By Caleb Calhoun
With so much incredible music planned for the 4/20 holiday weekend, you could be forgiven for looking past Ghost Light coming back to the Asheville Music Hall. Billy Strings, Rising Appalachia, Phosphorescent and Brie Capone all have Asheville shows in coming days.
But let’s talk about this five-piece supergroup Ghost Light playing Wednesday evening before surveying the rest of the weekend’s happenings.
The band, formed in late 2017 in Philadelphia, features Tom Hamilton on guitar (JRAD, American Babies), Holly Bowling on keys (Has Played With Literally Everyone), Scotty Zwang on drums (formerly of Dopapod), Raina Mullen on guitar (American Babies), and Dan Africano on bass, is touring in support of their debut album Best Kept Secrets. And what a debut it is, mixing psychedelia, pop, and rock.
“I’m not really sure exactly how it happened,” Mullen explains to me, “but we wanted it to come together like a movie. So you have an opening scene and the characters kind of pop in and tell a story and then pop out. The instrumentals in the middle are sort of like an intermission, but they definitely take the listener somewhere else.”
By the instrumentals in the middle, she is referring to the song “Beyond/Before,” a dark and spine-tingling orchestral arrangement that I can’t wait to see translated to a dark and smokey venue. In fact, the entire album presents songs that are structured in such a way as to stir the imagination of what the band will do with them in a live setting.
Still, the weight of this album comes from so much more than it’s stellar musicianship. With themes that run the gamut from gun violence to the #MeToo movement, they don’t shy away from talking about uncomfortable subjects.
“We don’t want it to be about ourselves,” Mullen explains. “We’re not writing a record about I or me, so we pay attention the news and want to know what’s going on. If we have the voice to say something, we want to.”
Despite this being their debut of recorded music, Ghost Light has already logged tens of thousands of miles on the road. This is their third national tour, and with that many dates already under their collective belt, they’ve meshed as a core unit.
“I feel like we are so much tighter” than their first tour, Mullen admits. “We understand each other’s trains of though and body language on stage. Yesterday in the van we had some wonderful moments where a lot of us said the exact same thing at the same time. We’re just on the same page now, like cracking jokes and singing songs at the same time without talking about it.”
That’s great news for fans, because having seen them on their last tour, I can vouch for how unified they already sounded. So snag a ticket if you can, and come check out the sleeper show of the spring. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Of course, there are a few more things going on this weekend. Saturday is Asheville’s biggest holiday of the year, a combination of Earth Day, Easter and 4/20, and the music scene is bringing it.
To warm you up for the big day, one of bluegrass’s most open advocates for marijuana legalization will be playing at the Salvage Station on Thursday. Billy Strings has been burning down stages (pun intended) from coast to coast (as I type this he is playing in Las Vegas) and if you are one of the lucky 700 people or so who bought your tickets early, this sold-out show should definitely get you in the mood to celebrate all things green and natural.
Speaking of Salvage Station, their festivities on Saturday will stretch from morning till late night, with a family Earth Day celebration beginning at 10:30 am, a Benefit for Clean Water concert with folk legends Rising Appalachia at 5 p.m., and psychedelic-jazz rockers Garaj Mahal playing late inside.
Pisgah Brewing Company will be taking advantage of their beautiful outdoor space as well for their 14th anniversary party. It will have a heavy focus on the music of the Grateful Dead (another 4/20 favorite) and will feature Grateful Grass, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet and others. The festivities start at 5:30 p.m.
For those looking for something a little bit greasier, Southern Culture on the Skids will be celebrating 4/20 at The Grey Eagle with raunchy rock music and their trademark fried chicken (yes, their rider stipulates boxes of fried chicken which they consume and pass out from the stage during their show.) Put on some denim, leather, and cherry-red lipstick and dance the night away with one of the industry’s most entertaining live acts.
For something a little more introspective, The Orange Peel hosts Phosphorescent, which is the stage name for songwriter Matt Houck. A true poet with his lyrics, this show would pair very well with a nice indica or some local CBD.
At Isis , Asheville will be saying goodbye, at least temporarily, to popular songwriter and vocalist Brie Capone. Capone is moving to California to pursue her dreams out there, and with Kismet, opening this should be a beautiful and emotional night filled with strong female musicians.
Finally, and fittingly, Asheville Music Hall will present Off With Your Radiohead, just to make sure that all the dads have a place to go and relive their teenage years smoking herb and binging Radiohead albums in their parent’s basements.
Caleb Calhoun is a poet, author and journalist from Asheville, NC. He can be reached at [email protected]