Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Michelle Malone started driving into the mountains for gigs in Asheville at some point in the 1990s. She was just beginning to make a name for herself on the Georgia music circuit and decided it was time to branch out.
“I remember the first time playing [in Asheville],” she says. “I played at Be Here Now, and maybe it was one of two venues in town. … There were [fewer] venues and less shows for people to go to, so it was packed.”
And though she’s returned countless times since, Malone will be making her Isis Music Hall debut on Friday, June 28, with her friend and fellow Georgia native Sarah Peacock opening.
Malone notes that she’s always looked forward to returning to Asheville, as the local music scene has grown and more venues have opened up. For a while, she was particularly drawn to performing at The Altamont Theatre, where the listening room atmosphere made her feel heard as a solo, acoustic artist. When The Altamont Theatre closed, Malone began scheduling dates at Ambrose West because she liked the booking staff, the feel of the room and that Asheville’s music community had a place to get together and truly listen to music.
“What I notice,” she adds, “is that there are so many great music venues in Asheville now and it’s become known as a great music town. I guess before it was known as more of a vacation spot where people go on weekends to get away from Atlanta or wherever, or they have their vacation homes. But now it seems like a music mecca.”
Over the years, Malone has accumulated a loyal following by playing her ruminative songs in clubs and venues around the world. But she forged a friendship early on with the Indigo Girls — Emily Saliers and Amy Ray — and started writing and sitting in with the duo as both she and they garnered more and more attention far from their hometown, Atlanta.
“Most of my collaborating early in my career was with the Indigo Girls,” Malone explains, “and that was more with the way the universe threw us together: in the same town, playing the same gigs, being able to sing well together and having a lot of the same sensibilities. It just worked out. So that was a no-brainer. I still do play with them and sing with them and, on occasion, write and record with them. I was very fortunate.”
Working with other artists became a steady through-line in Malone’s career. Her latest album, 2018’s Slings and Arrows, includes songs she co-wrote with Randall Bramlett and up-and-coming Atlanta artist Eliot Bronson.
“There’s just been so much talent coming out of Atlanta,” Malone says. “I’ve had the good fortune to perform with the members of Sugarland, John Mayer [and] of course Drivin’ N Cryin.’ I can’t even name them all, there’s so many. But those are probably the main ones, off the top of my head, that I’ve been tight with over the years — simply because of where we started playing music and what year it was. It’s really the gods throwing us together.”
Sarah Peacock is another artist with whom Malone has been “thrown together,” though Peacock now lives in Nashville and Malone remains in Atlanta. After returning from international tours (Malone in France and Peacock in New Zealand), the artists will embark on a brief Southern tour and have prioritized finding time to rehearse so they can play a few songs together during their separate sets.
The pair met through the Atlanta music scene and, though one might suspect they’d connect over their experiences coming up in the Georgia music world, it was actually fried chicken that brought them together.
“We bonded early on over this meat-and-three restaurant [called Lorettas],” says Malone. “You go in there and you always have to get the banana pudding and the fried chicken. … It’s so bad for you, but life has to have joy in it. Carbs are joy.”
Another thing that brings Malone joy is seeing the way the towns she’s been touring through for years have changed, and in what ways they remain the same. She’s been impressed with the way Asheville has begun to come into its own as a music city.
“These towns like Asheville that love music will continue to morph, but they will always have music because it’s just ingrained in the community,” she says. “That means a lot to me and that makes me want to come there.”
WHO: Michelle Malone with Sarah Peacock
WHERE: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, June 28, 8:30 p.m. $18 advanced/$20 day of show