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IN MEMORIAM: Remembering local musician and free-spirit Ben Privott

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Remembering a musical hero of the Wilmington community.

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Last week the Wilmington community senselessly lost a stalwart on the music scene—a kind, selfless, audacious man, who was revered and loved by so many. Ben Privott—master of the keys, player of the drums, known for his joie de vivre for life—was taken from this world at a mere 39 years old.

Rather than focus on the details of which this lovely human passed, we at encore felt it necessary to pay tribute to his full and giving life, as shared by his friends and family. Ben impacted many in positive ways with his talent, graciousness and joyful spirit. Our thoughts go to his family and his fiancée, Sarah Rushing—local artist and curator for Wilma Daniels Gallery at CFCC. Privott’s funeral will be held in Goldsboro on Thursday, April 28, at First Baptist Church (125 S John St.), with visitation at 1 p.m. and service at 3 p.m. As well a group of local musicians will hold a tribute in his honor on Sunday, May 1, 4 p.m., at Satellite Bar and Lounge, in lieu of the venue’s normal bluegrass night. It’s a family affair, and open to all who wish to share stories, smiles and spread the love.

LET LOVE SHINE ON: Ben Privott and his fiancée, Sarah Rushing, with their pup, Lucy. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Cloniger-Kirk

LET LOVE SHINE ON: Ben Privott and his fiancée, Sarah Rushing, with their pup, Lucy. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Cloniger-Kirk

Lincoln Morris, Wilmington, NC

This feels way to soon. I am still in shock and denial, and I know many more things will come to me in the next few months. But the first time I met Ben was when I engineered the Pale Rider album. At first meeting, he seemed very reserved. He was painting houses full time and driving to Goldsboro almost every evening to care for his father who had a stroke. He somehow also found time to do P90 everyday and write a whole album’s worth of deep, touching and emotional songs about his father. He had a great band of very talented musicians who all seemed to respect and love him. They called him “Colonel,” which I thought was very fitting. We spent a few months recording and mixing what was an absolute labor of love for him.

One day, it was just the two of us in the studio, and he wanted to overdub a synth solo on one of the tunes. His first take was brilliant, loose and harmonically interesting. He insisted on doing it again and again. He ended up playing those 32 bars 47 times—47 times! Forty-six takes would have sounded perfect to anyone but him. I watched him work through every take like it was therapy. They got tight and mechanical, but by the 47th take it had loosened up again. Whatever he went through during those two hours, while struggling to find the right feel and melody, still fascinates me to this day. He knew what he wanted and didn’t quit until he heard it.

A few years later when he joined Onward, Soldiers I was excited to learn from and play with him. His playing was entirely unique. He played big, open, inverted chords that you could drive a harmonic bus through. He was such a talented man and ego-free. He put pressure on himself to be as good as he could and never expected anyone to notice.

I can’t believe he is gone. I feel like I am in the first few takes of a Ben Privott overdub session. I’m not sure how it will resolve, but I know if I put my head down and keep playing I might have a chance at having it make sense. Right now, it doesn’t. Heartbroken.

Steve Mousseau, Wilmington, NC

I first met Ben when he was playing with Pale Rider. My band, Great Zeus’ Beard, would play The Whiskey or Palm Room with them. I got to know Ben even more over the years since my bandmates in Flannel Rebellion and Black Mantis also played with him in the Bibis Ellison Band. Our conversations would always be about various bands we were listening to at the time (White Denim, Golden Void, Tame Impala, The Fling, Epic Ruins, etc.). It was a game to see if either of us had yet to hear a certain song, or know about a new band yet.

Ben helped me paint the interior of my house as I scrambled to get ready to host a wedding party back in 2011. When I tried to pay him, he insisted I consider it his wedding gift—that he would not accept any payment. After several minutes of comical negotiations, we ended up agreeing on the following: a very small amount of cash, an unused wet suit that I did not want anymore (which I don’t even think ended up fitting him in the long run), some mix CDs, and to loan him my copy of the book “Behold a Pale Horse” (a book about aliens and the Illuminati). I have yet to have anyone top those payment terms, and I don’t think I ever will.

I always will remember Ben’s enthusiasm, kindness, and his love and passion for music. I saw the Radiohead lyric from “I Might Be Wrong” pop up on Twitter the evening of his passing: “Open up, begin again/let’s go down the waterfall/think about the good times and never look back…” I interpret the reference as to someone passing. As they pass away, they gain a new perspective on how the things they did in their lifetime mattered, and how their life did indeed have meaning—even if they doubted it at times. Most importantly is that even though they leave this place, and their mortal life behind, they can always look back on all those good times they had while they were here.

Ben Privott on drums. Photo courtesy of bandmate Benji Smith, No Dollar $hoes

Ben Privott on drums. Photo courtesy of bandmate Benji Smith, No Dollar $hoes

Holton Wilkerson, Raleigh, NC

For my 30th birthday in December ‘07, my wife threw a party at the Pour House Music Hall in downtown Raleigh. The “supergroup” I humbly requested to join me for handpicked obscure cover tunes included Ben on the keys, his former Creekside bandmates Ryan “Ike” Griffin on bass, and Bill Balistreri on lead guitar. Rounding out the group was drummer Mike Rosado, my old bandmate in Fuz that, similar to a previous band Bolweevil, did co-bills with Creekside. Those bands had a brothers-in-arms companion band thing with Ben and company, going for several years. We opened for them in Wilmington, and they opened for us in Raleigh.

