The end of the world bluegrass bash

Image 1. Town and country: Asheville’s Town Mountain embraces classic country themes like love, loss, heartache and hardship. Photo by Jason Beverly

Image 2. Morgan Geer of Drunken Prayer leads a country-noise send off to the world as we know it at Broadway’s.

In case the Mayans weren’t joking, Town Mountain prepares to play us out in style

who: Town Mountain with The Shawn Camp Band
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Dec. 21 (9 p.m. $10 advance or $12 day of show.

It’s been a preternaturally warm December, so far. And the news about the polar ice caps isn’t good. Add to that the impending end of the Mayan Calendar (Friday, Dec. 21), which may or may not spell out the final farewell for life on earth.

So, why not throw a party?

“We’ve probably played The Grey Eagle in December for the last two or three years, and it just happened that the 21st was open,” says Jesse Langlais, banjo player/founding member of Asheville-based bluegrass outfit Town Mountain. “It made sense to bill it as ‘the end of the world bluegrass bash.’ If the end of the world is going to get some more people out to the show, that’s great.”

Actually, Friday would be an inconvenient time for the world to end, as far as Town Mountain is concerned. This year has been an especially good one on the band’s steady upward trajectory. In May, their song “Diggin’ on the Mountain Side” was included on world music label Putumayo’s first-ever Bluegrass compilation. Their newest effort, Leave the Bottle, debuted in September at No. 4 on the Bluegrass Today Radio Chart; it was sitting at No. 8 on the Roots Music Report top 50 bluegrass chart at press time.

But Town Mountain didn’t have that sort of success in its sights at the start. The first iteration of the band (born out of jam sessions) was Langlais and lead singer Robert Greer, with Barrett Smith (Shannon Whitworth) and Jed Willis (Wooden Toothe). “The four of us came together by chance. We all knew each other and then we booked a tour,” Langlais remembers.

A year later, mandolin player Phil Barker joined, and then fiddler Bobby Britt signed on full time. Langlais says that Town Mountain used “upwards of 15 or 16 fiddle players” before Britt came along. With the solidified lineup, the group found a common goal and a sound to call its own. “Three years ago was when we were like, ‘OK, there’s something here,’” says Langlais. “Three years ago was when I stopped working my full-time job.”

Part of what defines Town Mountain’s particular brand of old-school-meets-contemporary bluegrass is its variety of voices. Bottle’s songs run the gamut from serious to silly. String parts are a sturdy backbone to tear-jerkers like "Away from Home" and fast-paced feats of picking like "You Weighed Heavy on my Heart." "Lawdog" opens a cappella, with Barker's vocal hitting notes that border on yodel territory. Opener "Lookin’ in the Mirror," is all sinuous fiddle and bouncy banjo, along with plenty of cheek: "Time can take its toll in so many different ways. I get more distinguished, you grow old and gray," goes the verse.

“It wasn’t a pre-calculated thing,” says Langlais. The tracks on Bottle comprise the final cut from songs brought to the table over the past two years. But Town Mountain’s sound is more than the sum of its parts. The band is interested in the roots of country music — songs with “a little grit and a little rough around the edges,” as Langlais puts it.

“The thing about country music is it’s been around since the 1930s, and a lot of the content is basically the same: love, loss, heartache and hardship,” Langlais says. Town Mountain is interested in that genesis of the genre: “Rural Americans struggling and telling their story through song.”

One ally they’ve found for that mission: Mike Bub (Del McCoury Band member, producer of Steep Canyon Rangers’ One Dime at a Time) who helmed both Bottle and its predecessor, Steady Operator. Langlais describes Bub as “a country music and bluegrass historian,” and “a pleasure to be around.” Luckily, Town Mountain will get to be around Bub some more: The producer plays in the Shawn Camp Band, who shares the Grey Eagle bill.

As for Dec. 21’s end-of-the-world forecast, Langlais speculates, “My prediction is we’ll play a great show and then on Dec. 22, we’ll all still be here.”

Alli Marshall can be reached at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.