Look deeper than the surface of Asheville’s music scene, and you’ll discover a fertile and vibrant community of musicians playing soul music. A uniquely American musical genre that draws from gospel, jazz and R&B, soul means different things to different people. But most can agree that it connotes music with feeling, music that encourages the listener to move. A varied lineup of some of Asheville’s most prominent soul artists will come together for what’s being billed as the inaugural Mountain Soul Party Friday, Dec. 11, at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall.
Organizer Gregory Scott describes the Mountain Soul Party as “combining soul, funk and hip-hop.” A look at the event’s lineup reinforces that wide-reaching musical approach: The Secret B-Sides, Ryan RnB Barber (of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), Free Radio and Lyric are all scheduled to perform. But the party won’t simply be a showcase of one act following another — musical collaboration is a central theme of the evening.
“In Asheville, there are so many musicians who love the opportunity to work together that it naturally works out that way,” says Scott. As he developed plans for the evening, working closely with Lyric and The Secret B-Sides’ Juan Holladay, the idea was “to make it a collaboration, to get more people involved.” The Secret B-Sides will open the show; next, Barber will sit in with them, performing several of his original tunes. Scott says that the Mountain Soul Party is planned as “the first of many collaborations between the B-Sides and Barber.”
The evening’s music will include a full set from Lyric (both the stage name of singer-songwriter-guitarist Leeda Jones, and the name of her band), augmented by the Brothership Horns (of the Travers Brothership). The Mountain Soul Party will also serve as a CD release party, and the show will preview songs from Lyric’s upcoming EP, Perspective.
Lyric started out in 2009 as one of Asheville’s buskers, “playing to the locals and tourists on the streets of downtown Asheville,” she says. Joined by her cousin, Derrick Graves, on percussion, and her father on upright bass, Lyric played as often as possible. “We would start at Greenlife in the morning, head downtown in front of [Malaprop’s Bookstore] at lunchtime, and at dinnertime we would come back and play in front of the bistro.” While the band grew and soon graduated to stage performances, Lyric feels a kinship to busking in many ways. “We still have the same feel and love as we did when we were on the streets,” she says. Her songs come from her own experiences: “I like to think of my life and other people’s lives as stories; those stories need to be told.” She adds, “I believe that a positive message with a funky rhythm is what the world wants and needs.”
The Mountain Soul Party at the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall will present Lyric in a venue quite different from the bars and outdoor festivals the band usually plays. The musician relishes the opportunity but sees the event as having a more important goal of “keeping the soul scene alive in Asheville.” She believes that “there is a lot of music here, but soul and funk are not talked about much here in the mountains. So this is a great opportunity to bring soul music to the forefront with all the other genres of music that Asheville loves.” And Scott stresses that it’s only the beginning. Plans are already being laid to make the Mountain Soul Party an annual event in Western North Carolina.
While the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall is often thought of as a seated, dinner theater type of venue, that’s changing. Consistent with the approach used for other recent Isis dates, the Mountain Soul Party will feature plenty of room on the dance floor. Coupled with the venue’s well-regarded acoustics, that open space should make for an uptempo evening.
Even with the lineup of local music luminaries on the bill, the night is still really about the music. Scott promises that the first Mountain Soul Party will focus on “that smooth, grooving sound that makes you feel good. It’s gonna make you move.”
WHAT: Mountain Soul Party featuring Lyric, The Secret B-Sides, Ryan RnB Barber and Free Radio
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 11, 9 p.m. $8 advance / $10 day of show