For the 30th birthday gig, I was without question the rustiest, least-talented musician onstage, but no one cared. These guys donated their time learning a few tunes, making the trip, hauling the gear, all to celebrate my birthday—for which I was incredibly grateful. Now, all the more so with Ben’s passing.

Ben’s father had been ill, and there was a chance he may have to head home and not actually make the show. We all understood yet were glad when things were stable enough for him to hang in and play with the usual tenacity and good vibes he omitted every time he took the stage or performed anywhere, anytime.  All being in different locations, the only rehearsal opportunity as a full band was the day of the show. After running through the six to eight songs, we felt good enough to pack up for load-in. Ben offered extra space in his car; along with his keyboards went a huge amplifier, one that I’m pretty sure wasn’t part of his setup. As he started to drive off, the amp shifted backward and shattered his rear window, leaving all of us with jaws dropped and feeling terrible (especially given the weight on him from his father’s health). Nevertheless, Ben powered through it and made light of it in a typically Ben fashion. He went on to play an incredible show.

Ben insisted we take the stage as Space Mullet, a band name he never officially used or maybe pulled out for special occasions. Irrespective of the origin, I saw it as a badge of honor that we wore proudly and that we hoped to take into having the same group reassemble for my 40th birthday coming up next year. Ike and I started compiling tunes. Getting Bill down from up north seemed like the hardest thing about getting the lineup together—that is until now.

Ben’s legacy will live on in so many of us. This musical memory has offered a bit of solace in these sad days since his passing. I can only hope these many memories are doing the same for his fiancée, closest friends and family.

A couple of years ago, we happened to run into Ben at a restaurant he was managing at the time. Hugs and talks of old times ensued, and he grabbed a copy of the latest Pale Rider CD that he proudly offered us to take home. Not-so-ironically, yesterday, I happened upon that disc, sitting atop the piano in our house where my daughter (6) now practices in between lessons. I know Ben would be proud! 

May God bless and watch over you, Ben. Until next we meet…

Taylor Hamilton, Wilmington, NC

Ben was one of the first friendly faces I met in Wilmington. I worked at Tower 7 when it was still near the college. He was a regular there. He would sit and eat his veggie quesadilla and talk with me. It was so nice to have someone so nice say, “Hey, Taylor!” when I felt like a stranger in a brand new town. Over a decade later hearing the same, “Hey, Taylor!” from my friend with the friendly face still brightened my heart.

Ben Privott as a baby. Photo courtesy of Hillary Dunn.

Ben Privott as a baby. Photo courtesy of Hillary Dunn.

Bibis Ellison, Wilmington, NC

I was fairly new to Wilmington when I met Ben. My band needed a new piano player and Alecia Mitchell (previous owner of The Whiskey) recommended Ben. We all immediately clicked. Ben introduced me to good people and good music. In fact, he changed the course of our cover band in a way I will always be grateful for.

Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time (and Ben’s). At rehearsal one night, I mentioned the song “Weird Fishes” and how it had been stuck in my head. Ben was stoked and suggested we learn it. I was initially worried how it would be received by our audience, but the first night we played it, the crowd went nuts. I remember watching Ben tilt his head back and close his eyes. He was so into the music it was contagious, and we played one of our greatest sets that night.

Most importantly, Ben was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He was inspiring and talented and just a wonderful person. My band is a family and his loss is a huge blow. We will miss him greatly. His family is in our thoughts.

Jesse Jewell, Wilmington, NC

Ben Privott was probably one of the sweetest men I have known in my life. He was just a pleasure to be around in any situation. I never saw him get angry. I never heard him raise his voice. He was never afraid to be goofy, but he was a true intellectual. You could always tell that Ben loved you.

Over the short few years I got to enjoy Ben’s friendship, we had all sorts of fun. We played in No Dollar $hoes, we recorded music, we worked together, and we just enjoyed each others’ company. We made lots of memories, but this sticks with me:

Mine and my wife Tiffany’s son, Cassius, adored Ben. Cassius thought Ben was the best at everything. One time Ben invited us over to his neighborhood to go skate on a beat-up old half-pipe. Ben was taking up skateboarding later in life than most, but our son was super impressed with his moves. It was, no doubt, Ben’s charisma and love for kids that Cassius was seeing. Even through the eyes of a child, Ben stood out as the gentle human that we all loved. Ben Privott was a great friend. We loved him, and the world is a worse place without him.

Benji Smith, Greensboro, NC

When No Dollar $hoes was trying out drummers, we hadn’t had any that really clicked with us—which was probably in part that we were an acoustic group with little drummer experience. The day that Ben came to try out, he showed up covered in paint, which he was most of the time. As soon as we started to play it was like he had been a part of the band since the beginning. I think this happened because he was such an amazing musician on all fronts; if it made music, Ben could play it. We quickly, and happily took him on as our newest member.

So Ben had an enormous appetite for such a skinny guy. At the majority of our gigs, he would show up, set up his drums, do a sound check, and disappear. The next time we’d see him,  he’d be sitting at the drums five minutes before we were supposed to start, eating take-out food.

