Nicole Atkins Is Involved with Causes Near and Far
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Nicole Atkins doesn’t have any sociopolitical songs on her forthcoming album, Mondo Amore — it’s all about her failed relationship — but on the side, when she’s not writing or performing, she gets involved with some causes close to her heart, one near; one far.
At home, in her native New Jersey, it’s helping out the Mercy Center in Asbury Park by performing an annual benefit concert at Christmastime. On the charity's web site, the vision statement is “providing people with the resources necessary to overcome life’s burdens and obstacles in an environment marked by dignity and respect.”
“The town that I grew up in has gone through enormous redevelopment,” says Atkins, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
“In the ‘60s and even before, it was the premiere vacation spot, then there were race riots in the early ‘70s. The whole town was burnt to the ground and everybody left and the block got run down, but for the last 10 years they’ve really been working on the town and it’s getting pretty again and populated again.”
In fact, another Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen, wrote “My City of Ruins” in 2000 about Asbury Park’s deterioration.
“So the Mercy Center, what they do is help a lot of low income families with food and clothes, and even parenting classes for a lot of parents that have been put in jail,” says Atkins. “They do re-initiation to life programs and schooling.”
Further from home, Atkins has also done a lot of activism work in New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, particularly with the charity Sweet Home New Orleans (SHNO), which helps individuals and organizations that perpetuate the city’s musical and cultural traditions; and Future of Music Coalition, a decade-old national non-profit that provides education, research and advocacy for musicians.
“There were so many musicians that were displaced after the floods, and [Sweet Home New Orleans] works to bring them back to where they lived because that city is one of the state’s most musical heritage cities,” says Atkins, who would go to Louisiana a couple of times a year when she was a student at the University of North Carolina in the late 90s.
To date, according to information on Sweet Home New Orleans’ web site, the organization has helped more than 4,000 members of the local music community — including Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members — recover from Katrina by providing over $3 million in targeted financial assistance, paying for hundreds of local gigs each year, and connecting clients to the resources they need to sustain themselves.
Atkins got involved with the charity in 2008, after Jim James from the Kentucky rock band My Morning Jacket went there on a humanitarian visit and afterwards put forth her name.
“Air Traffic Control — the people that first put on the Tibetan Freedom Festival and now have a company that works with putting musicians with causes and charities and teaching them the right way to do it — teamed up with Sweet Home New Orleans and Future of Music Coalition,” Atkins recounts.
“It was like a four-day retreat with 10 different bands and you just go and tour around all of New Orleans and meet all these different musicians and town council musicians and they show you the extent of everything that happened and what’s really going on. Then, there was a big benefit concert.
“At the end of each of these retreats, I guess musicians nominate somebody that would get a lot out of going and Jim nominated me so I went and I ended up getting really involved with Future of Music Coalition and doing more benefit shows.”
Last year, Atkins recorded two tracks for Dear New Orleans…, a 31-track, digital-only benefit album, produced and released by Air Traffic Control, that also features Steve Earle, OK Go, REM’s Mike Mills, Tom Morello’s The Nightwatchmen, Jill Sobule, Indigo Girls, My Morning Jacket and Allison Moorer, and more. Atkins cut “When The Levee Breaks” with New Orleans’ five-piece trombone band Bonerama, and “Kick Out The Jams” with Wayne Kramer, Mike Mills, and others.
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.