The buzz had gotten too loud to ignore any longer. So, when Holy Ghost Tent Revival came through Greenville, NC for an encore show at The Tipsy Teapot, I decided it was time to see what the buzz was all about.
Prior to seeing them live, I already knew that they had some good things going for them. First, being a loud and rowdy, harmony-heavy band of strings, keys, percussion and brass bodes well in these parts. Second, their music has been previously described as a mixing of radio stations across the dial minus the static (Salisbury Post, 2008) indicative of a cohesive melding of eclectic musical styles and tastes. They have also made quite an impression on what is believed to be one of the toughest fan bases to crack…The Avett Nation. Best known for their unyielding devotion to The Avett Brothers and sometimes blind discrimination against anything non-Avett, these fans have adopted HGTR as one of their own, and have even gone so far as to create multiple Facebook pages to petition for the two bands to one day share the same stage. So far, no dice but hope is still alive.
Since their inception in 2007, HGTR has embarked on a similar path to that of The Avett Brothers, busking on street corners, living out of a tour van, playing show after show and sharing their music with anyone who will listen. Over the years, they have worked on polishing their sound while keeping the process as organic as possible. In charting their course and expanding their musical wingspan, they have carved out a genre and following all their own.
A band of brothers in the figurative sense, most members of HGTR began playing together while attending Greensboro College. The remaining members were carefully hand-picked and tacked on over time to make the band’s sound complete. To date, they have released three albums and an unmixed collection of songs entitled “The Living Room Sessions” which is only available at their live shows. The song writing process is a group effort for HGTR, and the product is an evolving creature with characteristic sounds, ideas, and experiences from each band member. Often times, what is heard on the studio album matures into an even better version on stage.
Their sound is nearly impossible to define, and that is how HGTR prefers it. In listening to their songs, one can pick up tones of rock, bluegrass, folk, punk, jazz, ragtime, Broadway, Motown, country, ska, and pop, just to name a few. A box that fits that cornucopia of sounds doesn’t exist, which may be why they have yet to be signed by a major record label. Unfortunately, music executives don’t tend to see dollar signs when they hear unique, well-written music. Undoubtedly, HGTR’s time to shine is on the horizon, and the right record label will get a hold of these boys and let them do what they do best – write great music and put on frantic, unforgettable live shows.
Speaking of live shows…let’s head back to The Tipsy Teapot. Because the of buzz around HGTR I decided to arrive with plenty of time before the show to grab a beer and get a good spot in the cafe’s side room. My friend and I sat down and quickly noticed HGTR members wandering through the side room trying to find something to do before they went on stage. I struck up a conversation with Ross (drums) and Charlie (trumpet) who were happy to chat with a potential new fan. We talked about previous shows in eastern NC, recent sessions with the Live and Breathing crew, and the idea of opening up for The Avett Brothers in Greensboro in October. As people began to fill in, Stephen (banjo, guitar, vocals) meandered through the crowd to visit with friends and fans, both old and new.
Before even taking the stage, these young men showed themselves to be down-to-earth, friendly, and grateful people who clearly enjoyed the band/fan interaction, as it added to their overall experience of the night. Performing isn’t simply about going through the motions on stage, but rather feeding off of and contributing to the energy of the entire evening. They give we take and vice versa. Similar to their collective songwriting process, everyone contributes to the final product.
After Possum Jenkins Band finished their set, HGTR crammed themselves (minus Hank) and equipment onto Tipsy’s small stage. Eager teenage fans with “Holy Ghost Tent Revival” scribbled in Sharpie on their bodies crowded the floor at the front of the stage. The older fans, equally excited, were scattered through the crowd and congregated back by the bar. One woman, likely in her 60’s, was so excited to hear HGTR again because she loves “good rock-n-roll and them boys from Greensboro know how to play great music.” She continued to imitate them jumping up and down on stage.
“Just wait, you will see. They jump up and down on stage. It’s great!,” she said with a smile that beamed as if they were her own children.
I took my spot stage left and watched the performance as it began to unfold. Kevin was on the keys, Ross on drums, Stephen on the banjo/guitar, PJ on bass, and Matt on guitar, and Charlie on trumpet. Throughout the set-list of favorites like, Hammer Fell, Lovinman, Walking Over my Grave, and Down the Street, the energy grew and sure enough the jumping began, so much so that I wasn’t sure the tiny stage could handle it. Thankfully it held its own.
They sang and played while throwing their bodies around each beat, creating the image and sound of a runaway freight train coming straight at the audience. HGTR pieced together snippets from all of the previously mentioned genres and turned out an upbeat and enjoyable sound that had fans, young and old, dancing and singing along. The passion in their sweat drenched faces never waned as they connected over and over with the audience.
The word ‘harmony’ often conjures up images of something sweet and airy, but that is not the image that HGTR wanted to convey. Rather, PJ sang harmonies so hard that his faces often turned various shades of scarlet, veins and muscle striations bulged from his neck, and he oftentimes appeared as if he were angry or even in pain. Despite his strained appearance, PJ’s effortlessly added crisp harmonies that perfectly complemented Stephen’s lead vocals.
Overall, it was obvious that HGTR loves what they do, and they do it well. They were successful in creating a jovial and eclectic musical experience unlike any other. Stephen, PJ, and Kevin ended the evening with a powerful acapella performance on the back outdoor patio surrounded and supported by their appreciative fans.
That evening at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC the buzz around Holy Ghost Tent Revival grew a little bit louder.