Posted July 8, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Billy Strings Teams Up with Circles Around the Sun for Track on Neal Casal Tribute Album

Neal Casal Foundation
Neal Casal Foundation

The Neal Casal Music Foundation (NCMF) was created to provide instruments and lessons to students in New Jersey and New York state schools where Casal was born and raised. The organization also makes donations to mental health organizations that support musicians in need. 

A first round of funding for the foundation is being raised through a Kickstarter campaign comprised by two primary packages: the 30-plus song tribute album Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal and the coffee table photography book Tomorrow’s Sky: Photographs by Neal Casal.

“In a note left behind, Neal told the story of how he got his first guitar when he was 13,” explains Casal’s longtime manager Gary Waldman, who started the foundation along with a team of Casal’s friends. “As he explained it, ‘I remember the day on one of those drives where dad asked what I wanted for Christmas, and I said an Atari, and he said, “C’mon Neal, you can do better than that. I always see you with your radio playing music, do you want more records? Do you want to play an instrument? Anything but Atari y’know? It’s just going to collect dust after a few months, I want to get you something useful.” I sheepishly said I like guitar, and his eyes lit up, and he said, “Sure, I’ll get you a guitar — at least you’ll be learning something.” So that was it, my life was set right there.’ I remember the exact place where we were when he said it. We were passing that reservoir that’s in between Oak Ridge, NJ and route 23 into New York state.”

With that in mind, the concept for the foundation was born.

Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal will be a double CD/triple vinyl album celebrating the body of work Casal left behind over the course of 14 studio albums. Recording sessions for the project began in February led by co-producers Dave Schools of Widespread Panic and seven time Grammy-Award winning recording engineer/producer Jim Scott at PLYRZ Studios in Valencia, CA. Over 30 artists have been confirmed to appear, including Lucinda Williams, Jonathan Wilson, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band, Cass McCombs, Steve Earle, Warren Haynes, Jaime Wyatt, Shooter Jennings and Robert Randolph & the Family Band among numerous others.

The first single and video from the recording was captured during those initial sessions in February. It features Billy Strings with Circles Around the Sun performing “All the Luck In The World.”

“It’s been overwhelming to record these talented artists as they put their own spin on Neal’s songs,” says Schools. “It speaks volumes to the high quality of his songwriting and to the depth of love and appreciation that his peers had for him.”

One of Neal’s other last wishes left behind was that a book be made of the photographs he had taken while traveling the world over the last 20 years. Tomorrow’s Sky: Photographs by Neal Casal is a 240-page, hard cover, coffee table book that presents over 250 of his photos. The book is broken up into six sections entitled Surf, Road, Rooms, Humans, Travel and Music. Each section is a deep reflection of where Neal was in his life, whether backstage with his band, in a recording studio with Willie Nelson, an empty stretch of highway through a tour bus windshield or on the beach with a surfboard. The photographs were carefully curated by Ricki Blakesberg using Casal’s Instagram, Tumblr and photo albums as a guide, and the book’s producer is Casal’s close friend and legendary photographer, Jay Blakesberg.

Tomorrow’s Sky is a look at the world seen through the eyes of Neal Casal. Neal was a stealth photographer who always carried his camera and documented the people, places and scenes as they passed before him,” says Blakesberg. “The photos are intimate, beautiful and from the hip. Nothing is set up; it is real life in real time.”

Over the course of a 30-plus year career, Casal appeared on multiple recordings as a member of bands like Circles Around the Sun, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Beachwood Sparks, the Skiffle Players, Hard Working Americans, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, the Jayhawks, James Iha and Vetiver.

With the formation of the Neal Casal Music Foundation, the body of work he left behind, including an extensive archive of unreleased material, will be reimagined to “further shine a light on his artistry, while providing resources to raise money for positive change.”


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]