I remember at a private gig we needed an extra mic cord and Ben went to his car to find one. He recently spilled a bucket of paint in the back and the mic cord was plastered to his car with it. We pulled it up, covered with white paint, including blue carpet fiber from the back of his car. There was never a need to mark it as “Ben’s mic cord.”

At a lot of gigs, Ben would show up ready to go and start setting up and would find he forgot his drum sticks, a stand, or his cymbals—sometimes even a drum. Ben was a hard-working guy and most of the time would just be arriving from work. Most of those gigs would have an acoustic intro while Ben was driving across town to get whatever element was missing from his kit.

He was such an easy-going, happy, exultant person. Being around him gave you the same feeling. We will all miss him greatly.

 Onward, Soldiers, featuring (l. to r.) Ben Privott (keys), Sean Thomas Gerard (guitar/vocals), Tripp Cox (bass), Keith Butler Jr. (drums), and Lincoln Morris (guitar). Photo courtesy of Onward, Soldiers

ONWARD, SOLDIERS: Featuring (l. to r.) Ben Privott (keys), Sean Thomas Gerard (guitar/vocals), Tripp Cox (bass), Keith Butler Jr. (drums), and Lincoln Morris (guitar). Photo courtesy of Onward, Soldiers

Sean Thomas Gerard, Wilmington, NC

I’d like to share a story that shows what kind of person Ben was. My wife and I were going to Sweet n Savory to have breakfast one morning. Ben was there in line, asked if we wanted to eat with him, and we took a seat at the bar together. He was there to say goodbye to a friend who was working her last shift there. She was surprised to see him, and said he hadn’t been in for a long time. He just wanted to wish her good luck and say goodbye. He had mentioned how proud he was that she was graduating and getting a real job. I imagine he did things like this all the time, without almost anyone knowing. He was always doing the right thing. He treated everyone like a best friend.

Recently, Ben and I recorded a song about his dad’s death—we were putting the finishing touches on it at Hourglass Studios. Of everything I’ve heard him sing, this was by far the most beautiful. When he approached me about singing on it with him, I asked if he was putting out a new album. His response was, “No—just this song. I’d like to put all my focus into just this one song for now.” When you hear it, you’ll know he did. What is the most touching is the chorus. It’s him singing to his dad, “I can fly, you can fly, we can fly/They say you want to run/I’ll teach you how to fly/in any kind of weather/Before you say goodbye/just give me a little more time/I hope that you’ll feel better.” Trent is going to finish the mixing and we’re hoping to release the song in Ben’s honor, with the blessing of Sarah and his family. It’s his masterpiece.

Ben Privott dressed as a jellyfish for Halloween. Photo courtesy of Bethanne Tobey.

Ben Privott dressed as a jellyfish for Halloween. Photo courtesy of Bethanne Tobey.

Bethanne W. Tobey, Raleigh, NC

There are many fond and silly memories I have of Ben, but I would like to tell you about the jellyfish costume on our trip to NYC quite a few years back. My friend Shannon Clark, Ben and I traveled to Brooklyn to visit Josh Novicki and Gena Guthrie (née Walker). It was Halloween weekend, and Ben had been talking about his jellyfish costume for quite some time. He was very excited in his typical Ben way. And by this, I mean it’s all he talked incessantly about it. The costume was a white umbrella with a shower curtain cut into strips, and then he got some battery-operated color lights to put on the inside. That was it. Simple costume. We all had our doubts, poked fun, rolled our eyes endearingly. Well, we ate our words! Little did we know he would be the hit of the club party we attended in Chinatown. Ben had all the ladies wanting to get up in that lighted umbrella and dance with him. Seriously, people were following him around—all for Ben, in his cute little jellyfish costume, in “big bad NYC” (as he would yell in the most dramatic Southern drawl from the window stoop in Brooklyn)! 

Anyway, when we got back to Wilmington, I had the pics from the trip developed and fell in love with a candid moment I took of Ben standing outside on a fire escape. It was such a great photo of him; I had it printed and framed to give him. But Ben bugged me tirelessly for the stinking jellyfish photo! What a goober. You can’t even tell it’s him under that umbrella! He hounded me until I sent it to him digitally via Facebook, and it was his profile pic off and on for some time. Man, he loved that costume.

I lived around the corner in Kings Grant and we often saw each other. Whenever I had people over for food and fun, Ben was always a guaranteed show, primarily to eat copious amounts of food and then sneak off. But it always made me happy, ‘cause he was always working so hard and I knew he left with a full belly. That boy never gained weight!

So many wonderful memories of Ben. It’s evident he touched so many people’s lives. I wonder how he ever had the time to spread so much laughter and love! He lived life to its fullest.

Kathy Johnson, Pittsburgh, PA

Being a fan of Ben’s music before I met him made it even more magical to have the privilege of getting to know him through my lovely friend (and his fiancée) Sarah. What a beautiful couple, I thought, when Sarah told me about her new beau, Ben.

“Kathy, you have to meet Ben!” she said. “He lived in Jackson, Wyoming, and I’m sure you have mutual friends!”

