Asheville bluegrass band Unspoken Tradition observes a fast-changing city in a track and new video for “Cold Mountain Town” from its latest album. Myths We Tell Our Young , the band’s third studio album, hit the streets in March.
Musically, the song is structured like a traditional bluegrass tune. But with lyrics including “Now you are burning down my cabin home on the hill/ Tapping my veins for strangers to come drink their fill/ In this cold mountain town/where wolves circle ’round/ and the river runs northbound,” the song lands as an edgy commentary on the sweeping growth and development Asheville has seen this past decade.
The accompanying video drives that home, intermingling historical video footage of downtown scenes – some of them jarring, including footage of a parade float featuring what appear to be live bears on chains – with modern day scenes of construction development. The band’s performance scenes were shot at a local craft brewery.
Ty Gilpin, the band’s mandolin player and the song’s writer, recently met with me to talk about the song, its message and the traditions of mountain music. (He’s also senior marketing director at Asheville-based Crossroads Label Group, the band’s label.) From the interview:
Ty Gilpin: The song is part reverence, part irony and part cautionary tale. There’s a reverence for the rich musical scene that has always been a part of Asheville’s cultural and art scene. The irony part is that the song speaks about a city that’s made an effort to draw in tourism, using its music culture as part of the attraction, which ironically creates elements of unavoidable gentrification that prices some of those artists out of a living wage.
Q: And the cautionary tale part?
Gilpin: A healthy economy creates a healthy arts market, but you could get to a tipping point where you lose sight of the rich culture that made it all possible in the first place.
Q: Can you tell me more about the historical video footage used in the music video?
Gilpin: Bob Peck of Mountainwater Films wanted to show some of the obvious growing pains that Asheville has gone through and put that in some historical context. You see construction, hotels being built, the River Arts District being revitalized. He found the old footage at Pack Memorial Library.
Q: Why did the band shoot the live performance part of the video in a brewery?
Gilpin: We shot the video at Zillicoah Brewing. The independent brewery scene in a lot of ways has been a great partner in promoting the roots music culture, and I think both are great exports of Asheville culture, as well. I think the two could be even stronger partners in the future.
Q: What do you want listeners to take from the song and music video?
Gilpin: It’s not a protest song. I’m not trying to start a fight here. Unspoken Tradition comes from a place of respectful tradition. The song is cultural commentary, saying here’s what’s going on. Asheville has always been a dynamic mountain city, but this past decade is probably the fastest growth spurt we’ve seen in the past few decades. And in a town known for it traditions in art and music, a place that people associate with traditional things, that can be a lot. It’s more mournful than resentful.
Some of the song is written from the point of view of a musician struggling to figure out a way to begin a career, and I dedicate this song to those who have come and gone and not been able to do that. I owe a lot to this musical community.
Unspoken Tradition includes guitarist Audie McGinnis; bassist Sav Sankaran; mandolin player Ty Gilpin; banjo player Zane McGinnis; and Tim Gardner on fiddle.
Unspoken Tradition is set to play an 8 p.m. show on Nov. 22 at 185 King St. in Brevard. Go here for tickets. The band’s next Asheville show is set for Feb. 8 at Isis Music Hall.