Mountain Soul Party shines a spotlight on local artists

WHOLE LOTTA LOVE: Mountain Soul Party, now in its second year, features local musicians who put unique spins on soul sounds. From left, Jonathan Santos, Juan Holladay, Leeda "Lyric" Jones, Stephanie Morgan and Michael Martinez are among the artists who will take the stage at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall.
WHOLE LOTTA LOVE: Mountain Soul Party, now in its second year, features local musicians who put unique spins on soul sounds. From left, Jonathan Santos, Juan Holladay, Leeda "Lyric" Jones, Stephanie Morgan and Michael Martinez are among the artists who will take the stage at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall. Photo by Blaine Cone

Not everyone gets to meet an idol, let alone share the stage with one. But local singer-songwriter Leeda “Lyric” Jones recently opened for R&B and gospel legend Mavis Staples. “It was unreal. She just has so much love,” Lyric says. And when the two women spoke, Staples’ “main thing that she kept saying was, ‘Just keep going. … There’s going to be people who tell you no, but keep knocking on the door, and it will open eventually.’”

Lyric — for whom doors are opening and whose near future includes opening for “American Idol” winner Candice Glover — will share her own love as part of Mountain Soul Party. The event, now in its second year, showcases Asheville’s soul musicians. The production takes place at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Friday, Jan. 13. It begins with a lounge show featuring Stephanie Morgan and Jonathan Santos’ project, Santos Glocal Soul, and guests. Later, Lyric, The Secret B-Sides, hip-hop artists Chachillie and Spaceman Jones and others take over the main stage.

Although the evening offers a recommended daily allowance of soul sounds, that particular genre tends to be overlooked on the local music scene. “There’s a lot of rock, there’s a lot of bluegrass, even some country here,” says Jones. “But there’s not a lot of soul bands — especially soul bands that play originals.” Mountain Soul Party, launched by local musician and talent booker Gregory Scott, along with Lyric and The Secret B-Sides frontman Juan Holladay, seeks to give a platform to exactly those artists.

“Juan and I started talking, and we wanted to put a show together, and we were looking for a direction to take it,” remembers Scott. “We decided to focus on the soul aspect of music and surrounding genres — funk, hip-hop, R&B — and bring those together.” The inaugural event, held just over a year ago, was headlined by Lyric and The Secret B-Sides with vocalist Ryan RnB Barber and hip-hip collective Free Radio. The show highlighted not only each artist but collaborations among groups.

“In Asheville, there are so many musicians who love the opportunity to work together that it naturally works out that way,” Scott told Xpress before last year’s Mountain Soul Party. This year’s lineup is stacked with well-known collaborators: Chachillie and Spaceman Jones recently released the EP Grateful Meds, a joint project (see the Jan. 4 issue of Xpress for more information); Morgan, the former frontwoman of indie-pop band stephaniesid, has embarked on a solo career that sees her sharing stages with local acts such as The Get Right Band and Les Amis.

Holladay, when not fronting The Secret B-Sides or working on his own forthcoming album of acoustic guitar songs, is part of the hip-hop project Conspirators Inc. with Spaceman Jones. He’s also working on a song with Barber, another with local singer-songwriter Kellin Watson and (just to make sure he’s covered all his musical bases), revisiting the alt-country music he was interested in during college.

“It’s wonderful when genres mesh — [it] creates its own vibe,” says Scott.“When combining hip-hop with soul music, it’s almost always in the area of conscious hip-hop, where the message of the lyrics is positive and thought-provoking.”

There will be plenty of soul and hip-hop mashups at the Jan. 13 show. “Bryan ‘Colston’ Godleski [of CrazyHorse & Colston] and Chachillie and basically all the rappers will be collaborating with The Secret B-Sides,” says Holladay. Plus, after Lyric’s set, it’s likely she, Holladay and Barber will perform together. And, during the early lounge set, Holladay will share the stage with Morgan, singer-songwriter Indigo De Souza and Santos in various configurations.

These creative pairings reflect Holladay’s current approach to making art: He jokes that he’s been less ambitious, career-wise, but “my enjoyment has increased.”

It’s a sentiment that would likely sit well with Scott. His hope for the Mountain Soul Party — beyond sonic experimentation — is that “everyone has an awesome time and dances their butt off,” he says, “and that the event creates a sense of community around the shared love of local sounds.

“Music is about getting out there and expressing yourself,” Scott says, “and coming together to have a great time.”

WHAT: Mountain Soul Party with Lyric, The Secret B-Sides, Chachillie, Spaceman Jones, Stephanie Morgan, Santos Glocal Soul and guests
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m. lounge show (sold out at press time), 9 p.m. main stage show. $8 advance/$12 day of show

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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