By Jeff Maisey
There’s a lot of talk lately about preventing brain-drain in Hampton Roads. When talented people leave the region because creative opportunity exists elsewhere it’s a disappointing reality. Recently, fiddle player extraordinaire Charlie Austin left for Nashville because he couldn’t make a living here as a working musician.
Another such person is Barbara Nesbitt.
Nesbitt performed as a singer and guitarist in local jam band Rare Daze. She and guitar player/singer Bernie Lee also played out as the acoustic duo The Perpetrators.
Nesbit moved in San Diego before landing in Austin, Texas, where she has released studio recordings, played SXSW and performed on stage with legendary country star Willie Nelson and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.
Nesbit returns to Hampton Roads for two performances: April 1 as The Perpetrators and April 2 with a reunited Rare Daze featuring Nesbitt (guitar/vocals), Bernie Lee (guitar/vocals), Andy Rexroat (drums), Alfred Evans (keys), Ed Kessler (bass) and Dave Voightritter (bass/vocals).
In advance of these shows, I asked Barbara to reflect on the past and present. Here is our interview.
Do you recall how Rare Daze began and how you came to join the band as a singer?
Rare Daze began when I was 16 and living with a bunch of hippie friends in Virginia Beach. Among others, Keith Hudgins, Bernie Lee and Alfred Evans (whose house it was) would jam regularly in our living room. I remember we had a huge bag of waffle mix and a waffle iron (and not much else to eat) and i would make waffles for the guys and sing along to myself. Bernie and Keith urged me to grab a mic and join in and it wasn’t too long before we were playing our first show, an open mic at Cogan’s. Things snowballed in a great way from there and we were quickly playing shows all over Virginia and North Carolina.
What was the jam band scene like at that time in Hampton Roads?
When Rare Daze started playing the hippie/jam band scene was in it’s resurgent heyday. Our timing could not have been better and it’s the kind of thing you can’t force. We were playing music that we loved and seemed to resonate with a ton of folks at the time. And i think the nature of the music we were playing made our connection with fans more of a family feel. It was symbiotic and sweet and bigger than us.
What were your musical influences then and how have your musical tastes evolved over time?
I was a big lover of classic rock, Motown, ‘70s pop and so much more. But the Grateful Dead was the real impetus and glue that inspired Rare Daze. As a singer, I preferred voices like Bonnie Raitt, Aretha, and even my beloved Karen Carpenter (don’t judge me!! :-)), but the community created by the Grateful Dead scene was a feeling of belonging and camaraderie i had never had before. Over time, i have moved more toward Americana, Singer-Songwriter, Country Alt tastes and songs that aren’t 15 minutes long, but that hippie shit (or “stuff,” if you prefer) was the real catalyst for me to become a professional musician.
Can you share some of your favorite experiences performing as a member of Rare Daze?
There were so many incredible moments or transcendence for me in Rare Daze. Every gig dancing, singing, sweating …was special. Some of my favorite shows were at the 17th St. Brewery down at the Beach. A sea of dancing bodies and smiling faces, and maybe a little too much patchouli! But we also had some great tours, camping trips, parties. It was a magical time
When and why did the band split?
Things changed drastically when we lost founding member, Keith Hudgins. He passed away and though we continued to play for a few years, it was never quite the same. Over the years, though, we have gotten back together a number of times and it is always so special. Great people, great friends, great times. And I hope we always will.
After Rare Daze, you continued to perform and then moved to San Diego before winding up in Austin. What can you tell us about that transformation both personally and as a musician?
When I moved to San Diego, I fell in with some great musicians who were very supportive of original music and it inspired me to focus on my songwriting more than i ever had. San Diego treated me very well, and i love it there, but i decided to move to a town known for music and Austin resonated more with me than some of the other choices. I came in cold, not knowing anyone, but it was a great decision. Before too long I had a band going called The Whiskey Sisters and have since focused again on my “solo” stuff. I am preparing to make my 4th solo record, play an official showcase at SXSW and head off to the UK to play some festivals. Music is my life and i am grateful as hell.
What have been the highlights of your musical career thus far?
Number One with a bullet: Singing with Willie Nelson!
But being able to sing backups for Bob Weir a few times was special in its own way. It was an interesting full circle situation to remember the last time i had seen him he was a mile away from me in an arena, and now he was three feet away and I was singing Friend of the Devil with him. I’m a very lucky girl.
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