Well, our meeting at RX one night was full of wonderful memories of the same friends, restaurants, Teton Village, the Snake River and so many special things about Jackson Hole that captures your heart and holds on forever. We had a bond of such a wonderful time and place in our lives, yet we never crossed paths in Jackson.

Ben always took the time to be a special friend, lend a kind hand and word, and made the sparkle in Sarah’s eyes twinkle with love. They were like two peas in a pod. He will always remain in my heart. Thank you, Ben, for being such a jewel of a friend!

Ben Privott and his family celebrating love. Photo courtesy of Hillary Bunn

Ben Privott and his family celebrating love. Photo courtesy of Hillary Bunn

Hillary Bunn, Raleigh, NC (and all of Ben Privott’s nieces and nephews)

We were lucky enough to call Ben “Uncle Ben.” He was the best, most kind, loving, adventurous, yet gentle spirited soul. He was the first to entertain all of his nieces and nephews when we were kids, giving into our pleas and begs to play board games or tag when no one else would. We are flooded with memories from family gatherings: hearing his contagious laugh, weighing himself between first and second helpings at Thanksgiving, seeing how many ounces or pounds he might gain in between…

Somehow he remained as tall and skinny as ever. Our most beautiful memories of Christmastime at Grandma’s always included Ben playing piano in the background. It amazed us how he could sit down and play something beautiful with the snap of a finger.

Our hearts are broken, as a family, that we won’t ever see that again. Ben selflessly loved his family and friends, and he whole-heartedly loved life. We’ll never forget his laugh and the sound of his music filling Grandma’s house with joy. We take heart in knowing Ben lived his days on Earth fully, and is now surely entertaining the crowd in Heaven with an impromptu tune on the piano.

Evan Folds, Wilmington, NC

Ben is a beautiful soul who was a friend from many angles. His music brought joy to many. His parents are old family friends. He taught my daughter piano. We have a soccer game together next week. I never got that last game of ping-pong. Rest easy, brother. Bless you and yours. Holding you up in prayers, love and light!

Robby Kelley, Wilmington, NC

I knew Ben shortly after he arrived to town, roughly late 2001 to early 2002. We met at a Waylon Sphere show on the river in downtown Wilmington. I was a band member of a local cover band called Migrant Worker then. Our drummer, David Daniels, was also at that same show. Ben, at the time, had moved with his band mates from Wyoming to Wilmington, sans a drummer. Shortly thereafter David became the drummer for the band Creekside, with Ben, Bill, Ike and Mitch, as the Migrant Worker ended.

One of my fondest memories from those days is when the Creekside boys would come over to David’s house and jam. In particular, I remember singing “I Am the Walrus,” while the boys all learned the parts. A couple of weeks later, that became one of the regular covers.

Ben Privott and Jesse Stockton. Photo courtesy of Jesse Stockton.

Ben Privott and Jesse Stockton. Photo courtesy of Jesse Stockton.

Jesse Stockton, Wilmington, NC

Ben is the first friend I made when I moved to Wilmington. I was at Laggerheads and “the mangler”—or James Doss as he has now grown into—piqued my interest about a band playing at The Palm Room. Me, not knowing him, jumped into a jeep Cherokee and rode down there. We walked into Pink Floyd’s “Money,” as Ben was singing with his then band Creekside. The very next night I went to Palm Room again and Ben was there; a friend, Stranger Day (now known as Rapper Shane), introduced us. This wiry, spry-looking fellow, with a wind breaker, para-gliding shirt and running shoes, was walking around, handing out CDs of their newest album. He gave me one. We shouted our conversation about music for the next three hours in a room that was at capacity and over a band as we drank PBR. I loved him right away.

A few nights later I was recording with our friend, Shane, across the street from Palm Room, and neither of us could play piano well. He said, “Hang on, I’ll call Ben.” Sure enough, there he was 15 minutes later. I believe he played about five notes and blew my mind. Yet, Ben said, “Please, don’t use that; I was just messing around.”

One of my favorite stories he would tell was about him opening his para-gliding parachute on Wrightsville Beach in the wintertime. He had been working at Sandpeddler, and the guy who managed the entire Olympics that year was staying there. As Ben foolishly opened a giant sail he was strapped to—on an incredibly windy day, with no people on the beach to help in case of an emergency—he started getting pulled up and down the beach, out of control. He realized his mistake and frantically tried to pull the sail down after receiving a good beating. When he finally got in a position to where he was dug in pretty good, the sail tried to drag him out to sea. It just so happened the organizer of the entire Olympics was walking the beach with his wife, saw what was happening and ran over to his aid. With his help, they were both able to pull in his parachute and share their stories.

Ben was very adept at being fully independent, too. This was no more obvious than when you tried to throw Frisbee with him on the beach. He would be quickly fed up with your inability to land the frisbee in wind right to where he was standing. He would then proceed to throw the frisbee straight out to sea, and then land it, perfectly back to where he was standing, look at you and say, “I think I want to throw with myself.”  Everything in the world was a game or competition to Ben. I tried to eat lunch with him every chance I got, and it was a battle every time: how much could we eat, how many pull-ups can we do at one time, or—my favorite—dance competitions, which he would always win and I’m not sure how. I reveled in hearing his Thanksgiving eating contests he would be in with his nephews and cousins, and how many trips he would make back to the feasting table.

