Kevin Neely: 1980-2013

I hate to sound dramatic. Unfortunately, that’s all I have right now. Yesterday, Kevin Neely, co-founder of MK837 and one of my best friends suddenly passed away. The full explanation of what happened isn’t out yet, but it was a medical related issue.

Kevin and I first met at the Cornerstone Music Festival in 2006. It was his first time there and it was my third – fourth if you count the spin-off festival they had in North Carolina in 2003. He came to the festival with our mutual friend, producer, DJ and now author, Fitzpatrick. I came with an old high school buddy of mine who was there for the rock music while I clearly was there for the club music. Kevin and I hit it off from the start, but by the end of the week I was suffering in the heat with the worst case of strep throat I had ever had in my life. Over the next several months we kept in touch. Sadly, we’ve always had a three hour drive between us.

I guess it was about November of 2006 when Chris Human contacted me and asked me to take over the club stage at Cornerstone. I may have had years of experience producing music and running an EDM blog, but I never had put on a show before. I instantly called Kevin and told him that I wouldn’t do it without his help and the help of the rest of the Birmingham crew. From then until 2011, we put on the best shows at Cornerstone. Almost every night was larger than the first. We booked some of the hottest rising talent from around the world and a bunch of unheard of talent who today are starting to make their mark.

Kevin and I started seeing the end of the festival as early as 2009. Each year we treated it as the last year we would be able to attend. We literally learned how to blend into the festival and simply make it our own. We always were able to deliver more than what was required on less and less of a budget each year. Kevin was the glue that got the work done. He was the soul of every party we threw. He always found a way to lighten the mood even when EVERYTHING was going wrong. All I had to do was run politics for him. Not a problem. That was the part I sadly loved anyway.

In 2009, part our Cornerstone experience was the realization that we wanted to do more than just a show each year. We realized that we knew a ton of talent that wasn’t getting the exposure that it deserved. We talked about how great it would be to run a label and then we talked to Joel Armstrong about it in passing and killed the idea off until September.

In September, the bug hit us again. Chris Reiche had been helping us out for a while with Cornerstone and is just one of the hardest working guys that I know. We brought Chris into the discussion and by January, MK837 was born and had $750 to blow. We’re finishing up our fourth year now and well, it’s going to be a hollow ending waiting for a bright future in 2014.

Our last year with Cornerstone was 2011. We pretty much knew it then. The festival’s attendance that year simply sucked and our “Afterhours Nightclub” took a huge hit as a result. On top of that, it was simply a hot year. The fest goers manly wandered the festival grounds each night and skipped the shows. Kevin and I couldn’t figure out what was really up with it, but it was clear that 2011 was the last year we would get to run the stage.

In 2013 Kevin and I launched Antrim Digital. We initially intended the site to be a new sub label rather than a blog. In a way, I’m very glad that we changed it to a blog. So far, Kevin’s pieces have been the best ones on the site hands down. He also managed to bring a serious message and presented it with sarcasm, wit and perhaps a bit of unpretentious attitude that most bloggers would never be able to dream of achieving.

Beyond all of this, he was a regular Indy car blogger for I can’t even begin to describe his passion for Indy car racing and how his dream job was to one day make a living as an Indy car reporter. He and his buddy Brooks worked on many tracks for the nerdcore scene and especially MC Lars. He was a fairly well known regional hard house DJ from back in the day as well. If there was something cool or lovable, Kevin was probably in it or aware of it.

While those are some of the milestones Kevin laid with me, that can’t even begin to cover his other accomplishments. His reach across this Earth was so much deeper. Throughout both the Indy car and EDM scene, Kevin has friends. He was a wise counselor, a sympathetic ear, someone who respected people no matter how much they screwed their lives up. His compassion might have been his greatest strength if it were not for his uncanny ability to defuse the tension out of just about any scene. He was also trustworthy and loyal. Once he knew a secret, he kept it. He knew better than to squander or abuse trust. That character in him was precious and lacks in so many of the rest of us.

In the end, much of my relationship with him could be described as any one of The Hangover movies, just without the drugs, sex and booze. That includes loosing people, not being able to figure out how we got somewhere, odd bills, found objects and lost objects. Despite the ups and downs, these are the days my soul lovingly longs for and that I’ll never be able to fully recreate. Kevin was unique.

The Bible teaches us that we don’t know how long we have on this Earth. Kevin died much younger than any of us should and he didn’t die in a way that makes sense for his age. At 33, we’re supposed to die from a horrible car accident or some traumatic battle with cancer or some other horrific disease. We don’t know fully what killed Kevin yet, but he had been sick for over a week. The sad truth is that none of us know the day or the hour when we will be called, but like taxes… death cannot be avoided.

Kevin’s ability to see the good in people was amazing. It wasn’t that he thought that everyone at their core was good, but because he knew what Jesus had done in his life and how He had help turn Kevin’s life around. Kevin saw people as Jesus saw them. He treated them as Jesus did. He took that seriously and just about everyone around him knew it. He was bold with his faith when he needed to be and gentle with it when it was necessary. Right now, there is no doubt in my mine where Kevin is or how I know he is there. He’s in Heaven. He’s reunited with his Earthly father and seeing his heavenly one for the first time with his own eyes and I couldn’t be more proud of him or happy for him. My heart ACHES today for my loss, but it’s all his gain today.

I don’t know where MK837 is going next year. I don’t even know where Antrim will go next week. Shutting it all down is an option, but to be honest Kevin would probably kill me if I did. Just about every month Kevin would ask me if it was time to shut the label down. And every time, I’d respond: “No, not yet.” Somehow I know it would be wrong to do simply because Kevin wasn’t standing beside me. The water is murky right now, but it will clear over time.

Just a few of the lessons Kevin provided us with his life include:

  • Always put others before yourself.
  • Love those who need love and love those who are hard to love even more.
  • The show must go on and there is a solution to any present problem.
  • No matter how much you can screw up a situation, you can make it better, even if you make it worse at first.
  • Chase your dreams. You may not have enough hands to chase them all at once, but if you’re sitting on them, you won’t chase any at all.
  • ALWAYS open the door for others and be the best Southern Gentleman that you can be.
  • Political correctness is optional.
  • You can be a legend without being famous or being a jerk.

Kevin buddy, I’m going to miss you. You’re a class “A” jerk for checking out of this world so early and like you did, but I’m not mad at you. I love and respect you more than you will ever know and I’m so glad that we will spend eternity together. Keep a slot on the decks open for me and I’ll see you when I get there.