Pie Walk fever is going around — have you caught it?
A cornerstone of the monthly Country Night at The Mothlight, the traditional game of musical chairs (in which the last person with a seat wins a pie from Sweetheart Bakery) has become famous for its fierce competition. “All kinds of dirty tricks abound,” says Tricia Tripp, lead singer of the Asheville honky-tonk/country band Hearts Gone South. “Once, when it was down to the last two people and one chair, I saw one of them just grab the chair and run around the room with it while the other one chased them and tried to sit in it. It’s a great spectator sport if nothing else.”
The roots of Country Night — an evening of music, dancing and other contests that showcase Asheville’s blossoming country music scene — date back to Tripp’s Kentucky childhood. Think church picnics, pig pickins and big family reunions full of games, food and fun. Hearts Gone South’s gigs last May at The Gulf Coast Opry in Satsuma, Ala., (complete with a potluck meal, auction and joke contest) and New Orleans’ All-Star Covered Dish Country Jamboree (with its karaoke and titular suppers) got her thinking about hosting her own event in Asheville.
There was local inspiration, too: Every Saturday night last year that her band didn’t have a show, Tripp, bandmate David Flood and his wife, Liza, could be found at Hillbilly Jackie’s Music Barn in Leicester, dancing and taking in the cakewalk, 50/50 ticket contest and broom dance. And, “Sometimes we were even known to run down there in between sound check and a show to play a couple tunes before we had to run back and jump onstage,” Tripp says.
Tripp and Mothlight co-owner Jon Hency (who were already in talks about booking shows) mapped out the first Country Night for June. The debut was a success, and larger turnouts for the three follow-ups warranted monthly dates for 2015.
Along with Hency and his wife Amanda’s strong rapport with musicians, Tripp says that the venue’s sizable dance floor, high-quality sound system and accessible location make it an excellent fit for Country Night. Hearts Gone South serves as the evening’s host and performs each time. Local groups such as Small Town Lights, Don Humphries and The French Broad Playboys have joined the band for past installments. High-energy Weaverville Cajun/honky-tonk outfit Jackomo is slated for the Friday, Feb. 20 show, and Tripp is coordinating with Jack Grelle of St. Louis and Nashville’s J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices for future pairings.
“I wanted Country Night to be a showcase for great regional and touring country bands, but I also wanted it to be more than just a show,” Tripp says. “I wanted the audience to really feel part of the whole experience and [have it] be something you can’t really get anywhere else.”
Plenty of games and activities help achieve those goals, beginning with an active dance floor. Many attendees already know how to two-step, but for those looking for a few pointers, Deborah Swanson is available before the festivities begin. Tripp says Swanson excels at making people feel comfortable and breaking the steps down in an easy, relaxed manner. Much to Tripp’s delight, these sessions have significantly increased the number of participants. “Nothing is more fun to play to than a roomful of people dancing to your music,” she says.
The recent growth of Asheville country bands and events suggests that Tripp is far from alone in that assessment. In addition to Country Night’s guest groups, she points to such acts as Vollie & Kari and The Western Wildcats, Brody Hunt and Maggie & Her Mistakes as local musicians to watch. The Burger Bar and The Grey Eagle regularly book impressive country music talent, and The Mothlight is hosting a Conway Twitty/Ray Price tribute on Monday, March 9. Tripp also says to be on the lookout in December for the Silent Knights, an all-star Asheville honky-tonk Christmas band led by Hunt.
Helping to spread awareness, Swanson gathers emails whenever she teaches and sends out a comprehensive mailing every few weeks listing local honky-tonk and Cajun dance shows. Among the regular events, The Lazy Diamond hosts a dance night each Sunday, and WNCW DJ Tom Pittman leads a honky-tonk jam Tuesday nights at The Cork & Keg, open to musicians and listeners alike.
“If you’ve got a big love of all things classic country and honky-tonk, there’s some serious gems hanging around the Asheville scene,” Tripp says.
WHAT: Country Night with Hearts Gone South and Jackomo
WHERE: The Mothlight, themothlight.com
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 20, at 8:30 p.m. $7