Malcolm Holcombe

Malcolm Holcombe has got something to say.

Sure, there’s a new record (Come Hell or High Water). And yes, there’s a jar of his homemade hot sauce with my name on it.  But when I ask him a few conventional questions about making music, it’s clear he’s not interested in giving conventional answers. He’s got something on his mind.

“People getting swallowed up by progress, getting swallowed up by the coin, getting swallowed up by ‘making America great again’ – that’s really devastating to me,” Holcombe says over coffee and cigarettes outside Moments Coffee Bar & Cafe in Swannanoa. 

“We had Obama, and now we have this sick, maniacal guy. It’s not an
administration to me, it’s a regime. I don’t see how people can ignore that,” Holcombe said.

“That’s a hot topic for me. That’s just wrong, and I think that’s stirring a lot of writers,” he adds.

When Malcolm Holcombe says something’s a hot topic, I listen. Why? Holcombe is the bard of the Appalachians, a revenant, a speaker of truth, a most-respected songwriter. He’s got 13 solo records under his belt. He’s traveled. He’s lived. He’s seen. He deserves respect.

Over the past couple of years, Holcombe has been particularly outspoken about his objection to the current U.S. administration’s treatment of immigrants. That issue is the driving force behind a benefit show Thursday at White Horse Black Mountain, one that will raise money for the group activist group CIMA (Compañeros Immigrants de las Montañas en Acción). CIMA has been fighting for immigrants rights in Western North Carolina for the past 16 years. The concert will feature Holcombe alongside other singer-songwriter greats Mary Gauthier, Greg Brown and R.B. Morris. (Win tickets to see the show here.)

So when Malcolm Holcombe says we ought to consider sending back the Statue of Liberty (“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) or re-writing the Bill of Rights, I listen.

“When I something wrong, that stirs me. Children in cages,” Holcombe says, trailing off. “It’s wrong. It’s morally wrong. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on.” 

And it’s not just the immigration issue that’s on Holcombe’s mind. The trade war with China. The opioid crisis. Suffering. Death. It all weighs on the man.

“That’s a lot of the stuff that stirs me and needs to be expressed, whether in poetry or writing or for opening a conversation,” he says. “I’m just telling my point of view, my experience. That’s all anybody can do.”

He continues: “We all have emotions, we all got bills and we all got sickness and death. Some people talk about it and some people don’t. Some people are too afraid to open their mouths. Some people open their mouths and they speak with ignorance. I struggle with that. I’m guilty of that.”

“But I don’t keep my mouth shut. I’m not very good at that.”

Holcombe inhales. The Seven Sisters loom. It’s time to go.

Malcolm Holcombe, Mary Gauthier, Greg Brown and R.B. Morris will play a benefit concert for the immigrants’ rights group CIMA at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13 at White Horse Black Mountain in Black Mountain. Tickets are $22 in advance, and $25 at the door.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Malcolm Holcombe, Mary Gauthier and Greg Brown will play a concert at the U.S. Cellular Stage in the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, Tenn. The show will benefit Bridge Refugee Services, the only refugee resettlement agency in East Tennessee. More information here.

Mary Gauthier, Sam Baker and Greg Brown will play a benefit concert on Saturday, Dec. 15, to aid those in need in Overton County, especially Wilder Mountain, at Hippie Jack’s in Cookeville, Tenn. More information here.

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