Holy Ghost Tent Revival embraces life in Asheville

UNDER COVER: Holy Ghost Tent Revival paused backstage at The Mothlight on July 11 before performing Beck’s Midnite Vultures album. The band revived the show Nov. 9 at Brooklyn Bowl. “The trick is to choose something that will sell well, but something that won't be next to impossible to pull off,” says Matt Martin, center. Photo by Evoke Emotion Photography

For close to a decade, Asheville audiences have welcomed Holy Ghost Tent Revival with open arms, regardless of the band’s ZIP code. Now that the six-piece rock group has made the Buncombe County seat its base of operations, its members are embracing the special responsibility of delivering for their neighbors out in the crowd.

“Whenever you play a hometown show, the pressure is always on to make the next one the biggest, the best,” says guitarist and singer Matt Martin. “How do you make it different and fresh? At the end of the day, though, you can’t beat yourself up too much — just get the posters up, get the word out on the street and on the radio, hit your mark and bring the heat to the stage.”

HGTR returns to The Grey Eagle Saturday, Nov. 21, the third show at the venue since the musicians’ relocation a little over a year ago. In that time, the band also produced a full-album cover of Beck’s Midnite Vultures at The Mothlight in July and opened for The Suffers at Downtown After 5 in September. Without band manager Jason Mencer and backup singer Dulci Ellenberger, both longtime Asheville residents, those shows likely wouldn’t happen. Along with the cumulative power of positive experiences in town, Mencer and Ellenberger incited a snowball effect that gradually pulled HGTR (including Stephen Murray, Kevin Williams, Hank Widmer, Charlie Humphrey and Ross Montsinger) to them.

Martin is currently the only member of the band not living in Asheville, but estimates that he comes into town “about 18 times a month” from his home in Abingdon, Va. Prior to moving there, he spent the better part of a decade in Greensboro. He and Murray were prominent players in Greensboro College’s theater department and crossed paths with music majors Widmer and Montsinger on a near-daily basis in the Odell Building, where both programs are housed. Other than fond memories and good friends left behind, however, Martin doesn’t miss much about The Gate City, especially not on a professional level.

“Asheville has a community of music lovers and venues that simply doesn’t exist in Greensboro. There’s one sizable room — The Blind Tiger — and you’ll be lucky to have 500 people in there one night of the year,” Martin say of his former home. “Asheville has so many more options for nightlife, not to mention scenery that keeps the heart and mind inspired.”

Additional benefits of living close to one another include more streamlined pickups and drop-offs to and from tours, easier practice logistics and the opportunity for side gigs throughout the week. Of the band’s most exciting collaborations, Martin identifies Ellenberger’s new project, Big Sound Harbor. (As the backing band, HGTR members are “the big sound — or the harbor, depending on how you look at it,” Martin says.) The inverted configuration makes its official debut at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall Friday, Dec. 4.

Along with fellow singer Alyse Baca, Ellenberger was also involved in performing Midnite Vultures. The project was undertaken in part to draw in members of the Asheville community who weren’t yet aware of HGTR’s hometown status, but shared a fondness for Beck. Preparing for the show posed numerous challenges, such as the album’s plentiful electronic aspects. Along with the fresh musical skills acquired in the hours of hard practice, the fun of incorporating wild costumes, elaborate stage decorations and ripped-from-YouTube choreography added energy to the band’s already vibrant live shows. “You learn so much when you completely absorb a project like doing an album top to bottom,” Martin says. “The experience embeds itself in you. Knowing what makes an album work or not work is something you can take into the studio when you’re making your own record.”

On that note, HGTR is currently paring down just over 20 songs for its follow-up to 2014’s Right State of Mind.  The tracks “have this minor-key, soulful, sort of bothered aspect to them,” Martin says. “We’re trying to tap in to the consciousness of what it seems a lot of people are feeling. We’re trying to toe the line between political and accessible. [It’s] still a continuation of what we were doing on Right State of Mind. We took the lessons we learned from that process — namely, how to establish and maintain a groove — and applied them to how we currently write music.”

WHO: Holy Ghost Tent Revival with Alanna Royale and Matt Haeck
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 21, at 9 p.m. $10 advance/$12 at the door


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com 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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