This week, the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester hosted a tribute show in memory of the recently deceased singer, songwriter, guitarist and photographer Neal Casal. The 5 ½ hour show included over 30 performers, many of whom were bandmates, collaborators and friends of Casal. The long list of acts included Beachwood Sparks, Circles Around the Sun, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz, Scott Metzger, John Ginty, Jason Crosby, Duane Trucks, and Citizen Cope.
Casal’s impact on his musical community was evident in the outpouring of affection and dedication, not only from the performers but also the organizers, who pulled together a fitting sendoff in the weeks following Casal taking his own life. In the spirit of supporting other artists who face similar challenges as Casal, all proceeds from the night went to Musicares, a nonprofit that provides “a safety net of critical assistance to music people in times of need.”
Of the many memorable songs performed, one particularly moving piece was a rendition of the Grateful Dead ballad, “Ship of Fools,” played by many of the participating musicians, along with pre-recorded guitar and vocals from Casal. The rambling classic was almost certainly paying additional homage to Robert Hunter, who wrote the song with Jerry Garcia. Hunter passed away earlier this week.
Peter Shapiro, owner of the Capitol Theatre and steady hand behind Relix Magazine and the Lockn Festival, connected with Casal while organizing the 2015 “Fare Thee Well” tour. That tour was the basis for the formation of the band Circles Around the Sun. Their first and last performances with Neal were both in Arlington, Virginia at Lockn. “That is the true meaning of a circle around the sun — they started it and ended it in that way. It’s always going to be Jerry [Garcia]’s Forest… From now on, that is Neal’s stage,” said Shapiro in a touching moment before the set break. A photo of the plaque that would permanently adorn Casal’s memorial stage was projected during the show for all to see.
That Lockn performance was Casal’s last time on stage, and for many of his friends and collaborators it was their last interaction with him. “He should still be here,” says Josh Hummel, former drummer in the Neal Casal Band, who postponed a gig with his current group Chris Berardo and the DesBerardos in order to attend the show. “Neal was a wonderful person and we’re all going to miss him,” said Hummel.
The timing of the show coincides with National Recovery Month, which is underpinned by efforts to support people struggling with their mental health and to celebrate the process of recovery. A wealth of data has indicated that issues surrounding mental health disproportionately affect artists. This is especially evident after Casal’s death, but also as several other high-profile musicians, including Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Keith Flint, all recently took their own lives. This makes the tribute to Casal, and the mission of Musicares, all the more necessary.
In a final message, Casal explained that he would want everyone to “have an epic party for me and play [his] favorite records, and remember all the good times [they] had, the music, images, and waves [they] caught. That’s all.” All that and more can be said of the show held in his name.
To donate to Musicares, watch the recorded livestream of the full concert, or find resources related to National Recovery Month, see the links below.
Full Show: https://youtu.be/4pAor7Cv66s
National Recovery Month: https://recoverymonth.gov/
William Bermingham works in the Communications Department at ArtsWestchester. He is a graduate of Purchase College where he studied Arts Management.