In 2017, when one of Nathaniel Rateliff’s oldest friends — a carpenter who grew up alongside him and Night Sweats bassist Joseph Pope in Missouri — was injured in a construction accident, Rateliff and Pope knew they needed to support him. Their band had just celebrated two years of unprecedented success after the release of their 2015 self-titled debut, and Rateliff and Pope realized they finally might be able to help their old friend directly.
“That was the first time we thought, ‘Hey, maybe we’re in a position where we can actually help people out,” says Rateliff. The question, then, says the 40-year-old singer-songwriter-bandleader, quickly became, “How are we going to do that?”
The answer, Rateliff would soon discover, would be the Marigold Project, the social justice-minded foundation that he founded, in late 2017, out of the simplest of charitable impulses: helping out a close friend. “We wanted to figure out how we could help him in his personal life,” Rateliff says of his friend in need, “but that led me to think about how we can help people everywhere.”
Since then, the Marigold Project has provided Rateliff with a launchpad to get involved in a wide range of causes. The foundation has distributed over $100,000 to a slew of community-based organizations, such as Chicago’s My Block, My Hood, My City. For the most part, Rateliff has focused on his hometown of Denver, providing assistance to the city’s homeless veteran population and hosting a day-long gun violence prevention rally called Not One More that existed, in part, to muster support for a Colorado gun safety law that passed a few months later. His piano player, Mark Shusterman, testified in front of the state legislature on behalf of the bill, known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order. “To see the bill get passed made me feel like we were actually doing something,” says Rateliff.
The Marigold Project brings to fruition the years of charity that Rateliff has been involved in since his early twenties. In the Nineties, Rateliff and Pope first moved to Denver to do missionary work, an approach that Rateliff has since moved on from. “I found out pretty quickly that I didn’t really want to associate myself with any organized religion,” he says, “I didn’t want to help people under the guise of trying to convert them.”
Long ago, Rateliff turned to local organizations to work with the homeless, but it wasn’t until the founding of the Marigold Project that he was able to dip his hands in all of the different types of causes he’s interested in. Rateliff and his band have also become close partners with Farm Aid, a cause close to the singer, who grew up amongst independent farmers in his native Missouri. Looking ahead, he hopes to tackle causes both general and specific, from voter disenfranchisement to water conservation in Colorado. “You start to want to do one thing, and then you end up helping in all these other areas,” he says.
Musically speaking, Rateliff is looking forward to working on some side projects and solo material after the Night Sweats wrap up their 2019 summer tour in support of the band’s 2018 album, Tearing at the Seams.
“I always need to go back to the singer-songwriter stuff,” says Rateliff, who started his career as a folk singer but hasn’t released a solo album since 2013. “I haven’t been doing it that much lately.”
Rateliff mentions he’s been sitting on a group of songs he had began working on with the late producer Richard Swift. “It was something him and I had talked about putting together,” he says. “I’m going to keep working on that material and see where it goes.”