Hunter Callaway ’22 (he / him), Senior Policy Correspondent
Georgia Hall ’25 (her), SGA Correspondent
The applause took seconds to begin when Rusty Knox, Mayor of the Town of Davidson, completed his first set at Hop and Vine last Saturday. But Rusty was ready for a distracted crowd and quickly joked “thanks for the late kick, that’s what you bring back from Myrtle Beach”. As charming and vulgar as he is sensitive, Rusty Knox does not fit the stereotype of a small town mayor. Nonetheless, once you see Rusty juggling the roles of musician and mayor in real-time, you’ll quickly realize how well this job suits him.
After the first hour, a broken rope forced Rusty to take a break and he joined the members of the Davidson for an interview. Davidson’s mayor, family man and real estate agent, Knox is also an accomplished musician. He fell in love with music when, at age 11, his parents took him to see Jimi Hendrix open for the Monkees. Hendrix’s solo drew him to the guitar and later that year he had his first and last guitar lesson. Rather, Knox is a self-taught musician who finally felt ready to perform in public at 47.
It may have taken him longer than usual to share his music, but today Rusty enjoys playing in all rooms. He started the evening with “Whiskey Bottle” from his debut album Reason Why. The largely middle-aged crowd met his signature twang and killer guitar hits with a round of applause. The mayor followed up with a cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” and hammered out a dazzling guitar solo, while his stage partner, Jim, took a break. Knox is a powerful self-proclaimed guitar player; it may mean that he is making his way through more than a few strings, but it gives a unique vigor to his music.
Rusty writes music about life, love, loss, and rebirth (as well as lighter topics like mischief and alcohol). Although he created the Rusty Knox Group to support his family after his real estate industry collapsed in 2006, the unimaginative name could mislead you. If given the choice, the group’s name would be “Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog,” based on a famous YouTube dog, Rusty, found while searching for footage online of his performances. His bandmates rejected the idea, but the band played until 2012, when they made the difficult choice to start selling real estate again. “When you can make $ 300 playing for 3 hours or $ 12,000 making a deal for 3 hours,” Rusty lamented, the choice is obvious. Life on the road, despite his love for music, proved too heavy for his family after six years of touring.
How can someone who considers himself “not very political” become a politician? The fifth mayor of his immediate family, Rusty has always felt a close bond with Davidson. In 2014, he started attending city meetings and found that he didn’t like Town Hall’s new plan to develop Main Street. He joined a grassroots movement to oppose what outlets at the time described as “the next Birkdale,” a large mixed-use development in Huntersville. They won this fight and the city canceled the development, but Rusty felt unsatisfied. Thus, in 2017, he ran for mayor and won 57% of the vote. Reflecting on that election, Rusty recalled both the thrill of being elected and the terrifying reality he would have to rule.
Knox had no political experience when he took office, but he brings a relentless energy to City Hall that matches his dazzling laughter, long beard, and fiery game. He sees himself in the best position to forge links with neighboring communities and local change agents rather than wield political power. Rightly, he seems most at ease on the border between his musical life and that of mayor.
The Rusty Knox band may be gone, but its namesake still performs regularly at cafes, local wine bars, and charity dinners. Every interaction with the public, according to Rusty, is just as likely to be a citizen wondering about the new crosswalk signs as a fan wishing to talk about music. A less grounded artist would poke fun at political issues during a performance, while an ambitious politician would resent music that overshadows his career. Luckily for Davidson, Rusty wears both hats with ease and brings the same relaxed dedication to being mayor that he displays at shows throughout County Mecklenburg.