They come bearing gifts of a musical sort, three bands determined to put a little more bottom end in your stocking and restore a note of celebration to this holiday season.
On Friday, The Orange Peel will host the second annual Winter SOULstice, a showcase featuring Laura Reed & Deep Pocket, Josh Phillips Folk Festival and Sci Fi. And while the indoor festival falls squarely two days before its namesake solar event, the party should provide cheer to last well beyond the year’s shortest day.
The night begins on an interstellar note with the Wilmington-based three-piece Sci Fi. Featuring Tyler Simmons on keyboards, Tim Philpott on bass and Justin Heter on drums, the band (www.scifimusic.net) spins out remarkably lithe jams that blend funk, house, dub and blues with a sprinkling of other, less expected adjuncts. This summer’s self-titled debut album was heralded by the progressive rock Web site seaoftranquility.org as “a promising debut from a band that has clearly issued a challenge to such scene veterans as the Disco Biscuits and Particle.”
A veteran of the Asheville music scene, Josh Phillips (www.joshphillipsfolk.com) long served as front man for Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band before striking out on his own last year. “I moved here from Boone with the band about four years ago,” Phillips tells Xpress. “We all moved to Asheville to be closer to the music.”
Folk Festival coalesced around Phillips’ voice and instrumental prowess last fall, not long before the inaugural SOULstice, which was held at The Grey Eagle last December. “It started out really as a just a fun thing,” Phillips says. “Our very first performance as a band was at last year’s SOULstice Festival, so this is kind of an anniversary for us as well.”
The band’s core members include Elijah Cramer on bass, Nick Hope on drums and Sean Donnelly on piano and vocals, although its family of “folks” extends considerably further to include Asheville familiars such as Woody Wood and Toubab Krewe’s Justin Perkins. The resulting sound is a promiscuous blend of reggae, R&B and straight-ahead Americana.
“It’s not jammy at all,” Phillips says, offering a welcome assurance during a season dominated by Warren Haynes et al. “What we do is very song-focused,” he says. “Very Paul Simon-esque.”
Though less than a year old, the band is already in full touring mode. Phillips and friends played the Loki Music Festival and AMJam earlier this summer, and opened for Toubab Krewe during a portion of that band’s fall tour. The band’s first full-length release, Wicker, landed on shelves in September, and winter tours of Jamaica and the Virgin Islands are already in the works.
The “soul” in Friday’s event will come in large measure from Atlanta-based R&B ensemble Laura Reed & Deep Pocket (www.myspace.com/laurareedmusic), made up of Reed on guitar and vocals, Ryan Burns on keyboards, Barrett Helms on drums, Ben Didelot on bass and Debrissa McKinney on supporting vocals and sax. The group’S most recent pass at Asheville took place this summer during Bele Chere. Earlier this fall, the group released Live at Tree Sound Studios, recorded at Atlanta’s biggest studio, a place that in the past has waxed artists as varied as OutKast and Elton John. Along with its high production values, Tree Sound and its affiliate label, Tree Leaf Music, are guided by an environmental ethic that would feel right at home in Asheville (Carbon neutral! Dual-flush toilets! Powered by methane!).
Clearly on board with the theme of sustainability, Reed and her band are expected to set off next year with the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on the Green Train, a locomotive-based tour raising awareness of the need for sustainability.
At The Orange Peel Friday, the on-stage lineup will be the same as last year’s SOULstice (allowing for some special guests), lending credence to the notion that if you’ve got something good, stick with it. At the heart of it all, said Phillips, is a spirit of collaboration, of mutual respect both on stage and off.
“We decided to do it again, all together,” he says. “You know, give it some continuity.”
[Kent Priestley is a freelance writer based in Knoxville.]
who: Winter SOULstice with Laura Reed & Deep Pocket, Josh Phillips Folk Festival and Sci Fi.
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Dec. 19. 9 p.m. ($10 advance, $12 at the door. www.theorangepeel.net.) A pre-party featuring Ian Thomas starts at 6 p.m. at Mo Daddy’s. Post-party is at The Garage at Biltmore, featuring The Mantras, Free Peoples Freequency and a second set from Sci-Fi. Cost is $10.