On a recent, rain-slicked Friday night, a couple of thousand music fans, long-neck Buds and potent cocktails in hand, were milling about the main showroom of Billy Bob’s Texas.
The chairs and long tables usually found in front of the stage had been removed in anticipation of the night’s headliner: the Josh Weathers Band, making its first appearance at the venue since his “see-ya-later” gig there in January 2014.
The night — and the crowd — vibrated with anticipation.
Backstage, a few hours before showtime, the usual pre-gig business was unfolding: fine-tuning the guest list, fielding phone calls and text messages, welcoming friends and family, grabbing a bite to eat, and making sure the musicians had everything they needed for the show.
The 30-year-old Weathers moved easily among the cozy rooms backstage, smiling, chatting, posing for photos and even taking a moment for a Texas music benchmark: ascending a ladder and signing his name, alongside his bandmates’, on the Billy Bob’s cinderblock wall, right between Huey Lewis and the News and Florida Georgia Line.
Physically, he was right there, in the moment, preparing to step onstage and give yet another epic performance, full of soulful rock ’n’ roll and gobsmacking vocals, before an adoring crowd primed to cheer his band’s every move.
Mentally, however, Weathers was far, far away — about 8,956 miles, to be exact, in Hyderabad, India.
The plight of young Indian girls, victimized by sexual violence and cruelty, has altered the course of Weathers’ life and that of his family and a few close friends, in ways he could never have predicted.
Weathers and his wife, Kady, adopted a young Indian girl, Ruby, about a year ago, after a roughly 24-month process. (Thanks to the success of he and his wife’s in-home AdvoCare business, begun four years ago, Weathers no longer needs to spend the bulk of the year touring.)
“My wife has always felt drawn to India,” Weathers says. “That’s what led us to India with Ruby. It’s … a feel of, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do,’ as it is the necessity and the fact that I’m alive on the planet right now, so if I feel like I need to do it, then I need to do it there.”
Since then, the Weathers family has fully committed to helping more young Indian women avoid a life of sexual slavery and suffering. (The statistics are sobering: The Times of India reported in 2014 that the country, along with Pakistan, accounts for “over 45 percent of total global enslaved population,” with more than 14 million women in India alone being involved in what the report describes as “sexual exploitation and forced marriage.”)
Weathers has become so involved that, with help from local advocates, he has undertaken a daunting task — building The Hope Home, a place where these young girls can live, free from fear and able to have lives of purpose and meaning.
In other words, Weathers has moved from performing music with an evangelical zeal — when we profiled him in 2011 he was playing more than 250 gigs a year — to becoming an actual missionary, working to change the lives of others for the better.
“If someone came to me and said, ‘You’re going to be building your girls home — [for] all intents and purposes, you’ll be a missionary in five years,’ I would’ve said, ‘All right, man, what planet are you from?’ ” Weathers says while backstage at Billy Bob’s Texas, a disbelieving look on his face.
Moving beyond music
The shift from selling out honky-tonks, more or less living on the road and building a reputation as one of the state’s most dynamic live performers to a subservient life, one of pure focus on something as far removed from a Friday night in the Fort Worth Stockyards as you can possibly get, is indeed head-spinning.
After all, this was a guy who, a few years ago, was generating national buzz with his cover of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You and seemed to be headed for big things.
While the Arlington native didn’t set out to save as many endangered children as he could, he has long been a spiritual person — before his family’s adoption of Ruby, Weathers was (and still is) deeply involved with the Asante Choir, a group of East African children, and regularly performs at places of worship like Burleson’s OpenDoor Church — someone more concerned with whether he’s doing the right thing for the right reasons rather than simply seizing an opportunity because one presents itself.
“I don’t believe I’ve never been an extremely selfish person, but it was all about the more you get, the bigger the shows, the bigger the paycheck,” Weathers says. “Now, to be able to step away from that and say, ‘I don’t matter in this process. It’s not about me’ — it’s the most freeing thing.”
The Hope Home, as explained on its GoFundMe page, is intended to initially house 10 girls, providing them shelter, food and education. The first major goal — acquiring land in a small village outside of Hyderabad upon which to build the orphanage — has already been achieved, at a cost of $30,000 for 3 acres.
“We are going to build a school first … in Modhampally, India,” says Weathers, who last visited India in September. “The government would not … allow us, a foreigner, to build an orphanage, but they’ll let us build a school, so we’re going to build a school first. Then the school kind of gives us our entree to the Hope Home. The Hope Home essentially … will act as a safe haven for girls.”
