A&E chats with fourth-year College student, Charlottesville local bluegrass musician

Carleigh Nesbit, a fourth-year College student and Charlottesville native, has finally come of age in the local music scene.

After forming a band at the age of 15, she began playing gigs at nightclubs before moving up to bigger arenas, including the Paramount, the Jefferson Theater and the Southern. Her style is a mix of country, blues and rock, and she released a full-length album in 2008 titled “Flower to the Bee.” In an interview with Arts & Entertainment last week, Nesbit came across as a humble student with an infectious passion for roots music.

A&E spoke to Carleigh shortly before her concert Saturday evening at the Southern downtown, where she performed with James Wilson of the folk rock group Sons of Bill. With her impending graduation and an acceptance to a medical school in New England, Saturday marked what will likely have been one of her final performances in Charlottesville.

A&E: At what age did you first begin singing?

Nesbit: When I was nine. When I was in fourth grade my parents thought, “Gosh, our kid needs a hobby!” So they took me to get a cheap, little $90 guitar and waited to see if I liked it. I did. I’ve been doing it ever since.

A&E: How would you describe your musical style?

Nesbit: That’s a hard one! I think a lot of people that you talk to who play roots music now have a hard time [with that question] because there is so much access to different kinds of music. Back in the day, when people were only exposed to what was going on around them, what was popular in their town or what their family did, it was easier to define what you were doing. I would have to say my music is a combo of roots, blues, country, bluegrass, and folk — definitely a mix of all those things.

A&E: What has been your favorite performance in Charlottesville? Have any been really special?

Nesbit: As a first year at U.Va., I remember performing in Staunton the same night that my pledge class was on a retreat. I was really bummed to have to miss the bonding experience. Anyway, I went and played my show and halfway through half of the third- and fourth-years in my sorority had left the retreat to come and watch me play. They had driven all that way — about an hour — and were screaming for me. That was really nice because I felt like being involved in music prevented me from being as involved in other things. Their effort made me feel really included.

A&E: Are their any artists that you will always remember performing with?

Nesbit: I got to play with Tommy Ramone of the Ramones and another woman because Ramone decided later in his life he wanted to have a bluegrass duo. I have also played with folk singer Jesse Winchester. It was a sold out show at the Gravity Lounge, which is now The Southern. It was packed and after I opened he got on stage and said, “Oh, that Carleigh Nesbit makes my heart flutter!” I about died! He is my idol. I’ve been really fortunate to open for some very cool people. In addition to the above performances, I was in Colorado as a finalist in the song writing contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. As a finalist, I got to perform on the main stage in front of 15,000 people. When I was walking up to go on this huge stage, some of the biggest living bluegrass legends were just getting offstage. Jerry Douglas, who plays with Alison Krauss and is the best dobro player on Earth, was coming down the stairs. They were one of the highlights of the festival and, with 15,000 people there, I had to follow them. It was crazy!

A&E: What are your plans after graduation? Do you still plan to pursue music?

Nesbit: I just got accepted to a medical school in Maine, so I will be moving there this summer. Hopefully before that, I will be able to play at some music festivals and enjoy my time before leaving Charlottesville!

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