Tag Archives: Avett

Them boys from the ‘Boro – Holy Ghost Tent Revival

So Long I Screamed

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.


Filed under Live Shows, Music

Mountain Jam Interview: Scott Avett

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Note: I was given the opportunity to write a short article for The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC). While it’s hard to fit a 15 minute interview into a 600-800 word piece, I did my best and sent it on to the editor. Here it is: Mixer article.

However, here is the interview in its entirety, because it deserves to be shared!

Prior to tearing up the stage with a rowdy, boot stompin’ performance at this year’s Mountain Jam festival, Scott Avett (of The Avett Brothers) sat down with me to talk about the festival experience, staying “green” on tour, giving back, their next album, and surprisingly his love for John Oates. Scott began by talking fondly about his time at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC:

Scott: Greenville is really special to me. I learned a lot in Greenville…the hard way.

Me: You still have some connections there in the art department, right?

Scott: Yeah, I still go work in the printing department and still keep in touch with some of the professors.

Me: Well that’s nice. I am sure they appreciate that.

Scott: Yeah, me too, because with the painting and everything, that is still very much a part of what I do and I could use the inspiration.

Me: So in the last Crackerfarm video of you in the ECU print shop, what were those funny hats?

Scott: (laughs) Those were just pirate hats that somebody brought in and we just threw them on!

Me: That’s funny. So this is your second year at Mountain Jam?

Scott: It is, it is, yeah. It seems like no time passed at all.

Me: In planning your tour, what makes you decide to come back to the same festival year after year? Is it the feel of the festival or timing?

Scott: Timing is good. And you know, festivals are good because they add a lot of variety to the schedule. So, anything from stage, feel, to demographics. We really have been to a lot of places and it’s odd how different the festivals are. Sometimes that [demographic] reaction can sort of spawn an energy that’s good that you want to go recreate or take it to the next step.

(Side note: We were nicely interrupted by a massage therapist who was going around telling all of the artists about the free massage tent. Scott laughed and said, “Oh man, y’all must have heard about me…must of heard about how bad of shape I’m in.” He graciously thanked (of course) her and we continued on…)

Me: What was your first impression of Mountain Jam last year?

Scott: You know this is a raw festival. I think its placement and its area is so rich in history with Dylan and Levon Helm and everything. So that bodes well for it and adds to the energy. There’s no doubt about it. But last year our experience was very raw, very ruckus and fun…dusty…sweaty!

Me: That’s good! It’s a little different from playing somewhere like Bojangles Coliseum.

Scott: Yeah, well this time of year the festivals can get that way, and they are good. It’s good for us! I definitely prefer them at this point. I’ve gone through stages where the theaters are where you want to be in the presentation of what you are doing, but I am a little more fly by night right now in the way I feel a show should be. So these festivals are a little better and a little more spontaneous.

Me: Do you guys get to enjoy the other artists or is it all business?

Scott: No, but we have friends that will be here that we will perform with and interact with and get to see, but (leaning forward and looking out the tent) I see a band over there playing and that’s about as close as I’ll get.

Me: Grace Potter and Nicole Atkins will be here tomorrow, but you wont get to see them?

Scott: No, but Nicole will be around today (with a sheepish grin)

Me: Oh, so maybe we will get a little special treat for later!?

Scott: Yeah, maybe.

(Side note: Sadly Nicole’s guitarist was ill and she didn’t arrive in time to play with The Avett Brothers. I think all parties involved were sad!)

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: So, I have been to a few festivals and they all seem to have a different feel. The feeling I get from Mountain Jam is geared towards educating the audience about environmental issues, and not necessarily picking artists because of their “environmental” message, but probably picking artists who feel that is important. Is that important to you and the rest of the band when you come to a music festival?

Scott: Yes, it is. It is important to keep “it” (being environmentally minded) right before you instead of getting too worldly to where it’s overwhelming. You know, you are going through the day and you could recycle one bottle, so it’s just one little step at a time. I think it’s important not to get too caught up with the “big picture” as this one fell swooping.

Me: Do you guys have rules on the tour bus for living “green”?

Scott: We all know that [being green] is the best way, but sometimes survival just can’t…if you let your principles get in the way of your product, your quality, your life, it might…it might be…suicide (chuckles).