I once spent an entire day in the hot-ass sun, helping him tear out the deck around the area of what was an above-ground pool, just to hang out with him. He was nothing short of spectacular. He taught me how to fully enjoy a glass bottle of Coca Cola, that starting over isn’t bad, how to eat a bag of chips when hungover and always drink more water. His favorite thing to say when he was being lazy or not paying attention was “mulsin’ (pronounced mull-zen) and to anyone who was being negative, “Shave your ass!” from the movie “Caddyshack.”

Ben’s Wave from Tripp Cox on Vimeo.

Jason Ruffin, Asheville, NC

Ben was the kindest and most honest person. I struggle to find words to express how I feel. But one thing I know is true: This world will not be the same without him. I have always felt proud to call Ben a friend. I was honored when he agreed to play the piano at my wedding. He took great pride in planning out exactly what he was going to play. And just like every time Ben played, he nailed it. Some of the best times of my life were spent with Ben at Wrightsville Beach, from hanging out at the “purple house” to the countless concerts we went to.

Although, I moved to Asheville shortly after we met, we stayed in touch and hung out whenever we could. I always considered Ben one of the most caring and free-spirited people I knew. I am crushed by the news of his passing and will always cherish our friendship.

Jarrod McAdoo, Raleigh, NC

I met Ben a few years ago through a dear friend he knew from Goldsboro. We weren’t the closest friends, but I always listened to his music while working in downtown Wilmington. Ben was the most chill, laid-back guy I know. I can’t say anything bad about him.  Every time we crossed paths and even nights that he saw me working, we exchanged a quick high five or fist bump because he was just that kind of guy! Thank you, Ben!

William Coppage, Greenville, MS

The news of Ben’s tragic passing reverberates all the way to Mississippi. We (Willie and Me) were lucky to have him join us many times onstage. Just as his notes had the ability to linger and stay with us well after the show, his memory will stay with us. He will be missed.

Chris Hedrick, Wilmington, NC

When I moved to Wilmington in 2009, I was a new musician in a town full of great musicians. I was nervous, scared, anxious and had no clue where to start.  It was open-mic night at The Palm Room and I just completed my set and was sitting by myself at the end of the bar. A man who had the look of a high-school teacher approached and said, “Nice set dude!” I was shocked that someone noticed. We began to talk about the music scene and what his projects were. I thought to myself, This guy has done it all— no way he would want to help me out.

That person was Ben Privott. Ben was so gracious with his time and knowledge. He always helped me find gigs in and around town. If I needed any equipment at all, he was there to help.   I can remember when the Pale Rider album came out; he was so pumped for its release. I think he gave me like 10 copies to hand out.

Point of all this is the man was nice, kind, gentle and just unselfish. I owe a lot to him for helping get my foot in the door in this crazy town. The news of his passing doesn’t seem real. In all honesty, meeting Ben Privott from Pale Rider didn’t seem real either, but it was and so was he. Rest easy, my friend, and play that gig in the sky.

Ben and Lucy on the coast. Photo courtesy of Sarah Rushing

Ben and Lucy on the coast. Photo courtesy of Sarah Rushing

Cait Chizmar, Wilmington, NC

I had the pleasure of meeting Ben a few years ago. His love of music was evident and his kindness even more so. I told him I wanted to relearn how to play piano because I hadn’t played since I was a kid. He ended up giving me a free lesson. Even though we were not close, I considered Ben a good friend after that. When we would run into each other in Wilmington, I would always introduce him by saying, “This is Ben—he gave me a free piano lesson once.” It may sound silly, but it actually meant a lot that he took time to share his passion with me. I will never forget his sweet spirit and genuine kindness.

Goldsboro High School, Class of 1994

On behalf of Goldsboro High School Class of 1994, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to Ben’s family. We are all saddened by the tragedy, and would like for everyone to know Ben was a great classmate and friend. He befriended everyone, regardless of race, gender, economic status, or the community where they lived.

I, Chandra Shackleford Robinson, am confident our classmates would all have their fair share of stories, but my fondest memory of Ben would be our senior year in high school. Our principal, the late Gerald Whitley, often paired us to lead various school activities and functions. We were the auctioneers for the annual Elf Sale, and the MCs for the annual Senior Citizen Day. We were even give a comedic script to perform during Senior Citizen Day. We were supposed to be the narrators on our video yearbook. On the day of the recording, Ben was running late and didn’t make it. If I can recall, he was somewhere in the mountains, hiking or skiing: He did not make it back in time for the scheduled recording. Needless to say, he sent his apologizes and I did it on my own. I believe his name may still have been listed in the credits as the a narrator.

Looking back I strongly believe our principal put us together for these events because we were both a good representation of our senior class and were friendly with everyone.

On behalf of Goldsboro High School Class of 1994, we will continue to pray for the family and keep his memory in our hearts and minds.

Goldsboro High School Class of 1994. Photo courtesy of Erin Buskey

Goldsboro High School Class of 1994. Photo courtesy of Erin Buskey

Josephine Butler, Wilmington, NC

Ben lived humbly and fully and treasured, above all, people. He found good in everyone around him and was never above saying hello or greeting those he loved with a hug. He had a way of making you feel like the most important person in the room, and I never spent time with him without at least one good belly laugh. He was funny and compassionate and valued the simple things in life—the beauty of the outdoors, sunshine, music, and friends.

