A New Year's Eve party at the Asheville Civic Center should be quite the homecoming party for Sallie Ford.
The Weaverville native (now hailing from Portland, Ore.) will open for the Avett Brothers, the Concord, N.C.-based band that dropped its first major-label album earlier this year to wide acclaim. Ford's just three years into her musical career with her band, The Outside Sound. But with an unforgettable voice and burgeoning song-writing chops, Ford has already gotten noticed. It's all still sinking in for the kid who graduated from Asheville High School and only started writing songs after moving from Asheville to Portland in 2006.
"I guess it took moving across the country to realize music was inevitable for me," says Ford.
Even though Ford grew up in a family of artists (her father is professional puppeteer Hobey Ford and her mother, Sue, teaches music at Evergreen Community Charter School), she says she always felt a little constrained — despite the violin classes, performances with her sister Lauren in Asheville Community Theater productions and the occasional open mic night.
"I did a lot of singing, but was intimidated," Ford says of the attention she received. Too many familiar faces. So, after a semester at UNC-Asheville and saving up some cash from her job at Urban Burrito, Ford left those faces to travel Europe and then (perhaps inspired by her rambles) left Asheville for Portland.
That's where Ford hooked up with guitarist Jeffrey Munger, drummer Ford Tennis and upright bassist Tyler Tornfelt. The resulting band — The Sound Outside — has been busy ever since putting their own distinctive stamp on Americana. Their five-song Not an Animal EP mixes rock, blues and folk, all punctuated by Ford's distinctive vocals.
"I knew I wanted to create something not by the rules," Ford says of her approach. "It's definitely confusing, because a lot of my songs have an old-country, Patsy-Cline style, or old rock 'n' roll. It's American roots music, with my modern take."
Ford says she's definitely influenced by soul and blues greats such as Aretha Franklin and Billie Holliday. She admires jazz musicians and loves the work of Regina Spektor. She says she's been into indie bands like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective. And, of course, there are the Avett Brothers.
"They write songs about what I write about, which are really personal and from your gut," she says.
Ford met Seth Avett through a college buddy of his who lived in the same apartment building Ford did in Portland. The mutual friend brought Avett along to a couple of Ford's shows, "and after that second show, that's when Seth asked me if I wanted to open for him at the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland," Ford says. "The shows were rough, but it really pushed us into gear."
Ford calls the Avett Brothers "a prefect model" of a band and its work ethic.
"I think that, as they put it, 'putting in the work and loving it and having fun and not being popular overnight' is the right approach," Ford says. "They've definitely earned their popularity, and for them, it's about the music."
In the new year, Ford says she and her band mates plan to get into the studio. "We have lots of songs to record, and I think we'll also write some new songs." Getting together an album, and finding an independent label to release it will be a priority, she says.
First, though, will be the homecoming show at the Asheville Civic Center, a show that will potentially host about 7,000 revelers. Ford says she last visited home in 2008 for Thanksgiving.
"I'm a little nervous," Ford admits, noting that she and her band have yet to perform before such a large crowd. Ford is also scheduled to play an all-ages show at 8 p.m. on Jan. 2 at Harvest Records in West Asheville. It's a place that's near and dear to her.
"I went to Harvest Records all the time and became friends with Matt and Mark," Ford says of co-owners Matt Schnable and Mark Capon. "I would just be like, 'What's good?' and they would tell me what to buy."
After her homecoming show, it's likely that Sallie Ford and the Outside Sound will be one band topping the recommendation list.
who: Sallie Ford, opening for the Avett Brothers
what: Local gal makes good, opens for national act in her hometown
where: Asheville Civic Center
when: Thursday, Dec. 31 (9 p.m. $43 general admission. www.ticketmaster.com or Civic Center box office)