Me: So is it difficult to take what you do at home out on the road?

Scott: Oh absolutely! It has gotta change, because those are very different lives.

Me: So, do you have recycling bins on the bus?

Scott: Yeah, we do recycle as much as we can. But, for example, if you fill the front lounge area with water bottles everybody’s agitated and angry because there are water bottles everywhere, so you have to be smart about it. Right, Dane? (Scott laughs and looks over to Dane who is sitting in the corner). Dane is our tour manager. He has to keep up with us, so he’s definitely aggravated (as he chuckles). No, but honestly, we all try to stay really aware about that kind of stuff.

Me: Beyond the little things you do to stay “green” in your personal life, you all played two very cool shows last year that really helped out local farms in Portland, OR and the CFSA in NC. Those types of shows are obviously very important to The Avett Brothers. Do you have to search out those opportunities or are they typically just presented to you?

Scott: Yes, those are very important to us, and they typically come to us more so these days because there is more money generated with more fans. We don’t typically have to go searching for it, but if there is a specific cause we want to help with, we will go after it.

Me: You have done a lot with the tornado relief efforts recently. How have those experiences been for you all?

Scott: That is really the least we can do, and definitely have not done enough. There’s nothing that is going to change the terrible nature of that except for time. We are so lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy, and we don’t deserve it anymore than anybody else. To truly want to help people…to honestly want to do that, it can’t be taxed, not in the literal sense of the word taxed, but to order or direct someone to help people is not real, it’s not honest, and it’s not sustainable. If we are fortunate enough to have such an enjoyable life, these opportunities, and these great moments, we need to remember how grateful we should be without someone ordering us or demanding that we share that. We need to share that. The moment we stop doing that, than it’s all poisoned. We remind each other of that and try to keep that presence about us now that we are moving. The wheels are turning…there is a backlog now. There’s no turning back. There’s no stopping. So we have to just share, if it’s good feelings or a couple of bucks, it just has to be done.

Me: I think that you have a great influence on your fan base, who you really make feel like family. That feeling really spreads.

Scott: Well, we all are [family]. When people refer to us as “family oriented people” or “family matters”, to look at it thoroughly and in detail, it’s not about my brother and my dad and my mom and daughter. It’s beyond that, and it’s a much bigger unit, the family. It’s the world.

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: From your perspective can you feel how powerful that is? Do you feel how much influence you have on making people happy and how that is passed on to others? If you go on and read the boards, it’s pretty amazing!

Scott: (big laugh) Well, I don’t read the boards, but I am told. But it has to be one step at a time. If I harness that as a big picture like you are saying, it’s dangerous for me. So, one day at a time and I will take your word for it. I am glad to hear that, and I hear it from other people. That is terrific. I just try to keep it in perspective. If there is something we can do today, that is great. If not, hopefully tomorrow there will be. There is always something it is just a matter of if you have the energy to go out and seek it.

Me: Does that ever feel like a burden?

Scott: (emphatically) No. No. We are not ministers or part of the Red Cross or anything, so we’re not burdened by that type of service. Even though it might end up translating into that eventually, indirectly. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, it’s just in harmony with all of that.

Me: How did you all get paired up with John Oates for your Vermont show last night?

Scott: We worshiped Hall and Oates when we were kids. I mean I worshiped him! I mean that was as big as Bob Dylan any day of the week to me. Not to a lot of people, but their music when I was 8 years old was forming who I am right now. So he just asked if we wanted to do something. So we said let’s do it! He asked if we wanted to do one of our songs or their songs and we said neither, let’s just do a Bob Dylan tune!

Me: Cool! Well, besides maybe a guest appearance from Nicole Atkins today, any other surprises for today’s set?

Scott: Well…Simon Felice is around here somewhere but I’m not sure if he will make it on stage with us. He’s a terrific guy. He recorded with us on I and Love and You.

Me: Finally, I read a quote from Bob somewhere that the new album isn’t due out until the end of next year?

Scott: Oh no, no… I don’t know when it’s due. That would be pretty late. We are well in the process of it and well passed the halfway mark. If it maintains we would finish the record this year. It’s just a matter of when and how it will come out.

