HousingFest: Concert to End Homelessness

April 11, 2016

As a social worker and a musician, HousingFest blends my passions perfectly. I’m excited to share our plans for this year’s event.

What’s HousingFest?

HousingFestHousingFest - small is a music festival dedicated to ending homelessness in Charlotte. It’s guided by two simple principles: 1) Housing is a basic human right and 2) music has the power to unite people to end homelessness. All proceeds from the show go towards expanding Urban Ministry Center’s (UMC) HousingWorks program that provides homes for men and women who don’t have one yet.

This year’s HousingFest will be on Saturday May 28th, 2016 at The Fillmore at NC Music Factory. Our lineup features Josh Ritter, Nikki Hill, Matrimony, Jim Lauderdale, Lindi Ortega, and Justin Fedor. We’ll have plenty of opportunities for people to learn about the cause of ending homelessness and the work that’s being done to do so here in Charlotte.

Our first show in 2014 featured The Blind Boys of Alabama and Jim Lauderdale at The Neighborhood Theatre. The concert sold out and raised over $25,000. With help from our partners at Maxx Music and Live Nation, we took 2015 off to build HousingFest into a premier music festival for Charlotte.

Details for HousingFest 2016

Along with a full day of music, your ticket purchase contributes directly to ending homelessness in Charlotte. A ticket to the show is $39. That’s how much it costs to provide a night of housing in one of our HousingWorks programs for an individual experiencing homelessness. These tickets are general admission and standing room. There are a limited number of seated tickets at $78 (that’s right, the cost of two nights of housing). You can purchase tickets here.

Here’s the schedule for the day of HousingFest:josh w hf logo

Doors open: 4:00pm

  • Justin Fedor – 5pm-5:35pm
  • Jim Lauderdale- 5:50-6:35pm
  • Lindi Ortega – 6:55-7:40pm
  • Matrimony – 8-8:55pm
  • Nikki Hill Band – 9:15-10pm
  • Josh Ritter – 10:20-11:30pm

We know that 5pm until 11:30pm is a long time for even the most ardent lovers of music and social justice to be on their feet. With that in mind, we’re creating the most comfortable festival experience we can. We’ll have a covered “Rest and Relaxation” area in the outdoor space of The Fillmore with chairs, fans, and water. There will also be an outdoor bar and food trucks, including Maki Taco, will be onsite.

The Message

Housing is a basic human right.

That’s the message we want our community to embrace. Everyone deserves a safe place to call home. It doesn’t matter what challenges a person is experiencing or what happened in their past.

Housing is the ethical response to homelessness and it’s cost-effective. It’s cheaper to house someone than to allow them to suffer on the streets. It costs nearly $40,000 (in annual community crisis services like the ER, hospital, detox, and jail) for a person to experience chronic homelessness and there are no positive outcomes. UMC can provide housing for that same person at a cost of $14,000 with great outcomes. Moore Place, one of UMC’s housing programs, saved our community $2.4 million dollars in its first two years of operation.

The Artists

Josh Ritter’s musical arc has encompassed work as an introspective singer-songwriter and a roots rock and roller. He’s been called one of the greatest living songwriters by Paste Magazine. You can see him in recent performances on the Conan O’Brien Show and CBS Saturday Sessions. If that weren’t enough, he’s written a novel that was reviewed in the New York Times by Stephen King.

Matrimony is an act from Charlotte, NC that is led by Jimmy and Ashlee Brown. Rolling Stone described their sound as “Mumford Sons if they were weaned on middle period Fleetwood Mac.” They signed to Columbia Records in 2014, and on the verge of national recognition, they went on hiatus. Jimmy and Ashlee are now living in Nashville, but will be traveling to town for a Matrimony reunion show at HousingFest – their contribution to ending homelessness in Charlotte. It’s their only show on the books.

