Country Brunch series builds community (at a reasonable hour)

HONKY-TONK HISTORY: Julia Sanders, left, and Tricia Tripp seek to make their monthly Country Brunch series an institution. Sanders photo by Joe Gill; Tripp photo by Emily Aderman

On the afternoon of Mother’s Day 2019, local singer-songwriters Julia Sanders and Tricia Tripp had an epiphany. Along with fellow musical mom, Anya Hinkle, the friends hosted a daytime show at the now closed UpCountry Brewing Co. in West Asheville. And the trio was shocked by the audience response.

“The turnout was amazing,” Sanders says. “And the feedback that we got from everyone that was there — which was a lot of parents, basically — was that they wish this happened all the time because they just don’t get to go see shows with their kids, or sometimes at all.”

Soon thereafter, Sanders envisioned organizing a regular recurring event. The COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on pause, but in early 2023, Tripp used her connections with The Grey Eagle to line up a six-month partnership, and Country Brunch was born.

One year later, the series has the full support of the venue, which plays host to the event on the second Sunday of each month, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Kids get in free, music lovers of all ages get to see local artists at a reasonable hour, and performers get to share a fuller extent of their craft with their children without risking someone calling protective services on them.

A perfect fit

Country Brunch started last April on The Grey Eagle’s patio stage, and subsequent months featured Sanders, Tripp’s band Hearts Gone South, Underhill Rose, Jessie & the Jinx, Heavenly Vipers and Erika Lewis. The organizers knew most of the acts from attending Double Crown’s Western Wednesday series and other country-centric programming around town.

“I was trying to think of people who usually play late nights all the time that people would be excited about to come see in the daytime,” Tripp says. “I know there’s a lot of people who are like, ‘I am not going out at 11 o’clock at night to a show on a weekday.’”

She adds, “We’re trying to also concentrate on people who are playing original music. Because with country music, it’s such a wide songbook and you could easily have cover bands the whole time. But I think it’s superimportant with the amount of talent and the amount of incredible original music that’s coming out in our area to highlight that and make sure that that’s celebrated.”

In choosing a home for the series, The Grey Eagle fit the organizers’ rubrics. Along with a quality sound system, the venue offers food and has a contained space where kids can safely run around.

“That outdoor space just has such a nice feel when it’s warm,” Sanders says. “And then they gave us the go-ahead for fall and winter, and shifted it inside.”

She and Tripp have attempted to bring as much of the patio stage’s feel to the indoor space. On Country Brunch days, the music hall has tables, dimmed lights and a dancing space so that attendees can spread out and be as relaxed or active as they choose.

With warmer temperatures returning, the series will head back outdoors. But in the event of bad weather, the early-ish time frame allows for moving inside without disrupting load-in and sound check for the evening’s acts.

“It’s kind of amazing too that we have a crap ton of female-led country bands in this area,” Tripp says. “I take it for granted, but it is kind of rare in some way for that to be the majority. And they’re all incredible — I’m really impressed with how much each person’s style and songwriting comes out and shines so prevalently in what they’re doing.”

All together now

While the caliber of music has been central to Country Brunch’s success, the family-friendly environment gives local parents another option where kids and adults can have fun together.

“Instead of taking your kids to a kid thing that you don’t want to go to all day, bring them to a space where everybody can enjoy some music and they can do their thing and you can do your thing and share that with them,” says Sanders.

For Sanders, the series has allowed her to more fully connect with her 5-year-old daughter through music — a rare opportunity since most of her gigs are late at night.

“It’s really fun for her to get to see what I do because, otherwise, I’m in stay-at-home mom world during the day, so it’s sort of like a mysterious other job that I have,” Sanders says. “I want her to experience live music and all that and be able to see my friends’ bands and share that experience.”

Country Brunch’s early start time also means Sanders’ and Tripp’s service industry friends can partake. And the same goes for fellow musicians. Sanders notes that many of her peers perform around town at the same general evening times and that the Sunday afternoon slot has consistently drawn a healthy number of fellow players, including those who were out late for gigs the night before.

“Musicians make great audience members because they get real loud and there’s a lot of interaction,” Tripp says. “It’s fun. It keeps it lively.”

Similar wavelengths

Though the communal respite of Country Brunch only happens once a month, Sanders and Tripp agree that daily life as a musical parent has gradually become easier. Somewhat out of necessity, Sanders finds herself pulled to work with fellow moms and dads in the industry because they’re operating on a similar wavelength.

“They understand what my life is,” Sanders says. “I’m recording a new record with my friend John James, and he has two older kids. It just makes it so much easier to have that recording schedule because he has to go get the kids at 3 o’clock from school, and so do I. So, I can just go over there at 9 [a.m.] and do some vocals, and then we both have to break.”

Now that Tripp’s son is almost 18, she doesn’t have to figure out child care during her gigs. But not too long ago, that wasn’t the case.

“Sometimes my load-in would be like a little bit after he was getting off school. So I’d bring him to the venue, and there’s all these pictures of him really young playing pool,” she says with a laugh. “He used to tell his teachers sometimes, ‘I was at the bar last night playing pool, so I couldn’t do my homework.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you played pool and then our friend came and picked you up and took you home. You didn’t stay at the bar — you were in bed.’”

While kids will continue to say the darnedest things, those who attend Country Brunch likely won’t have as many excuses for missed assignments the following day. And if the series becomes “an institution,” which Tripp says she and The Grey Eagle’s management team envision, even more area youths (and parents and teachers) stand to benefit.

“This is what you do on the second Sunday of the month: time to go to Country Brunch,” she says. “I’m really excited to see this continue to build and also be something that not only the locals know about, but when people are, like, ‘What should we do when we go to Asheville?’ people will be like, ‘Country Brunch! You should go to Country Brunch.’”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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