various points in his life, with photos of him backstage with his bands, in a recording studio with Willie Nelson, on an empty stretch of highway, or on the beach with a surfboard.
Photographer Jay Blakesberg is producing the book, and photo archivist and editor Ricki Blakesberg is curating the images using Casal’s Instagram, Tumblr and photo albums as a creative guide.
On the Kickstarter site, the Foundation writes, “These projects are intended to continue expanding Neal’s artistry and to give the Neal Casal Music Foundation a proper kick-off. Our hope is that the foundation will inspire future musicians and also provide access to mental health support for musicians already on the path. And let these projects bring comfort to the many fans of Neal who miss him every day!”