The genesis of Hope Home has been swift, so much so that Weathers can’t even remember exactly how long it’s been since he and his wife first had the idea — “It was soon enough that I don’t remember how soon it was,” he says.
“I was laying in bed and I was watching this video,” Weathers says. “This guy is a missionary and him and his wife are incredible people. He was playing a violin in and amongst, like, hundreds of little Indian kids and they’re all dancing. I was like, ‘Man, that’s me. I want to do that,’ and I showed it to my wife, while we were laying in bed. I said, ‘Look at this. We need to do this.’ She looked at me. She goes, ‘We should just start our own orphanage,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, we should.’
“Then, a week later we were coming home from a road trip and she’s over there on her phone, and she goes, ‘Ernest is going to help us start the orphanage.’ I was like, ‘What?’ She was like, ‘Yeah. We said we were going to do it, so let’s just do it.’ ”
Ernest would be Ernest Mohanty, a native of Visakhapatnam, India, and activist aligned with the Fort Worth-based charity organization Mission Reality. Mohanty has joined forces with the Weathers to build the Hope Home, helping acquire the land and serving as a local point person.
“When Josh and Kady first reached out, my reaction was that help can come out from places where we least expect,” Mohanty says via email from Hyderabad. “I was overjoyed when I came to realize that there are people in this world who really want to help the poor and needy, who want to go reach out to places where others never reached.”
“He’s a brilliant guy,” Weathers says. “He has a heart for these things, and he knows that God has called him to it. He’s turned down million-dollar job offers to do what he’s doing, and we just get to kind of take advantage of that, because he’s an amazing guy.”
Getting others involved
Weathers isn’t the only one profoundly affected by the possibilities of Hope Home.
His best friend, Nick Choate, who joined Weathers during his recent trip to India, spoke emotionally backstage at Billy Bob’s of his own awakening. (Indeed, Choate and his wife, Michelle, were so moved by their experiences that they are now in process of adopting a child.)
“I hope people see that Jesus is a real thing and he’s moving in people’s lives,” Choate says. “It doesn’t have to be about giant churches. It doesn’t have to be about dressing up and it doesn’t have to be about anything but what the book of James says: Take care of the orphans. Take care of the widows. That’s what Jesus says.”
With the 3 acres outside Hyderabad acquired, and construction begun, Weathers and his Hope Home team are in full-tilt fundraising mode — all the proceeds from the Billy Bob’s show are being earmarked for India; the Hope Home Facebook page revealed, a few days after the show, that $15,800 was raised, with a goal of $60,000 to fund the next phase of construction.
The goals of the project sound modest, yet when considered against the grim backdrop of India’s current reality, such achievements seem almost noble: “I want all of the girls in India to be able to stand on their own feet, have self respect, have the spine to stand up and change the current situation,” Mohanty writes, “and I believe this can be achieved through educating them, nourishing them with good thoughts and showing them the path for their life.”
A few hours after our conversation, Weathers hits the stage to raucous cheers, the band behind him looking a little different than the last time I saw it perform.
For starters, saxophonist Jeff Dazey logs time these days with rising star Leon Bridges, and there were a few guests arrayed behind Weathers, chief among them fiddler Brook Wallace and husband-wife duo the Wicks. But the core of the band — drummer Sammy Boe, saxophonist Bryan Batson and bassist Kevin Rennels — remains intact.
He still plays with the same passion as when he was logging north of 250 shows a year, but now, rather than building a career in music, Weathers is working to better the lives of others. (He’s also helping out closer to home: Weathers will perform solo at “Justin’s Soul Shakedown” on Saturday at Lola’s Saloon, a performance benefiting the Justin Wade Elliott Memorial Scholarship.)
There is the sense, watching him move about the stage at Billy Bob’s Texas, the familiar, rowdy rhythms of a Weathers performance taking hold, that he will attack this problem just as he built up his musical career: one step at a time, with unshakable conviction in his talents and those of his collaborators, until he has achieved what he set out to do.
I also reflect back on something Nick Choate said earlier in the evening, seated backstage, before the roar of the crowd began and the bright lights switched on:
“Some people can sing and that’s not a big deal. When [Josh] talks, people listen. That’s what this is. This is his time. As ludicrous as it sounds, this is his time to lead. … People will follow and lives will be changed and there will rise up another person that’s watching him. Maybe it’s a kid.
“Like they say, you can count the seeds of apples, but you can never tell the number of apples in a seed. That’s what this is. Planting seeds.”
Justin’s Soul Shakedown
How to help