By Caleb Calhoun

Sanctum Sully at The Meadow at Highland Brewing Friday (free show!)

It’s approximately 25 hours after our planned interview time, and Justin Powell and I are finally having our conversation. As it turns out, I made the mistake of booking the first interview on his 40th birthday and the keyboardist for Sanctum Sully was taking a well-deserved golf course day.

“I was walking around in a haze contemplating the second half of my life, and I had my phone off,” he tells me apologetically. But his sincerity, kindness and ability to communicate his thoughts precisely through language make up for everything. “Usually it’s like Spinal Tap, I’m very punctual,” he adds as afterthought.

If the second half of Justin Powell’s life looks anything like the first half, music fans nationwide have a lot to look forward to. From his early days with The Mantras to his side project Ali Baba’s Tahini (with Jake Cinnenger and Karl Engelmann) to his current squeeze, Sanctum Sully, every project Powell has been associated with has found significant success.

Sanctum Sully, while having been around for nearly a decade, has firmly reinvented itself over the last couple of years. A little more straightforward than the jam of the Mantras or the super technical fusion of Ali Baba’s, the once bluegrass band has pushed it’s way out of that genre and into something much more rock-and-roll. Their new sound will be on display at Highland Breweries Meadow Stage Friday evening from 7-9pm.

“It was very organic,” Powell explains. “About two years ago the guys were asked to do something with Todd Nance from Widespread Panic so they put together a rock set to go along with that. Shortly thereafter they were asked to open for Leftover Salmon and they liked it and decided to expand on the rock sound.”

“They called me and a couple others and put together a rhythm section. We had such a blast so we just kept it going.”

After a couple of years of songwriting and refining their new sound, they released a self-titled EP earlier this year.

“We are going to be doing more recording and are a writing a lot that we will release as singles as opposed to albums,” Powell delineates, “but with the EP we wanted to say that this is who we are now, which is why it is self-titled. The band has changed so much and we want to show that.”

Still, it’s a bit of a different thing seeing Powell, whose The Mantras toured relentlessly, find himself in more of a studio band.

“I have two kids now and a different career. This is kind of the best of both worlds with my family life and being able to explore that side (music) without the pressure of it putting food on the table. The kids changed everything. Life on the road makes it hard to be a present father and provide the things I wanted to to my wife and children.”

Friday night they will be playing most of the songs from the new album as well as some of their old tunes reimagined and some brand new songs they haven’t yet recorded.

“We have four song-writers, so there is usually a lot of stuff coming to the table,” Powell mentions, “and the impetus now is to create something new from what we have today.”

So come celebrate the 40th birthday of one of Asheville’s most celebrated local musicians, and try some of his favorite Highland brew, Gaelic Ale, or whatever other amazing variety you like to wet your whistle with.

Keegan Avery, aka. Tiny Little Massive, at OneWorld West on Thursday evening

In the 18 months or so that I have known Keegan Avery, I have to be honest, there have been multiple times where I have wanted to ring his neck. But you are never going to be the best unless you believe you are the best, and many of the criticisms I have mentally leveled against him sound incredibly similar in content to things that have been said about me.

Furthermore, something we share even more deeply than our outrageous confidence or occasionally risky behavior is a strong and meaningful connection to The Story – that ability to transcend oneself and plug into something powerful and omniscient. Avery has already earned accolades in the Brown Bag Song-Writers series, as well as within those in the know in the Asheville music industry.

With stellar song-writing and guitar playing that is just as good, Avery brings an honest, emotional energy and childlike charisma that can carry the listener to many different places. Thursday he will play at OneWorld West from 9 p.m. to midnight, and if you’re looking for some new music you can really sink your teeth into, this would be a good place to be.

Crosstown Traffic Roundup

There are so many great local bands playing this weekend in town it’s hard to keep up, and next week is going to be the same way. For the time being I’ll be bringing you Crosstown Traffic, a quick wrap up of what is going on all over town that is worth noting, but not being featured.

Friday and Saturday nights, multiple female fronted country/Americana bands will be playing, with Yellow Feather (Casey Kristofferson) opening for Amanda Anne Platt on and the Honeycutters at Salvage Station on Friday and The Maggie Valley Band over at Highland Brewing on Saturday.

Yellow Feather is fresh off of playing Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, TMVB is coming off of one of their longest swings to date that included shows in NYC and Toronto, and The Honeycutters are widely regarded as one of the best bar-room country bands in the country so either of these shows is worth the time.

CuttleFish Collective is doing a beat workshop at Noble Kava on Thursday evening at 7:30, and Grateful Asheville Music Experience returns for it’s monthly show at Ambrose West.

Plankeye Peggy and Battery Powered Hooker Boots are teaming up over at The Mothlight Friday night for what promises to be one of the most entertaining local shows of the year. Get ready for sexy robots fighting, go-go dancers, analog music and pirate outfits with tight pants and plunging necklines (and that’s just what the guys are wearing).

Bald Mountain Boys have some late night grass for you at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub on Friday night and Modern Strangers are taking their jangle-pop talents to Sanctuary Brewing in Hendersonville on Saturday night.

Finally, if garage and grunge is more your thing, The Styrofoam Turtles, who I am sure you have been hearing the buzz from, are opening for Sane Voids at The Orange Peel on Saturday night. Word is if you friend and DM Tristan Colby on Facebook, he’ll give you free tickets. Just sayin’.

Caleb Calhoun is an author and journalist who resides in Asheville, NC. He likes bluegrass music, Oxford commas, and Cormac McCarthy novels. He has a mermaid named Dr. Gonzo and trouble keeping girlfriends. You can read additional work at or email him at [email protected].


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