Beaten-up Charlottetown busker turning life around

Chris Nettleton says he wants to apologize for his armed robbery in 2012, but that has been strangely difficult to do.

Nigel Armstrong
Published on June 12, 2014

Charlottetown busker Chris Nettleton has a job, some new guitars and buckets more trouble on his plate as he struggles to turn his life around.

Nettleton was in the news in March after two men beat him up, stole his money and smashed his guitar.


That caused an outpouring of help for the man who plays some serious riffs on the corner of University Avenue and Kent Street.

With donated guitars and a crowd-sourced fund in his honour, Nettleton was turning his life around.

People helped him get settled with a P.E.I. health card, a place to live and most importantly, a job.

It was physical labour but Nettleton dove in with vigour, until one day recently, he just couldn't.

Then his name appeared on a list of most wanted issued by Charlottetown police.

Nettleton tells the Guardian he knows that Islanders either hate him, or helped him and his new message is that the help is deeply, profoundly appreciated, and all is not lost.

The trouble is, he's back busking and not working. He can't.

"I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks because of almost dying from pneumonia!" he wrote in an email to The Guardian this week. "I am unable to work for four weeks as per doctors orders but I still have my place and job, but have no money of any kind till I get working.

"(Doctors) said I had it (pneumonia) for a long time," said Nettleton. "I got sick because of the time on  the streets (busking), being exposed all winter. They were amazed at how long I fought it for.

"I was told that I almost drowned in the fluid in my lungs and have to be very careful that I shouldn't busk but I don't have a choice,"

He continues to have people lining up to either help him, or hate him.

Those that hate him are friends, family and supporters of a young clerk at a store that Nettleton robbed in October 2012. She still hasn't received a letter of apology.

Those that are helping are drawn into the drama of Nettleton's life.

Nettleton has been living a drug-addicted, drifters life across Canada for years, making his way to P.E.I. from Halifax in 2012.

Years ago he had been a semi-professional touring musician performing opening acts for David User, the band 54-40 and for Brian Byrne of I Mother Earth. Then addictions took hold.

"Unfortunately it ended in disaster, both for myself and the young lady working," he said of his 2012 robbery in Charlottetown.

Nettleton said he wrote a letter of apology while in jail but was advised to let his lawyer handle it's delivery. That never happened, said Nettleton.

He called his actions heinous, says he is still working getting the apology to the victim, and that his actions will haunt him forever.

After the Guardian published the news story of his smashed face and smashed guitar this past March, support started arriving.

People gave him guitars and told him to do what he needed. Some he sold, some he gave away,

He received a spectacular guitar, a Seagull acoustic electric that he figures was worth around $700. He found the owner and returned it.

Agents for Ron Sexsmith and Brian Byrne also attempted to get in touch with Nettleton to give him a guitar, but he didn't pursue that because the Island community was already getting him on track, he said.

"I don't know if it was God putting his finger on my heart, because I can't say I'm fully there yet, but out of nowhere, I just broke down," said Nettleton of one day in church. "That kind of opened the door for me because I felt something there."

Being in a church community now helps him enjoy the company of "good, clean, safe people," he said. From that church community came a job.

Jodi Morrissey LeBlanc ran a successful crowd-funding program for Nettleton on titled "Help Chris get his sound back".

"She took me up to Long & McQuade and bought me a beautiful Fender acoustic electric guitar with all the bells and whistles and a case," he said.

He later learned that people where on social media giving her grief for the help she offered.

"My life doesn't need to be public," said Nettleton last month. "The main reason I'm doing this interview is for the people that stepped up and helped me out, went out of their way to dig me out of the muck I was in.

"I want all these people to know that their efforts are not in vain," he said. "I have taken every bit, and I have turned it into a productive, safe, drug-free, solid life.

"I have a place to live. I have a job. I have a P.E.I. health card.

"I am starting to relax a little bit, kind of enjoy life," he said while talking to The Guardian in May.

On a ride into town he noticed the white blooms of a magnolia tree.

"Four months ago I wouldn't have noticed that because my mind was so cluttered with everything else," said Nettleton. "Now I'm taking the time to notice those things."

Playing a new tune

After a brutal winter of busking in Charlottetown, Chris Nettleton has found himself in, or preparing to perform, in more established venues.

Most ironic was a gig last month at the Charlottetown opening of national Victims of Crime Awareness Week. He is, after all, much despised by the victim of an armed robbery he committed.

It turned into a passionate song of apology to the victim of his robbery and apology that she never heard, he said.

“It was a powerful message that he was able to get across,” said David Daughton, executive director of Community Legal Information Association of P.E.I. Inc., which sponsored the show.

“People were moved and Chris was clearly very moved too. The song ended with him just apologizing and singing, saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” said Daughton.

Through Island connections, Nettleton also has an invite to an annual gala show organized by federal government employees in Ottawa.

His music career, however, is on a temporary hold.

“I need to stay balanced for a little while longer,” said Nettleton. “While I was in Sleepy Hollow, I got the production notes for an entire album.

“I have it all up here,” he said, tapping his head.

“With all the distractions and all the pain of my life the last few months, it has all been about survival so there hasn’t been much room for actual, honest creativity. I am going to concentrate on working, making sure my rent gets paid and making sure I get a bit of money in the bank and over the summer I’ll dust off a few songs.

“Come the fall, maybe even Oct. 24 as kind of an anniversary, because that was my release date from The Hollow, maybe I will go into the studio and cut a five-song EP and release it for Christmas.”

Nettleton is also working on ideas to give back to the community, like raising money for charities through benefit performances.