I’ll never forget Ben, and I’ll always be inspired by his simple way of living and loving.

Ben Privott (far left) and the band Creekside circa 2003. Photo courtesy of Ryan Griffin.

Ben Privott (far left) and the band Creekside circa 2003. Photo courtesy of Ryan Griffin.

Andrew Brothers, Wilmington, NC

I was half owner of The Whiskey with Alecia Mitchell for eight years [where Ben often played]. I was really close to Ben over the past 20 years, starting back in his Creekside days. We were tight friends during my Wrightsville Beach days, when I worked at Red Dogs. He was always a great guy to talk music and have a Budweiser with.

Out of all the bands I booked at Red Dogs and The Whiskey over the years, Ben was one of the only people who never brought up money. Money had nothing to do with his shows. He would promote like crazy for the show, and It was always about the music, the crowd, the vibe, and his friends and fans. I would go up to pay him at the end of the night, and he wouldn’t even look at the money. He’d just stuff it in his pocket and say something like, “Yeah yeah … I’m sure it’s fine.” He would shrug it off, but then get  super animated and excited, “Dude, how about that crowd? How much fun was that!”

That was why people loved Ben. He had a love for life. His music, friends and family is what made that guy tick. This is why everyone is pouring love his way right now.

Ben Privott rowing across the creek. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Cloniger-Kirk

Ben Privott rowing across the creek. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Cloniger-Kirk

The Barnes Family, Wilmington, NC

For more than a decade, Ben has been my neighbor and friend. A few years ago, we both got new puppies right around Christmastime. His new, little addition was sweet Lucy, a darling Southern belle, midnight dark hair, chocolate brown eyes. She had class, manners and a kind, gentle nature. Her eyes would ask, “please,” and her tail would say, “thank you.” She liked to run, and chase every tennis ball Ben would lob across the yard.

My new addition was Murphy—a rude, rowdy rebel—a hellion, a brute. Murphy decided the first day Lucy was his friend to claim. More times than I can count he climbed Ben’s fence and broke Lucy out to play. He stole her toys, he ate her food. Murphy ate Ben’s house plants when he came to stay.

He would ‘water’ Ben’s garden, on all his fresh greens. By all rights Ben should have stormed to my door, complaining and mad. He should have hated my dog, and me by default. I felt so bad every time he defiled Ben’s pretty garden, but as a mom to three equally rowdy boys, I got busy and sometimes Murphy got away.

But Ben wasn’t that guy; he never got mad. Instead, he would laugh and invite Murphy to play. He said, ‘Murphy is the happiest dog I’ve ever met. How could you be mad at a dog like that?’

I’m heartbroken, angry and sad we’ve all lost such a kind, thoughtful and gentle soul—a true gentleman. Our neighborhood, our community, our town will never be the same.

Erin DeGrechie Buskey, Goldsboro, NC

I grew up with Ben in Goldsboro. We went to the same church and school and ran around with the same crowd. Ben was a year younger than me in school. Ben was the cart boy at the local golf course. Laura Pike Deprill and I worked in the snack bar, and every weekend we would have the best time with Ben Being silly teenagers, we would cook the most God-awful things—“concoctions” as we called them—and have Ben try them.  He was always so good-hearted and willing to try our food.  I don’t think he ever gave us a negative review. 

Over the years, I have seen him at church with his parents. He was the epitome of love and graciousness. I remember being at a prayer meeting at his mom’s house before his dad passed away. I was looking at all the pictures on her wall, and she just beamed when she talked about Ben. She told me how much they doted and spoiled him because he was their baby.

Ben Privott (left) with Scott Chitty, playing piano during childhood. Photo courtesy of Hillary Bunn

Ben Privott (left) with Scott Chitty, playing piano during childhood. Photo courtesy of Hillary Bunn

Tom Shaw, Wilmington, NC

For a year or two, Ben, myself, and Jesse Stockton used to play music every Tuesday at Lagerheads.  Every once in a while, we would get out of town for a weekend to play some shows.  One weekend, we were headed to Beaufort, and Ben insisted that we stop at the Pizza Inn in Morehead City on our way up.  He kept going on about how it was some of the best pizza ever. Jesse and I had never heard of the place, and we were starving, so we were all for it.

We got to the restaurant expecting some nice italian restaurant, maybe some New York style pizza—only to find that it was essentially an all-you-can-eat cafeteria.  I’d go as far as to say that the pizza was terrible. However, I remember Ben sitting across from me in the booth, thoroughly enjoying every bite of it.

Ben painted our entire house after we bought it last July.  It was a pretty big job for one guy to complete, so there were understandably a few missed spots and blemishes.  Now when I see those spots, I just think, “Oh, Ben…”

 James Doss, Wilmington, NC

Ben “Colonel Privtone” Privott was a family man and friend to many. I was lucky to be his friend for 23 years, but we should have many more to come. He was a mentor, a big brother, a best friend. He was that to many people. I want to thank Colonel on behalf of Rx, Pembroke’s, my family and friends, and Wilmington for being selfless, supportive, fun, and for warming souls and melting faces with his music. I know you’re still with us, but we’re all going to miss seeing your smile.