Me: Well we are all looking forward to hearing it.

Scott: Thank you. Thank you very much.

We finished the interview with a hand shake, some smiles, and well wishes. A few hours later the entire mountain, sprinkled with both old and new Avett fans, had the privilege of witnessing one of the most energetic and magnetic sets of the weekend. While their set featured several songs from their I and Love and You album, we did get a few old favorites from their albums Four Thieves Gone and Emotionalism, along with a guest appearance from their dear friend Simon Felice and an encore Dylan cover to top it off. The Avett Brothers continue their tour throughout the US and Europe well into the Fall, so check them if they come anywhere near you. Trust me, you will leave as one of the family, and it’s a pretty cool family to be a part of if I do say so myself.

For more information about the band, please pay a visit to their website. I must end with a huge “thank you” to Dane Honeycutt for arranging the interview, and to the gracious Scott Avett for taking the time to chat with me.


Filed under Interview, Live Shows, Music

Mountain Jam Interview: Nicole Atkins

Pure, raw, beautiful

While standing at the base of Hunter Mountain shortly after Nicole Atkins’ Mountain Jam set I received a text that simply read, “At the bar”.  After nearly three days of music and mayhem in the Catskills of NY, a stripped down interview at the bar was exactly what I needed, and apparently what Nicole needed, too.

A fun and relaxing two days of catching up and performing with old friends, like The Avett Brothers, had turned into a long, hurried day that began a little too bright and early for this blue-eyed siren.  Nicole dragged herself out of bed at 7am that Sunday morning to “re-learn” the electric guitar parts of the songs she was going to perform later that afternoon.  While Nicole writes and arranges each part of her songs, she leaves the playing of those parts to her band, The Black Sea.  Unfortunately, her guitarist Irina was unable to make the trip to Hunter as she was still recovering at home from pneumonia.  Prior to stepping on stage, Atkins was feeling a bit disorganized and unsure of how the set would come across to the audience.  I assured her that while Irina’s absence may have changed the “feel” of the set, her flawless vocal performance and funny commentary (“this song is about punching a girl in the face“) between songs worked perfectly together and came off naturally to the audience.  She let out a sigh of relief and said, “Good, I was worried!”

Nicole, who grew up in Neptune, NJ, wasn’t raised on radio pop and that was evident by the list of both well-known and obscure artists she rattled off as we discussed her musical influences.  At the tender age of 12, Atkins picked up a guitar and began to play and write songs.  While not musicians themselves, her parents always made sure to include music in her upbringing.  Nicole fell in love with the music that echoed through her childhood, including the gritty blues of Joe Cocker and the psychedelic rock of Steve Winwood (she was quick to clarify Traffic-era Winwood, not cheesy-pop-era Winwood).  She quickly developed a style of her own that was rooted in rock-storytelling, and found inspiration from hometown surroundings like the Shark River.

After playing gigs at local coffee houses during her high school  years, Atkins left Neptune and headed South to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Illustration at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Nicole immediately immersed herself in Charlotte’s music scene, making friends with the local best-of-the-best, including members of The Avett Brothers, and joined various bands.  Atkins smiled as she reminisced about her time in NC, “I basically paid thousands of dollars of tuition to play in bands.”  Her musical tastes quickly expanded to include the country-folk-rock sounds of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Uncle Tupelo/Wilco, and Wiskytown/Ryan Adams.  With these sounds came fresh ideas and a melding of old and new styles.  In the years that followed, she returned home and commuted between NJ and NYC to continue to play and bring her new sound to the city.

Years passed and Nicole gained the attention of a few record labels in NYC.  After a bidding war in 2006, Nicole signed with the major record label Columbia, and released her first album, Neptune City, a year later.  After two years of touring and promoting Neptune City with her band The Sea, the money ran out and Atkins left Columbia as a solo artist again.  On most accounts, the story read that Columbia cut ties and The Sea walked out on Nicole.  However, Atkins quickly dispelled what may be written about that chapter in her career. “My band didn’t walk out on me,” she stated frankly.   “I just couldn’t pay them, so they had to find something else to do.  I was trying to figure out what to do after all of that happened.  Some people suggested that I go back to school, and I was like, “and do what?” All I wanted to do was make my music, and that’s what I did.”  A difficult break-up with her then-boyfriend soon followed, but she stayed committed to her music and reached out to other artists who would ultimately help her rise from the ashes.


