Big easy

“Asheville is my favorite town — my absolute favorite.”

— Larry Keel

Ever wonder about the “experience” part of Larry Keel Experience?

The documentary Beautiful Thing: A Year in the Life of the Greatest Musician You’ve Never Heard Of, filmed by Baltimore native James Ryan Gielen in gritty black-and-white, focuses on sundry aspects of the Virginia-based newgrass guitarist’s touring.

After a sold-out screening of the film last month at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company (followed, naturally, by a picking session), Xpress spoke with Keel about life after Life.

Mountain Xpress: “Tonight is the public release of the DVD — could you tell us more about the making of the film and who’s featured in it?”

Larry Keel: “Ryan grabbed exactly what it was like to be one of ‘us’ for a year. Spent a full year, and he definitely captured it. Interviews with friends and fans, of course — there’s all kinds of people that come out to see us. Also, a lot of great show footage with Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, Jeff Austin [of Yonder Mountain String Band], Curtis Burch, Fiddlin’ Dave Van DeVenter. It was really great how he grabbed everybody, each town — very cool.”

MX: “The first release of the DVD was at MerleFest, but the Asheville premiere tonight is for the folks on the home turf. This town is one of your [strongholds] … in how they receive you.”

LK: “Asheville is my favorite town — my absolute favorite. … This is one of the first places that we first came to play music. The MerleFest showing was prestigious, and [it was] such an honor to have it show there. But getting down to be a little closer to everybody, and getting a chance to be here for this showing, is really special. … Our very good friends are here.”

MX: “You are on the new Return to Cold Mountain CD based on the movie, and you also worked on the Bluebrass Project with Chris Jones and Ashley Thibodaux-Jones [of Thibodaux Jones’ Creole Kitchen and Meantime Records].

LK: “Chris rented one of those great studios down there called the Ultrasonic Studio, in New Orleans. So many people have recorded there — Fats Domino and The Neville Brothers.

“The concept was to take the music of the Appalachian Mountains — the bluegrass music — and take it down and blend it with the brass music of New Orleans. In doing so, he took a lot of the similar crossover tunes like ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ ‘Liza Jane’ and others.”

MX: “And your own CD — Journey — was released this year, too. ‘Dreams’ has an Oriental feel, very Japanese, my favorite original song off of that work. Most people don’t know you played Tokyo Disneyland in Japan — can you [sum up] your experience there?”

LK: “We played the American Frontier Stage, six shows a day — a half-hour on, a half-hour off. Great way to get your chops up. … ‘Dreams’ was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s movie Dreams. It’s a movie about dream sequences: a guy waking through a field of flowers and a village of water wheels — good Japanese culture.

“He was such a great moviemaker. The whole Star Wars thing was inspired by Kurosawa; so was a lot of Quentin Tarantino. I get my inspiration from everywhere.”

[Freelance writer Will Cumberland is the editor of, a community-based, nonprofit music site.]

Larry Keel plays The Emerald Lounge (112 N. Lexington Ave.; 232-4372) with Big Daddy (featuring Steve McMurry of Acoustic Syndicate) at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, June 18. Cover: $15.

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