Rx wouldn’t be a success without Ben. He was an integral part of the family, even before it began. With very little experience or training, he offered to help get it open. Colonel offered his time, advice, hard work, and passion just because he wanted to see us succeed. No amount of training or restaurant experience could replace Ben’s charisma, kindness, or ability to make people happy. I believe he is still watching and offering his advice. Just be kind to people—that’s all you need to find happiness and success.

My fondest memories of Ben mostly have a musical tone. From the Muls Rock of Creekside, jamming of Pale Rider, drumming with Jesse and No Dollar $hoes, to Onward Soldiers, Colonel Privtone was the man on stage. So many great shows. I remember Thriller dance parties after Lagerhead’s and busting David Byrne moves just like on Stop Making Sense. He played an awesome Terrapin Station for Maggie’s Processional at her marriage to our great friend Jason Ruffin. He loved going to live music, and we boogied at some great shows. Bluto, Colonel and I eating shellfish platters with Cristal at a swanky French bistro before seeing Phish at Fenway Park; getting our faces melted at STS9 in Charleston; Sam Bush picking at UNCW. He loved music.

My favorite show of all time was Stevie Wonder. Bluto again scored seventh-row tickets and Colonel invited me. We both love some Stevie. Everyone was seated as he was introduced and escorted to his piano by his daughter. I told Ben I didn’t think I could sit for the entire show. The second song in, I can’t remember which one, the jams started dropping. Colonel says, “Well, get up and boogie then, Mangler.” So I did. He laughed a little and got up right with me, so I wouldn’t be the only one out of 20,000. Right after Ben, the other 19,999 people got up and remained on their feet with us for the entire show. Still the best show of my life.

I’m going to continue to boogie at as many live shows as I can. I’ll remember Colonel at every one. I’m going to ski, surf and get outside. But most of all, I’m going to try to be nice and supportive of people. If we could all be half as nice as Ben, the world will be a beautiful and peaceful place.

In any situation that arises, ask yourself, “What would Ben do?” I know I will.

James Doss and Ben Privott in the kitchen of Rx. Photo courtesy of James Doss

James Doss and Ben Privott in the kitchen of Rx. Photo courtesy of James Doss

Mitch Kramer, Washington DC

For those who knew Ben, you probably heard him use the word “muls.” The story of muls began in the mid 1990s in Arlington, Virginia, at a restaurant called the Rio Grande Café. I worked there on and off for eight years, during which time I met many interesting people, including a group of servers and bartenders from various places in the Middle East and Africa who often called each other “muls.” They never explained what it meant; we just took it in context.

For example, the bartenders would address customers with, “What can I get for you muls?”

Translation: “What can I get for you dude/maam/guy/buddy/chief?”

The plural for this term was coined by a Peruvian bartender who addresses multiple muls as “mulses.” During this time, the professional wrestler Goldberg was very popular, especially with my friend Dalton Hirshorn. At some point, people started addressing him as Dalberg and others as Mulsberg. This started a fad of inserting muls into just about any proper name in which it fit nicely: Mulshammad Ali, Mulsboy Slim, Mulsamma Bin Laden (you get the gist). I thought this term and funny use of the word was hilarious, as did many others in the restaurant and we just couldn’t stop using it.

In most cases, muls is used to mean “dude” or “guy.” Mulsing generally has a negative connotation, akin to being or acting like an idiot. However, muls can be used interchangeably with just about any other word in the English language including noun, adjective, verb or adverb —kind of like the word “Smurf.”

Here are some examples:
• That muls is an amazing piano player!
• Wow! That muls is totally mulsing!
• Sorry, guys, I mulsed up the ending of that song.
• One of my favorite voice messages to leave: “Hey, Muls! It’s Muls! Just calling to see if you wanted to muls tonight. Muls on.”

Back then, email was very new, and after I graduated college in 1998, I needed to set up my first non-college email account, so I thought it would be funny if my email address was Well, muls was already taken so I tried bigmuls and it worked.

Ben was of one of the best mulses ever to walk the earth. This is the story of how I met him and how he ended up as beloved friend to me and many others in Wilmington and around the country:

In 1999, at the age of 23, I moved from Arlington to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and brought the word muls right along with me. I had no idea the word muls would stick around and that I would meet so many fine mulses on my journey, including Ben. With my move, I had three goals in mind:

1. Move in with my high school friend, Jeff Settle.
2. Learn to snowboard.
3. Form a band.

The first two goals were a given. Here, I’ll focus on the third: forming a band. Jeff and I had played together numerous times over the years, but never in an official band. It didn’t take long for us to meet musicians in Jackson, and we quickly threw together our first band, which included me (sax/flute), Jeff (guitar/vocals), Jeff Moran (drums), Sean O’Brien (guitar), Brent (bass), and a few DJs on and off including DJ Kid Thunder (Mikey) and DJ King Weep (RIP). Before the band even had a name, we started playing at private house parties. One of these parties was in the early spring of 2000 at the house of a few guys, including Ben Privott. At the time, I didn’t know who lived there or how we got the gig, but I remember they had kegs of beer in the garage in a kayak. At some point during our show, we wound up with a funny, skinny kid playing conga drums on stage with us—and he never left. That was Ben.

