A few times a year when the stars align and Nate rolls back into town, we’ll take a midday field trip to the beach to talk about life and the things that connect us. Mostly we’ll stare at the clouds with long periods of silence. Then a passing thought will swirl into the overexposed air above our thick heads of wild hair and we’ll get excited for a spell — a mix of past experience and near-future excitement swarms in the space between.

Nate often goes into the details of his life on the road, tour managing huge bands on coast-to-coast, multi-month runs at venues I’ve only seen on social media. It’s a virtual backstage pass for this old timer who’s anchored in Key West, running a design studio while shuttling my two kids to school and baseball.

I feel as if I’ve known Nathan Linegar forever. He’s a soft-spoken, old-soul type who’s actually 10 years my junior — but it’s only been a few years since we first met.

The finer details of that origin story are blurry at best, but it starts with his arrival in Key West as the tour manager for Rayland Baxter during the 2019 COAST Is Clear Festival.

It was a less-than-standard first meeting ahead of the weekend’s busy program. From there, let’s just say we had a lot of fun. There was some really good live music, too. And a handshake agreement — as the weekend fog lifted — to hang out again. Maybe even produce a show or two together.

That was late 2019.

A few months later, Nate’s life on the live music highway came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus shut down that industry. For someone who’d called the road home for the better part of the last decade, Nate was, essentially, homeless. His final road trip entailed driving a truck back from Chicago to Brooklyn, where he then spent a few months at an old crash pad with other musician industry friends like Liz Cooper.

As the bleak reality of the pandemic made it clear that live music would likely be the last industry to rebound, Nate sought safe harbor in a place that might be more comfortable in the interim than New York City.

After a brief conversation in late May 2020, Nate made landfall in Key West just as the southbound blockade on U.S. 1 ended, bringing visitors back to the Florida Keys.

 It was supposed to be a weekend visit. But he never left.

I happened to have an extra room at the house and we worked out another handshake deal. Soon, he was “Room Nate” to my kids, and with loads of time on our hands, we spent long, lazy days at the beach and late nights in semi-lucid states plotting our return to live music greatness.

“Looking back on that time, it’s seriously hard to believe we got from there to here,” Nate says, staring through thick-framed vintage sunglasses with a sideways smile. “I’ve never felt so lost and found all at once. I was without the one thing that pretty much defined me, but in a place that felt entirely comfortable and beautiful despite the world around us unraveling.”

He leaned back and skimmed a thin slab of coral rock into the aqua abyss, adding, “the more I got to know you — and the island — the more I began to understand not only the vision, but also the potential of COAST Is Clear. And I started to realize that even though I’d likely go back to a life that keeps me on the road for much of the year, it’d be ideal to have a good reason to continue calling Key West my home base.”

That was last week.

But we had made good on our handshake deal a year ago, just before Nate split town for his first post-pandemic tour with Dr. Dog in the spring of 2021. That’s when he eagerly hopped aboard as the COAST Is Clear production manager. And last December, his experience and expertise allowed us to confidently host Black Pumas, while his insight into the live-music industry machine has helped strengthen my nerve to continue booking bands that may have previously seemed too big or complex to handle on my own.

And while our mid-afternoon day trips to the beach are fewer and further between these days, his mail still gets sent to the house, the kids still look forward to Room Nate’s returns home, and he’s found his long-term connection to Key West.

So keep an eye out for Nate around town. And if you don’t spot him ahead of this year’s festival, then just look for the handsomest and hardest working guy on the scene during the first weekend of December.

A Long Walk On The Beach With… is a monthly feature conceived and written by Billy Kearins profiling local creative minds through free-form conversation during a trip to the beach.

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