Between 2009 and 2010, Atkins signed with a smaller independent record label, Razor & Tie, and began recording her second album, Mondo Amore.  She wanted to produce an album that was completely about the songs and the story, rather than about “selling the sexuality” of being a female singer/songwriter.  In an effort to combat what Atkins calls this “Anti-Cobain” attitude of women in today’s music industry, she enlisted a guitarist, bassist, and drummer to help her tell her story.  “I can’t do this on my own.  I need my band in order to get out the message.”  Her new band, The Black Sea, helped her create what Nicole called a “slide rock epic album that plays out like a mafia movie soundtrack”.  Mondo Amore took a departure from the string and piano based tones of Neptune City, and replaced them with Irina’s haunting guitar riffs.  “Basically [Irina] turns my country songs into these psychedelic freak-out songs, and it works,” Nicole added with a big smile.  When asked if the writing and recording process with Razor & Tie allows her more artistic freedom than with Columbia, she responded, “It really just depends.  For the most part while I was at Columbia I had a great support system.  But, this one woman was working with us at Columbia and she came to me one day and said, ‘Hey, you just went through a really bad break-up.  You should use that for your next song’.”  Nicole laughed and gave me a look that said “are you f**king kidding me, lady!”  Anyone who pays attention to Nicole for even 5 minutes could predict that she doesn’t work that way.  Atkins marches to the beat of her own drum, on her own time, and with her own rules.

Mondo Amore, which loosely chronicles some of the lessons learned from the dissolution of her personal and professional relationships, was released in February of this year.  Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea immediately hit the road to promote and celebrate the album.  However, touring funds and resources were not as fluid as they were when she was signed with Columbia.  But this Jersey girl wouldn’t let that stop her.  She called on the generosity of her fans to help supplement the cost of a touring van in exchange for hand-painted tote bags and access to her personal art webpage to view her paintings and illustrations.  And guess what?  It worked.  She raised enough money to buy a van to cart around her band and equipment from venue to venue.  “I painted 52 tote bags!,” she said through a laugh as she began scrolling through pictures of each of them in her phone.  “Can you believe that!?  The cool thing though is that the music has given me an intro back into my drawing and painting.”  While she admits that drawing and painting don’t pay the bills, her artistic talents have helped fund a dream that has been in the works for a long time now.  It is safe to say that she is the driving force behind her own professional fate.  Money’s tight so she works her ass off to make sure good things happen.  She takes time to connect with her fans and goes out of her way to make new ones.  When she’s on tour, she sublets her apartment and crashes with family and friends to save money.  Does this sound like the life and attitude of an entitled trust-fund baby?  I don’t think so.  She is a pure American dream.

Careful where you walk...

If I could go back and witness the evolution of Atkins’ sounds and style, I would pay special attention to when and where she developed the soulful, rich tones of her voice.  While her speaking voice is soft and demure on stage, her powerful singing voice is hauntingly beautiful and evokes instant emotion in her audience.  Her lyrics are raw, honest, and cathartic, so much so that her audience finds their own stories being played out in her songs.  Combine the voice with her songwriting brilliance, and you have a musical experience that stares you down and dares you not to feel, not to remember, and not to fall in love with her.

Per Nicole’s suggestion, we ended our interview with a shot of Maker’s and ventured off to the artists tent where vendors were giving away free Merrill shoes.  Free shoes!?  I suppose when you make a mountain full of people happy with just the sound of your voice and the words in your soul, you deserve at least a free pair of shoes.  I thanked her and let myself out, surely not worthy of backstage schwag.  My admiration for Nicole’s creativity and talent definitely grew that afternoon, but I was even more taken back and appreciative of how candid she was with me.  Her ability to stay genuine yet persistent during her career has undoubtedly allowed her to create the life she’s dreamed of ever since she first picked up that guitar 20 years ago.

For more information about Nicole Atkins, visit her website and buy her music.

Thank you Nicole for your time and conversation at the bar.   It’s going to be tough to top that interview!

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Filed under Interview, Live Shows, Music