By Caleb Calhoun

Here’s a look at a few highlights on the Asheville music scene this weekend:

Jon Stickley Trio at Asheville Music Hall

The Asheville Music Hall is featuring the Jon Stickley Trio on Saturday night, with an out-of-town band that I am psyched about seeing, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, opening.

After several years of touring with drummer and all-around-good-guy Patrick Armitage, the Jon Stickley Trio parted ways with him (amicably) after their New Year’s Eve show at Isis Music Hall. It didn’t take them long to find the perfect fit to replace him and, and this Saturday will be the group’s first local show with newcomer Hunter Deacon on the drum kit.

“We have a mutual friend in Knoxville that put us in touch,” Deacon explains. “We talked on the phone and had a great conversation so they sent me a few songs and then Stick (Jon Stickley) and Pru (Lyndsay Pruett) ended up coming to Knoxville. We played together and at that point I thought it would be a few weeks before I heard anything but apparently they talked about it on their way back to Asheville and so a few hours later they called me and said ‘We’re good to go.’”

Not that it was all down hill from there. JS3 songs, as well as the songs they cover, are not the most straight forward and easy to learn riffs out there.

“Fortunately, because I have done so much band side work,” Deacon tells me, “I am able to learn tunes pretty quickly, which gave me a leg up. Still, I kind of had to stop everything I was doing for two weeks. It was a whirlwind. At that point, I knew five of their songs and they were like ‘Here are twenty-five more,’ and they’re all wild and crazy.’”

Deacon’s presence represents a new phase of the Trio’s evolution, and it’s one to be embraced. While Armitage is one of the best pocket drummers playing, Deacon’s varied background brings an entirely different element to the classic Jon Stickley Trio sound.

When I asked him what he brings to the table, he answered without hesitation: “The jazz background. That and probably the ability to kind of float and go in a lot of different musical directions.”

With Stickley thrashing, Lyndsay flashing and Deacon splashing around on the kit, it feels like the ceiling for this band may have, somehow, been raised.

Phuncle Sam Thursday at Ambrose West

So I’m the delinquent one for not having managed to get an Ambrose West show into this column yet but, better late than never. If you remember The Altamont Theatre and it’s untimely demise, then you should probably check out Ambrose West. With Sam Katz and most of the rest of the team from the Altamont on board, and the same commitment to creating the perfect listening environment, this is a brand new venue on the rise.

“I like the style of the listening room with no bar in the room so no clinking and chit chat,” Phuncle keyboardist David Mulder says. “That makes it different from any other place in Asheville.”

Speaking of being different than anything else in Asheville, the pioneering spirit and play-anywhere-anytime aspect to Phuncle Sam sets them apart from other Grateful Dead bands in town. Having been together for nearly a decade, and having started playing at a time when it was unclear whether Asheville would really embrace a Grateful Dead tribute band, they’ve been giving back to the community for years.

From Free Dead Fridays at OneStop to Free Dead Saturdays at Salvage Station, to their shows at Pisgah and Upcountry and just about every other venue in town, the members of Phuncle Sam have been providing the backbone to an entire scene. Furthermore, they’ve been doing most of it without charging a cover.

Never seeming to weary of playing for the same fans, some of whom tip consistently and many of whom don’t, Phuncle Sam has been a headlight on a northbound train for the Grateful community again and again and again. The best way to experience Phuncle Sam is a full show of theirs, featuring the core six who have been playing together for so long.

“The FDF and FDS are like little parts of Phuncle Sam. But as far as Phuncle goes (Thursday night) you are gonna see the core six, and it’s so weird like when one of us is missing from the core it changes the whole dynamic. When we are all there it is just absolute magic on stage. We all bring our favorite style years of the GD and the GD couldn’t do that cause they were doing the whole thing. We all have our different eras and stuff that we like and we all bring that to the mix,” Mulder says.

Eight years of hippies can’t be wrong, and if you don’t have plans on Thursday and feel like dancing your ass off, I suggest Ambrose West as your destination.

Hannah Kaminer album release Sunday

Local folk/Americana songwriter Hannah Kaminer will celebrate the release of her new album, Heavy Magnolias, on Saturday at The Grey Eagle. Having made a name as a versatile singer and songwriter whose tunes range from country to Appalachia, Kaminer has been developing quite a following. For lovers of singer-songwriter music and all things local, this would be a great place to find yourself on Sunday evening.

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