Grahame Lesh and Midnight North will take the Salvage Station stage on Saturday, blending elements of country, rock and roll, bluegrass, jam, and just about any other style they happen to come across.
“We like to say that Midnight North isn’t a jam band or anything else,” Lesh, son of legendary Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh explains to me. “We take our influences and put them together.”
While the band (which includes multi- instrumentalists Elliott Peck and Alex Jordan, drummer Alex Koford and bassist Connor O’Sullivan) has found quite a bit of success in the same scene that the Grateful Dead helped create, their appeal is much more broad than many of the bands that would consider themselves peers.
“We have a lot of influence from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, among others,” Lesh says.
When it comes to the Grateful Dead albums they connect with, its Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. “The harmonies and the acoustic guitars and the song craft – they obviously stopped right there, going from a balls-to-the-wall psychedelic band to really focusing on songwriting.”
Not that Midnight North is afraid of a little psychedelia or a solid jam. A perusal of their most recent offering, a live album recorded at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, gives you an idea of just how comfortable they are stretching out and enjoying the space. It includes their original songs, multiple covers and a bevy of guest musicians including Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. And it’s abundantly obvious that live improvisation is an important aspect of their live performances.
Still, Midnight North is not stuck in that mode. Under the Lights, their 2017 studio offering, is the perfect example of a band with the skill and complexity necessary to create tight, snug-fitting songs, tunes that can thrive within the four walls of a studio but leave the necessary space to be taken off leash once the band hits the stage.
They’ll be showing off that versatility on Saturday at the Salvage Station, likely joined by a couple of members of one of Asheville’s most popular bands (I don’t want to spoil the suspense, but the band’s name rhymes with Stranger Puffin and carries the connotation of a threatening scone).
“I have no idea what the set list will be, but we put that show on our calendar and Dan Lotti was like, ‘I’m sitting in,'” Lesh chuckles.
“Those dudes are the best,” he adds, before tossing out that the improvisational door is wide open. “It seems like there are a lot of great musicians in Asheville, and you never know who might be in town and surprise even us.”
Midnight North is a band known to road-test new songs before recording them. With the calendar about to turn on a second year since their last studio project, it’s safe to assume that there will be quite a bit of new music in the mix.
At the end of the day, Midnight North combines the soul of a jam band with the precision of a singer-songwriter. Or, as Lesh says at the end of the conversation: “We think of ourselves as a rock band that writes pretty damn good songs.”
Midnight North plays at The Salvage Station with the Captain Midnight Band on Saturday, Dec. 29. Tickets are $10.
Caleb Calhoun is an author and poet from Asheville, N.C. He is an active member of the Asheville Slam Poetry Team and a consistent contributor to Ashvegas and Live Music Daily, among others. You can reach him at Caleb.Calhoun@gmail.com.
Alex Koford left Midnight North a year or so ago. They used two different drummers for awhile. Now Nathan Graham is with them full time.