The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia’s Rock’n Hearts for the Homeless event on May 14 will feature food trucks, vendors and live music from various artists. Among the artists is Joe Nester, a Neighborhood Center employee and a musician with a sizable social-media following.
Rock’n Hearts for the Homeless event will take place 2-7 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Earl Brown Park, 750 S. Alabama Ave., in DeLand.
In addition to Joe Nester, Rock’n Hearts for the Homeless on May 14 will feature acoustic tunes from Brian Raymond, folk music by the Jackson Creek String Band, and 1980s favorites from Ragin’ Sun. There will be food trucks and other vendors. Radio station 105.9 FM host Domino will be the emcee.
The event is free and open to the public.
But not long ago, Nester was in the same position many clients of The Neighborhood Center are in now.
Living on the streets of Philadelphia and Delaware and committing crimes to buy drugs, Nester didn’t see a way out. But thanks to music, a chance phone call from a friend and his faith, he’s living a new life.
Nester grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. He was a sheltered kid who loved playing in a band, called Dawn Undercover, with his friends after he graduated from high school. It was those same friends — whom he had known since he was a kid —that he started doing drugs with at 19.
“When my friends introduced me to drugs, it wasn’t the softer stuff. It was literally crack cocaine,” Nester told The Beacon. “I’m picturing homeless people, people who are stealing, doing all this bad stuff. That’s what I’m picturing when I hear crack, but these are my best friends I grew up with. I skateboard with them, I play music with them. We’ve been to school together, and they have the job, they have the house, they have the car. I started asking myself, ‘Is this that bad?’”
It didn’t take long, he said, for life to spiral out of control.
“It had such a strong hold on me, and I didn’t want to stop using,” Nester said.
He ran away from his family with the intent of having one wild and crazy summer before he put his nose to the grindstone and got his life back in order.
“After this summer, I’m going to enroll in college and get my life back on track,” he said he told himself. “Unfortunately, that summer lasted 10 years.”
In 2012, Nester was still living on the street. He was in and out of jail, addicted to heroin, missing all of his teeth and “130 pounds soaking wet.”
His childhood friends had broken their habits and moved on, he said, but he couldn’t break the cycle. He didn’t know a way out.
“You know it’s bad when you know that you’re going to die, either in the streets, with a needle in your arm, or in prison,” Nester said. “The saddest part is I accepted that. I accepted that these were choices that have led me here; this is the hand I’ve been dealt, I guess this is it.”
But everything changed when he got a phone call from a childhood friend — the very same friend who had introduced him to drugs 10 years earlier. That friend was living in Florida and working through a 12-step program to recover from his own addiction.
“As hopeless as I was, I guess God had different plans,” Nester said.
His friend offered to buy him a train ticket to Florida and to help him begin his own addiction recovery. On Dec. 18, 2012, Joe Nester arrived in Delray Beach.
“I hopped on a 26-hour train down to Florida with nothing but the clothes on my back,” he said. “I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, I just knew something inside told me, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re going to die. This is your ticket out.’”
In Delray Beach, the Baker Act — which allows a suicidal or dangerous person to be held for treatment — connected Nester to detox and then treatment, at no charge.
“I can see God in all of it, you know,” Nester said. “When I got to that treatment center on Christmas Day 2012, my roommate just so happened to be an acoustic musician.”
When he picked up the guitar, the 10-year gulf — all those years spent on the street — disappeared.
“It came back to me like I didn’t miss a beat,” Nester said. “I continued to write music because that’s what was helping me. When I was fighting those urges to go out and get high, that guitar was my outlet. I had so much pain and so much suffering to let out. I wasn’t writing music to be famous like I was before when I was 19, I was just writing music to write it, to get it out.”
He continued his recovery, and kept writing music. Eventually, Nester was signed to a record label, Recovering Artists Worldwide. That’s where he released his first album in 2018, The Awakening. Full of raw tracks that addressed his experiences head-on, Nester said, the album found an audience.
“You can never take my soul/ Even when I’m broke and it’s freezing cold, no/ I’m gonna make it out of this hole/ And I’m gonna keep fighting ’til I grow old”
– lyric from Nester’s track ‘Never Gonna Take My Soul’
Nowadays, with his third album — 2020’s This Is Me, his first as an independent artist — released, Nester said social media has allowed him to gain a following and release music independently.
That following, on Facebook alone, is 152,000 followers. On his Facebook page, Nester Nation, he shares his music as well as inspirational posts for people battling addiction. As with his music, he doesn’t hold back when talking about addiction and recovery.
“I feel the people that need to hear it are going to hear it,” Nester said. “I would rather not hold anything back and recover out loud than be discreet about everything and let somebody else suffer and die in silence.”
It’s not just his music career that has come a long way. Nester moved from Delray Beach to Deltona to be with his now-wife, Faith Nester. While he continues his music career, he has a full-time role at The Neighborhood Center, assisting clients at The Bridge.
While he still performs a show here and there outside of Florida, he said he’s happy to be settled down and working to make a difference for people struggling in his community.
“You have to look at that person as a human being, regardless of their situation. You don’t know what that person has been through. You don’t know what their mental state of mind is. You don’t know what they’re suffering from,” he said. “But nonetheless, they are a child of God, and you just have to look at them as someone who was sick, or someone who was suffering; someone who was less fortunate.”
When it comes to people living on the street, Nester urged people to show some compassion. You never know what they’ve been through.
“I was suffering, and I didn’t know a way out, and if it wasn’t for places like The Neighborhood Center, who provide resources and help for those people, you know, I would be dead,” he said. “The homeless situation, especially in DeLand, is very excessive, right? Yeah. So we definitely just need all the help that we can get. And just putting a Band-Aid on it or sweeping it under the rug is not going to help the situation. Judging people and putting them down, that’s not going to help the situation either.”
Nester continued, “A lot of these people, they don’t feel loved, they don’t feel accepted. And that just makes the situation worse.”
The Rock’n Hearts for the Homeless event will take place 2-7 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Earl Brown Park, 750 S. Alabama Ave. in DeLand. The event is free and open to the public and will feature live music, including Joe Nester, acoustic tunes from Brian Raymond, folk music by the Jackson Creek String Band, and 1980s favorites from Ragin’ Sun. The event will also feature food trucks and other vendors. Radio station 105.9 FM host Domino will be the master of ceremonies.