Guitarist and songwriter Marcus King was born and raised in Greenville, S.C., but he feels a strong affinity for Asheville and Western North Carolina. His mother is from the Blue Ridge, and King says that “those mountains really kind of sing to me” and the Asheville area “is one of the only places in the country where I can hear the Earth singing back.”
That may be why he chose the area for his annual The Marcus King Band Family Reunion, which returns to Pisgah Brewing Co. in Black Mountain on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28.
Music fans in WNC took to him from the very beginning. “Honestly, it was the first market to embrace us before we were an act that went national or international,” King says. “This was before our own actual hometown embraced us.”
Though he’s a mere 23 years old, King already has three albums and an EP to his credit. In the space of just a few years, the Southern rock/blues artist has progressed from relative anonymity to bestselling artist. All three of his albums have reached the Top 10 on Billboard‘s Blues Albums charts. Following the Family Reunion festival, a headlining tour will take The Marcus King Band to more than 30 U.S. cities in fewer than eight weeks.
King cut his teeth as a performing musician playing in and around Upstate South Carolina; even before his teenage years, he could be found onstage alongside his father, blues-gospel artist Marvin King. Eventually, he came to the attention of Warren Haynes. The Gov’t Mule leader and organizer of Asheville’s long-running Christmas Jam signed The Marcus King Band to a record deal and produced its first album, 2015’s Soul Insight. For a time, King was managed by Haynes’ wife, Stefani Scamardo.
Thanks to such backers, King’s masterful guitar chops and his seasoned band, King soon landed a major-label deal with Fantasy Records. His band’s self-titled album was released in 2016, and Carolina Confessions followed in 2018. Along the way, King changed management, moved to Nashville and began writing with other composers, most notably the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
But King says that he didn’t actively seek a co-songwriter. “I just got a call one day about a year and a half ago,” he says. “They said, ‘Auerbach wants you to come write for him.’” A fan of Auerbach’s work with the Black Keys, King didn’t hesitate. He took a plane to Nashville.
The pair’s collaborative writing efforts yielded five of the 10 songs on the band’s latest album. King — who continues to pen songs on his own, as well — says that writing with a partner has advantages and drawbacks. “But it’s particularly good if you’re going through a dry spell and you can’t seem to piece things together or get a full thought out,” he admits.
Whether a song is the product of collaboration or writing alone, King emphasizes that all the tunes have to pass one crucial test. “I don’t record anything unless I really dig it,” he says.
That trip to Nashville wasn’t intended as a permanent move, but it soon became one. King sees the city as a logical step in his life and career. “I’ve spent a lot of time up here, and everybody I work with is here,” he says. “The food’s good, the people are good, and the guitar stores are a little more plush. It was just a no-brainer for me to come here.”
But he still has roots east of Music City. As a way to stay connected, King put together the Marcus King Band Family Reunion in 2017. Now in its third year, the two-day festival (which was sold out at press time) includes a roster of acts chosen by King himself. In addition to a set each night by his band, Jason Isbell, Yonder Mountain String Band, Amanda Shires, Nigel Hall Band, Mimi Naja, Futurebirds and eight other acts take the stage.
Ultimately, the emphasis of King’s annual event is on friends and family. “We want all of our actual family there,” the musicians says, “and we want our ‘road family’ — people we don’t get to see often — there too.”
WHAT: The Marcus King Band Family Reunion
WHERE: Pisgah Brewing Co., 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain, pisgahbrewing.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 27, 5 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 28, 2 p.m. Sold out at press time