nashville cartel
Photo from Nashville Cartel Website

Music can be a powerful connector, especially during a time when connecting was nearly impossible during the pandemic at the end of 2020 and the beginning of this year. The musical group Nashville Cartel and Shawn Hackinson, owner of The Alley on Main, found a way to use music to help local charities and bring the community together when so many need help.

When COVID-19 hit, Nashville Cartel had to come off the road. Members Jared Weeks of Saving Abel, Bigg Vinny of Trailer Choir and NBC’s the Biggest Loser, and Jared Blake of NBC’s The Voice began having weekly conversations about how God works in mysterious ways, and then He did. Jared Blake and his family were hanging out in downtown Murfreesboro and got hungry. His daughter, Ally, suggested they go to “that Alley on Main place.” Blake loved it so much, he took his wife back there the next night.

“Shawn introduced himself almost immediately as I set down at the bar,” explained Blake. “One thing led to another, and we started talking music, about how much charities had suffered with the lack of events, and how divided the nation had become. Shawn proposed that if I could handle the music, that he would put together a group of local leaders for a dinner and shows with profits going to non-profits. COVID requires small gatherings, so we had to reach out to some of the business owners that truly love our community. Those who know they have been blessed and want to bless others.”

The concerts took off. Blake explained that Nashville Cartel is not so much a “band” or “group” as it is an experiential event. Blake, Weeks, and Bigg Vinny are at almost every event, and then they ask other musicians to join them. The events have become so popular that Hackinson has had to move them out of his restaurant and into Walnut House. But, Blake says that he still brings his A-game to the event with great food from Alley on Main and a full bar.

“The Walnut House has been AMAZING,” exclaimed Blake. “I cannot say enough good about them. The shows have been great. So far, The Nashville Cartel and Alley on Main have done shows with Lee Brice and Jarrod Neimann; Randy Houser and Rob Hatch; Tracy Lawrence; and the latest with Aaron Tippin and Richie McDonald.”

Shows are scheduled every quarter. The community has been unbelievably generous, and in three shows they have raised almost $150,000 for local charities. Proceeds from these first shows have gone to United Way, the Boys and Girls Club of Middle Tennessee, and AMBUCS which works with the mentally and physically challenged. They have been so successful, that they are now setting up quarterly shows in Franklin as well, the first show in Franklin took place in early June with Clay Walker.

CARTEL, pronounced: kärˈtel, is, according to the dictionary, a coalition or cooperative arrangement between parties intended to promote a mutual interest. The coalition known as Nashville Cartel originated one night in Nashville when some of the industry’s finest came together to lay down the stresses of the industry, let loose, and just get back to the music. When Jared Weeks, Jared Blake and Bigg Vinny set foot on the same stage that for the first time, there was something that just felt right. They started booking more and more gigs together and slowly stopped booking independent gigs. Blake describes their concerts as being like the Osbournes meeting the Brady Bunch — crazy, fun, and full of love.

“I had never been involved with a group that I felt truly had my back until Vinny and Blake,” said Jared Weeks.

Over the early months spent on the road, on over-night rides back home, they discussed everything from favorite bands to God, to politics, to kids and wives, and more. They say that they agreed with each other on almost every subject.

“It was a safe space,” said Bigg Vinny. “We made a rule that no one was ever wrong if you said it on the bus.”

“During that time, we also realized there was more to life than just playing music. We wanted more. We just didn’t know what that was – yet,” added Blake.

All three musicians have strong connections to community and have long given back to others. Blake, originally from Arkansas, was a semi-finalist on the first season of The Voice, and since that time he has used his success to share personal experiences with addiction recovery through his “Live to Be” Foundation. He has traveled to hundreds of high risk schools to share his positive message of redemption and personal responsibility. He wants the kids to know that somebody cares.

Vinny says that the show The Biggest Loser saved his life. In an interview on bigfrog104.com, he also speaks of personal responsibility. “I can show you all the people whose lives have changed because of The Biggest Loser. I can bring you my brother who has lost 100 pounds because of what I’ve learned on the show, I could bring back and teach him. I can bring you my mom, who I didn’t have a relationship with before, and now we’re best friends. The show is not just about losing weight, but the stories behind the contestants who went in, did it right, faced their demons, fought for what they believed in and made their choice.”

As a founding member of Saving Abel, Jared Weeks has supported the military by playing at bases in Kuwait and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Hackinson has given Nashville Cartel the opportunity to serve the community that they had been looking for. So much so, that they would now like to add a third location in the area surrounding Nashville.

“I would like to expand the charity shows not only into other communities but to a larger portion of the public,” said Blake. “In addition to the small acoustic concerts, we would like to also create free to the public, festival-style outdoor concert events. We want to see our city come together, putting aside our differences, having fun, and get back to family and God while raising money for charities in need through donations at the gate, raffles, auctions, and local sponsors.”

Additional information can be found at their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/nashvillecartel/.


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