Robert w NikkiNow based in New Orleans, Nikki Hill is originally from Durham, NC. Her band has steadily built an international following over the last few years. Their sound has been described as “AC/DC meets the Staples Singers”. Nikki has been called “The Southern Fireball”, “the New Soul Sensation”, “amazing R&B Shouter”, and even “the new Queen of Rock n’ Roll”. Her live shows are electric. I’ve known her husband, guitarist Matt Hill, for over a decade. We met when we were 18, playing in dive bars in Greensboro, NC. We were the only young guitarists on the scene. I tour with the band when I can, so having them on the bill is especially meaningful for me.

Jim Lauderdale is a two-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter. He’s collaborated with music royalty: Lauderdale 2Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, and Willie Nelson among many others. He and his long-time collaborator Buddy Miller host the Americana Music Awards.  He played our inaugural HousingFest in 2014 and has been one of our greatest allies and supporters. He’s a personal hero of mine and one of the best human beings you could meet. He made adjustments in his touring schedule to join us for this year’s show.

Canadian-born singer-songwriter Lindi Ortega now resides in Nashville. American Songwriter called her the “love child of Johnny Cash and Nancy Sinatra”. Her last album “Faded Gloryville” features tracks done in collaboration with now legendary Nashville producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton). She recently performed on the Grand Ole Opry and she sold out the Double Door last time she was in Charlotte.

Justin Fedor is a founding member of two of our area’s favorite bands: The New Familiars and Ancient Cities. He organizes the Levine Children’s Hospital Benefits that have raised thousands of dollars to help children diagnosed with cancer. His music, in all its iterations, is powerful, and his commitment to making our community better is admirable. He will be bringing his solo project, Justin Fedor and Friends, to HousingFest. Their performance is not to be missed.

Music and Social Change

Music has played an integral role in social movements. Throughout history, it has brought people together to raise awareness about society’s problems and as a way to challenge authority. Here are just a few examples.

Ella Mae Wiggins, a champion of equal pay for women and children, wrote songs to organize workers against the appalling conditions faced at their mill and factory jobs. She was a leader of the once lionized, now largely forgotten, Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia, NC. Woody Guthrie called Ella Mae “the pioneer of the protest ballad” and Pete Seeger recorded a version her song “Mill Mother’s Lament”. Tragically, her life was cut short when she was murdered on the way to a protest rally. The murder went unsolved, but her legacy and music live on.

m staplesFollowing a concert in Montgomery, Alabama, Roebuck “Pops” Staples took his family to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to hear Martin Luther King Jr. preach. He was inspired by the man and the message. With songs like “Freedom Highway” (written for the march from Selma to Montgomery) and “Why Am I Treated So Bad”  The Staples Singers put King’s message to music. Mavis Staples keeps the flame of non-violent protest alive as she continues to tour and record genre-bending, intergenerational albums with the likes of Jeff Tweedy and M. Ward.

The origins of Farm Aid can be traced to a comment Bob Dylan made during a performance at Live Aid in 1985. He asked that a portion of funds raised from the concert go towards supporting American farmers who were caught in foreclosure and bankruptcy due to drought and economic downturns. His comments struck some as insensitive, but led Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp to organize a concert later that year. The inaugural Farm Aid’s drew 78,000 people and raised over 9 million dollars while placing the plight of America’s destitute farmers on center stage.

Through guerilla performances and music videos, the punk-collective Pussy Riot has challenged the corrupt political and criminal justice systems of Putin’s autocratic Russia. They’ve placed their lives in danger, with some group members serving nearly two years in prison, but they continue to devote their energy to changing an oppressive power structure.

Creating a Movement

With HousingFest, we want to create a music festival that raises awareness that housing is a basic human right. We believe that if everyone can understand this message, we can end homelessness and prevent it from recurring.

Please join us and help us spread the word. Check us out online (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and invite your friends and family to come.

You can make a difference in our community. We hope that you will.


Robert Nesbit is Program Coordinator for Urban Ministry Center’s Moore Place and co-founder of HousingFest with Katie Church. If you have additional questions about the concert, please email him at rnesbit@urbanministrycenter.org. If you’d like to volunteer, reach out to Katie Church at kchurch@urbanministrycenter.org.