Reigning Hope

Laura Baskervill, in Ivoire, Haiti Photo by Bourne Media

Greg Cartwright is a bit of a ghost around these parts.

Since moving with his family to Asheville (from Memphis) in 2004, the garage/punk/soul cult hero has played just a handful of local shows with his band Reigning Sound, and released just one studio album (2009’s excellent Love & Curses).

Not that he’s been slacking. Far from it, actually.

After spending the 90s paving the lo-fi musical runway for bands like The White Stripes, The Black Lips and Jay Reatard, the last few years have seen Cartwright kick-starting the critically acclaimed comeback of ‘60s girl group singer Mary Weiss (Shangri-Las), forming a one-off super group with The Ette’s Coco Hames (The Parting Gifts), and producing up-and-coming bands like Chapel Hill’s Last Year’s Men.

Oh yeah, and he’s also raised three kids.

And it’s the latter that has given him and his bandmates — organ player Dave Amels just recently welcomed his first child — the most perspective.

“By the time you’re 40 years old and you’re still playing music, the dynamic changes a lot,” says Cartwright, after just getting back from picking up his second-grade daughter from her last day of school. “When you’re young, you can tour around your schedule. But when you’re older, you have more people to think about than just yourself. You have responsibilities to the next generation. You can’t live the narcissistic, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle,” he laughs.

“That’s pretty much over when you have a child.”

Not that Cartwright is complaining. He loves being a self-described “house husband.” But it does make finding the time to play shows a bit more challenging. So when Cartwright plays a hometown gig, he’s sure to make it count. 

Which is where Mission MANNA, the local nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of Haitian children, comes in.

Started more than 10 years ago by Brevard High School student Maggie Lozier, Mission MANNA — not to be confused with local charity MANNA FoodBank — provides medical care for malnourished children in and around Montrouis, Haiti, about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Twice a year, the grassroots organization takes a team of a dozen WNC doctors, nurses and other health professionals to the small coastal town. During a single week, they typically treat around 2,500 malnourished kids in the region. Mission MANNA also hires six employees in Haiti to check up on the kids during the rest of the year.

It’s no small task, obviously. Even before last year’s devastating earthquake, malnutrition was one of the leading causes of death for Haitian children. Now, almost 50 percent of child deaths in the country are due to malnutrition, according to UNICEF.

Recently Mission MANNA has expanded beyond just immediate medical care. And one of the most successful of these new initiatives is the Sustainable Nutrition Project (aka The Goats and Rabbits Project), which uses a teach-a-person-to-fish approach to combatting malnutrition and poverty.

It’s a simple idea, and one that so far has proven extremely successful. Basically, Mission MANNA hires local farmers to help distribute goats and rabbits to families around the town. The farmers then help train the families on how to sustainably raise, breed and sell their livestock at the market, creating an ongoing food and income source for the families. 

It’s just the type of innovative, forward-thinking project that Cartwright is happy to jump behind.

“This is definitely on a small, more localized, personal level,” Cartwright says. “The people in Haiti are wonderful people, and they’ve been struggling for a long time. It’s amazing what these people can bounce back from. But they need help from outside.”

Friday night’s benefit show will also include a raffle, featuring giveaways from Wedge Brewery, Harvest Records, LaZoom Comedy Tours, Blue Ribbon Hair Salon and others. And Cartwright promises to debut a few new Reigning Sound songs, including one that they recently recorded a single for while they were in Austin for a show.

So, yeah, a busy family man like Cartwright might be a bit of a ghost around town. But damn if he isn’t a friendly one.

“When I do play in town, if I can make that count by helping somebody else,” he says, “those are the kind of gigs that I want to play.”

— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer.

who: Reigning Sound, with Wooden Toothe
what: A benefit show for local non-profit Mission MANNA
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, June 24 (8 p.m., $10 minimum donation.

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