This band, including Ben, later added Ryan Griffin as our full-time bassist and became known as Plethora. We played all around town at places like the Mangy Moose, Sidewinders, Snow King, the Log Cabin and others, sometimes in front of 400-plus audiences, which is a big deal in a small town like Jackson. It was the first band for both me and Ben and it was eye-opening. Our mostly instrumental music often featured at least one song that we would make up on the spot. During our time with Plethora, Ben started teaching himself to play piano and wound up obtaining a 400-pound Hammond B-3000 organ. With Ben at the helm, the organ sounded great and we lugged it all over town to our gigs. Our last show as Plethora culminated with a huge crowd at Sidewinders in the spring of 2001, and they sent us out in style.

A group of us from Plethora formed another band in 2001 which started out as Space Mullet (my personal favorite), morphed into The Privtones, which eventually became Creekside. The group included myself, Privott, and Griffin, along with Bill Balistreri (guitar/vocals), Brooks Marks (drums), with occasional guest appearances from Danny Gans (guitar/vocals). Creekside played together in Wyoming and Idaho through the summer of 2002 at which point, four out of five of us (Brooks moved back to Birmingham, AL) decided we should move to a more populated area and figured, since we had lived for so long in the mountains, that the beach would be a nice change so we chose Wilmington, North Carolina. We packed up all of our belongings, took a few weeks off, and met up at Ben’s family beach house in Topsail, just north of Wilmington. We lived together in Topsail for about a month, during which time we practiced new and old songs outside in our neighbor’s carport while also auditioning new drummers—ultimately pairing with Southern rock maven David Daniels.

At this point, Ben had been honing his piano/keyboard skills and had developed as one of our main songwriters, crafting tunes such as “Permagrin,” “Kiss the Earth,” “Brain Muscle,” “Wind Dummies,” “Mulswater,” and others. The time we spent at Topsail was like an awakening for Ben as the wind and water helped free his mind and spirit to focus on music. In late October of 2002, Ben and I rented a house together in midtown Wilmington. It had enough space for Ben to set up his music equipment and continue his musical evolution that led to the Ben many of you knew and loved.

Creekside evolved and changed during our time in Wilmington. We gained many friends in Wilmington and throughout the Southeast. We gigged as much as we could Thursday through Saturday and eventually became the house band every Tuesday night at the Palm Room in Wrightsville Beach. During our final iteration of the band, Colin Miller joined us on bass and Will Chacon on drums. From 2002 to 2006, we spent countless hours traveling around in the band van (which Ben purchased), listening to music, practicing songs, choosing new songs to cover, and living the good life. We released our first and only album, “Exit Clean,” at our last show before breaking up on January 26, 2006. The album was recorded courtesy of Low Tide Studio with Ben taking a big part in recording, mixing, and writing.

Creekside for me was like a love affair. Like a scorned lover, deep down, I always thought we could get back together someday, if only for occasional hook-ups / reunion shows. Our shows, and even more so, our practices, created a bond that can never be broken nor forgotten. Sharing, creating, and improvising music with Ben and all the guys will forever be etched in my memories, now bittersweet.

I moved to Washington, DC, in 2006 and met my soon-to-be wife, Autumn. We married in 2009 and Ben was one of our groomsmen. Whenever we visited Wilmington, we would stay with Ben and he would stay with us on his trips to DC—like the time he came up to see Radiohead in a complete monsoon. We stood next to each other at the concert in inches of cold rain, our feet soaked to the bone, as the sound of Ben’s favorite band echoed around us. Over the years our visits became less regular, but we always called each other on our birthdays.

The last time I saw Ben and the first time I met Sarah was for Bill’s wedding in August of 2015 in Burlington, VT. Ben and Sarah stopped by our house in DC on their way up to Vermont, and I knew right away that Ben had found a wonderful person in Sarah; it was obvious how much they loved each other. I was blessed to be able to spend quality time with Sarah and Ben in Burlington, as we wandered around the city together before and after the wedding, and managed to steal a free show from the band Moe.

My memories of Ben coincide and overlap with the best years of my life and I can proudly say he was one of my best friends. His soul lives on forever in not just our memories, but in the music he left behind.

About ten years ago, on a whim, I purchased a domain name called (it is not currently active). In honor of Ben and to keep his memory alive, will be dedicated as a tribute and memorial to Ben. If you would like to contribute music, poems, photos, articles, publications, or anything at all, please feel free to send them to me at I will announce on Facebook when the site goes live.

Ben as groomsman in Mitch Kramer's wedding in 2009. Photo courtesy of Mitch Kramer

Ben as a groomsman in Mitch Kramer’s wedding in 2009. Photo courtesy of Mitch Kramer

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  1. Kathy Batchler

    April 26, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Such a touching tribute – made me laugh, made me cry – I think I will always do both when I think of Ben. Kathy Batchler

  2. Jeff Cook

    April 27, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I didn’t know Ben. And I’m incredibly sad I did not get that opportunity. That the news would strike me so hard makes me especially sad for his friends and family. I knew after reading a few details that our community had lost a special person. Thank you to Encore all that contributed their stories.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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