By Meoghan Swain
Three years ago, homeless and busking on St. George Street, this Tennessee man was stranded in a town far from home and losing hope. Six months later, he became a full-time musician playing all around St. Augustine.
Joshua “Tennessee” Worthy, who played at the Milltop Tavern on earlier this year, established his career not simply due to his vocals. The kindness from the people of St. Augustine in addition to Worthy’s faith is what began his success.
Originally from Sweetwater, Tennessee, where there’s only one red light and a Walmart, Worthy wasn’t satisfied with the idea of working in a factory the rest of his life like most of his peers.
While there, he often found himself getting into trouble; but the only thing that deterred him from a further life of crime was his guitar, which he first picked up five years ago.
Even so, Worthy’s Tennessee life seemed to have no aspiration and continued to go downhill. Eventually, Worthy had had enough, and, at the beginning of 2020, he knew it was time for a change.
After learning one of his favorite bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd, originated in Jacksonville, Worthy and his then girlfriend, now wife, Laura-Beth, moved to Florida on a whim.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville was not the utopia of Skynyrd lovers that the couple had thought it would be. Having never left their small town in eastern Tennessee, the big city life was very overwhelming.
“I’m from a town with one red light. When I got to Jacksonville it scared me ‘bout to death. They had a lot of red lights,” Worthy said.
Not knowing what to do, and beginning to lose hope, they followed the road signs south to St. Augustine. The couple took a liking to the beach town, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Only a few days after arriving in March 2020, their van broke down, never to drive again. Around the same time was the coronavirus outbreak which shut down almost all opportunity for work.
Suddenly homeless, hopeless and stranded in a new city, all Worthy had was a guitar and a girlfriend. That is when he said God began knocking on his door.
On Easter Sunday 2020, the couple spontaneously decided to go to church. There they were treated with a kindness that they never expected, which was eye-opening for Worthy.
“When it was over they treated me so good. They cooked me a meal. They cooked everybody a meal. We all ate. They said, ‘If anybody needs to wash some clothes, we can wash your clothes. If anybody needs to take a shower, they can take a shower.’ Just everything I needed,” Worthy said.
After attending church and experiencing this community’s love and kindness, Worthy started to recognize God’s presence in his life. From then on, incredible and unthinkable opportunities came his way.
While busking on St. George Street, Worthy’s music caught the ear of a woman named Marney who owned Mi Casa, which is now Pierre’s Pub. She offered him a chance to get off the street and play at her restaurant.
“She offers me a gig one time on a Monday; it was then Friday. I’m gonna need my own microphone and I needed my guitar to be able to plug in,” Worthy said.
Although he did not have the equipment nor did he have the money for it, Worthy relied on his faith and took the chance.
While walking towards a music store in hopes of getting his guitar fixed, he and his girlfriend met a man who asked Worthy to play for him. Worthy played him “The Weight” by The Band and told him his story.
This was the moment when he said God answered his prayers. On his way back from the guitar shop, Worthy received an unexpected call.
“I got a call walking back and it was the bartender at Mi Casa. He said, ‘Look, this man just came in here and left you some money. Would you like to pick it up?”’ Worthy said.
The money was left by the man Worthy played for that morning, who, Worthy later found out, was associated with the Catholic church.
Worthy had never told the man how much he needed for the equipment. When he received the money, he was given the exact amount he needed.
“It was enough to pay for my guitar, it was enough to pay for a microphone, I didn’t have a dollar left over. My mind was blown at this point and it’s been blown ever since.”
Miracles continued to happen for Worthy. After hearing his set, Mi Casa granted him a gig for one Monday a month. One Monday a month quickly turned into every Monday, which kick-started his new career.
Over the course of five months, Worthy got more gigs around town and made enough to get him and Laura-Beth off the street. The couple now live on the water, something they never imagined for themselves.
Worthy’s good fortune has never gone to his head, however. His fans and audiences are often taken in not only by his smooth Tennessee twang, but by his kindness and generosity.
“One of the greatest things about him is that he doesn’t look down on where he came from; he looks at it as if it was a stepping stone to getting to where he’s at,” said John Clancy, a friend of Worthy and Laura-Beth.
Every tip given to him is always followed by a genuine “thank you” and a sweet country smile. His personality is half of the reason places like the Milltop Tavern keep having him back.
“He’s great for business for sure. He has a good following, not to mention he’s one of the most polite human beings,” said Stephen Thann, a bartender at the Milltop Tavern.
Aside from his personality, audiences tend to love his smooth and gravelly style. He covers anything from Hank Williams to Prince. His fans often think that the originals do not even compare to his covers.
“It’s his song. When he does it, it’s his song; he’s not covering songs. All these bands are covering songs but he gets inside of himself, he goes into himself and performs,” said Jim Otley, a fan who visits St. Augustine purely to see Worthy.
Now having this status, Worthy tries to give back and support people in similar situations. He is often found giving money earned from his gigs to the homeless as well as food and whatever else he can.
“I used to stereotype about homeless people and I don’t anymore. After I got to see him and he talked and introduced me to different people, I realized, you know, they don’t want to be there a lot of them,” Clancy said.
Worthy sees himself as a changed man since leaving Tennessee. The opportunity available in St. Augustine, as well as the kindness and generosity of the people in the area have struck Worthy to his core.
He is more than grateful for everything that has come his way in the past five years. Most of all, he owes all of his thanks to God who has helped him the most along this journey.
“I can’t tell you my story and not tell you I think God’s involved with it, I can’t. And I know it’s a controversial subject and I know it brings division in today’s time; but I know I was one way and I know things were one way, and I know that they’ve changed and I know I had nothing to do with it,” Worthy said.
To find information on where you can see Worthy visit his Facebook page at Joshua Worthy.
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