Town Mountain does what it does, and its audience grows

Contributing Music WriterAugust 16, 2014 

Sometimes you can't help but notice the growth of an enterprise.

Take, for instance, the rapidly expanding visibility and acceptance of Town Mountain, the tirelessly rustic bluegrass troupe out of Asheville, N.C., that has come to think of Lexington as something of a performance home away from home. Sporting a sound rooted in string band tradition but with a fearsome instrumental drive that makes its music anything but a museum piece, the band has watched its audiences grow younger, larger and more feverishly enthusiastic.

Vocalist, guitarist and frontman Robert Greer got an inkling of Town Mountain's mounting appeal two years ago when the quintet conquered the mighty bluegrass task of selling out a Seattle club on a Tuesday night.

"That was the first time I really noticed where things were going," Greer says. "That's really becoming more and more the way for us and I think that's just due to us sticking around. I have great confidence in our band, in our songwriting and in our presentation. But a big part of it is hanging around, being persistent and not worrying about what's going on around us.

"So, yeah, growth is a trend that is happening for us. And we're welcoming it."

Such growth has been on vivid display in Lexington over the past 18 months. Town Mountain introduced itself through several intimate shows at Willie's Locally Known, a pair of well-received sets at the 2013 Festival of the Bluegrass and a trio of sold-out performances at Natasha's culminating with a Best of Bluegrass kickoff in June with Lonesome River Band. Town Mountain's Thursday return brings it to Cosmic Charlie's for the first time.

The change in performance venues was quite purposeful. Despite being a club known primarily for showcasing indie rock acts, Cosmic Charlie's wasn't simply a larger hall for Town Mountain to play, it was a move away from the sit-down atmosphere of previous performances into a setting that encouraged dancing, audience involvement and a bit more volume.

"We all feel like the band is more in its element whenever we're able to let it all hang out and create more of a dancing quality environment," Greer says. "I think a lot of our music lends itself to that. That's why we're stoked to play Cosmic Charlie's because we're going to plug in and be able to get above the crowd noise a lot better than a place where we're playing strictly into the microphones."

Along with a nomination last week for Emerging Artist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual awards ceremony, Town Mountain is marking this latest growth spurt with the Tuesday release of the band's first concert recording, Live at the Isis.

Admittedly, much of the unvarnished excitement generated on the 10-song set comes from the band playing on home turf in Asheville. But the music also speaks to the performance direction Greer referred to. Mandolinist Phil Barker's Lawdog sounds like White Lightning-era George Jones with an Appalachian makeover, Greer's Up the Ladder could pass for Jerry Lee Lewis on a bluegrass bender and the ferocious instrumental Tarheel Boys taps directly into the speed, agility and drive that fuels Town Mountain's overall sound.

"All of this music just evolves," Greer says. "We bring a brand-new take when we start playing it out live, so it evolves naturally. The more times we play a song, the more we figure out something that works dynamically. Then we're going to work that into the music, too. It's cool. Tarheel Boys, in particular, sounds really good on the live record. It's a high energy number."

It also reflects a sound increasingly rare in a bluegrass world that often favors the spit-and-polish of modern country songwriting over the raw fervor of roots-driven string music.

"Well, that's good for us, I guess, because we're going to continue doing what we do."

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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