Third Annual Marcus King Band Family Reunion: The Heart of the Matter (Recap/Photos)

Heart – the deep, ethereal, metaphysical, all-consuming kind that cuts through time and space to land square in the center of your soul. That’s the kind of heart shared by every single artist performing at this year’s sold-out, third annual Marcus King Band Family Reunion at The Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain NC. Held September 27 & 28, the festival featured hosts The Marcus King Band, Jason Isbell & The 400 UnitYonder Mountain String Band, Josh Ritter, Nigel Hall Band and many more stellar acts handpicked by Marcus King himself.

Marcus King. Photo Credit: David Lee

As festivals go, The Marcus King Band Family Reunion is on the smaller side — less than 2,400 people — which translates to a very low-key and civilized event. With open hearts and ears, the fans who come here travel from all over the country as well as the surrounding area anticipating discoveries that they can add to their musical quiver. With the Black Mountains as a backdrop, the fact that the event is staged at The Pisgah Brewing Company, old hats at hosting some of the best acts on the festival scene, is icing on the cake. Sprinkle in a selection of delicious craft brews (The Turtle Back Brown is to die for) and a tasty selection of food trucks and hip local vendors, and you’ve got the perfect setting for an epic family reunion where music and fellowship take center stage.


Charlie Overbay and The Broken Arrows. Photo Credit: David Lee

The festival kicked off in raucous fashion Friday afternoon with at Pisgah’s indoor Taproom Stage with Los Angeles-based Charlie Overbay and the Broken Arrows. Drawing on his days playing support for seminal punk rockers Social Distortion, metal legends Motorhead and (of late) Blackberry Smoke, Overbay along with the Broken Arrows roiled the crowd with a hell-raising set of tunes that galloped through punk-laced alt-country, honky-tonk, and Southern rock. When not shredding a guitar, Overbay is also the founder and of Lone Hawks Hats which produces one-of-a-kind, hand-shaped hats favored by Marcus King and music’s elites like The Foo Fighters, Dwight Yoakum and Miranda Lambert.

Josh Ritter. Photo Credit: David Lee

It was early evening when singer/songwriter Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band opened the expansive Outdoor Stage with his heartfelt brand of Americana that eased the audience into a comfortable space between melancholy and joy. A gifted storyteller, Ritter alternated between riveting solos on gorgeous songs like the introspective “Dreams” and uplifting, toe-tapping numbers with the excellent Royal City Band (Zack Hickman on Bass, Sam Kassirer on keys, Josh Kaufman on guitar, and Liam Hurley on drums) on tunes like “Feels Like Lightning” and “Kathleen.” Ritter’s personal, edifying performance gave us a glimpse into a bard’s soul whose words transported us to the place he was coming from — the heart.

Amanda Shires. Photo Credit: David Lee

As Ritter was finishing up on the Outdoor Stage, Amanda Shires Band was holding down the overflowing, sweat-soaked Taproom where Shires was regaling the audience with stories of her life in between expanses of Americana and alternative country. An extraordinary fiddle player, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, Shires, whose voice has been compared to Dolly Parton, delivered an intimate performance that left no person within a 100 yards untouched.

Amanda Shires Band. Photo Credit: David Lee

A dazzling example of feminine power, Shires is a founding member of The Highwomen, a collaborative movement that also includes Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, and Brandi Carlile as well as a member of The 400 Unit, Jason Isbell’s band and collaborators. Isbell, who also happens to be Shires’ husband, sat in for several songs during the 45-minute set that seemed too short to fit in all that Shires and the band were dishing out. Lucky for us, she’d be back later that night.

The Marcus King Band. Photo Credit: David Lee

As darkness fell and the mountains behind the Outdoor Stage turned a rich shade of purple, The Marcus King Band gave fans packing the grounds in front of the stage what they came for. Highlights included selections from Carolina Confessions, King’s critically acclaimed 2018 release that has taken the blues and jam world by storm. With his tight-knit band (made up of Jack Ryan on drums, Stephen Campbell on bass, Justin Johnson on trumpet and trombone, Dean Mitchell on sax, and Simon Thomas George on keys) backing him, King wrapped his raw, soulful voice and scintillating guitar around a set that included a superb “Homesick,” “Self Hatred,” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Fire On The Mountain,” which turned into a massive sing-along. Somewhere in there were teases of Chicago’s “25 to 6 to 4,” a truly unexpected choice. Additional highlights included fan-favorite “Rita is Gone” and a heart-wrenching “Welcome ‘Round Here” to close the first of two sets over the weekend.

Marcus King. That is all. #MarcusKingBandFamilyReunion, #BlackMountain, #PisgahBrewery

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Saturday, September 28, 2019

From the start, it was clear that King, whose humility and youth (He’s not quite 24) belie a monstrous talent that has exploded to unconstrained proportions in the last few years, has grown in confidence as a bandleader and performer. His command of the guitar, his extraordinary band, and the audience was a thing of beauty to watch.

Marcus King. Photo Credit: David Lee

While he’s been on the scene since his teens playing with jam legends and mentorS like Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, the last two years have been especially eventful for King, with national exposure on Conan, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a performance in September at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival that brought the crowd to their feet. Tonight’s performance was just a taste of even more awesomeness to come.

Daniel Womack of Futurebirds. Photo Credit: David Lee

I made my way over to the Taproom Stage in time to catch Futurebirds and was immediately captivated by their infectious, rowdy energy and alt-country/rock performance that was laced with three-part harmonies and a bit of pop. Twice now Rolling Stone magazine has given the Athens, Georgia-based outfit shout-outs as tops in country bands to watch, describing their sound as “What could happen if a lap steel player ate a couple of magic mushrooms and zoned out to Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn?”  Sounds about right. But whatever the case may be, when these guys open up, you better jump on board the joy express or get flattened wondering what the hell just hit you.

My new favorite band – Futurebirds last night at The Marcus King Band Family Reunion in Black Mountain, NC.

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Saturday, September 28, 2019

It was pretty clear that the fans jamming the dance floor chose the former. Some highlights from Futurebirds’ set included a rambunctious “MJB” and dreamy versions of “Trippin’” and “Rodeo,” and then they stepped on the gas one more time closing with “Ski Chalet.” Futurebirds, made up of Daniel Womack on guitars and vocals, Carter King on guitar, Thomas Johnson on guitar, Brannen Miles on bass, and Johnny Lundock on drums, have been at this for over a decade, and from the looks of things, they’re just getting warmed up.

Jason Isbell. Photo Credit: David Lee

Trail-blazing singer/songwriter Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit closed out the outdoor stage with flourish, bringing their Muscle Shoals roots with them. Isabell’s clear-eyed and brutally honest songwriting, put to a searing rock and roll groove with a deep Americana bent, is powerfully appealing, but it especially affects younger fans who hunger for someone to cut through all the bullshit that distorts the world around them. Isbell and The 400 Unit do just that — in spades.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. Photo Credit: David Lee

With  Isbell on guitar a vocals alongside his wife Amanda Shires on a searing fiddle and the rest of the highly-tuned 400 Unit (Jimbo Hart on bass, Sadler Vaden on guitar and vocals, Derry DeBorja on keys, and Chad Gamble on drums and vocals), the band tore into a 15-song setlist that included “Hope The High Road,” “Tour of Duty,” and “Super 8.” The band also covered several Drive-By Truckers (Isbell’s former band) tunes including “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change.” They closed out with a poignant “Maybe It’s Time,” which Isbell wrote for the 2019 remake of A Star Is Born, and finished with a hair-raising turn at Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” 

Andy Frasco & The U.N. Photo Credit: David Lee

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Ain’t no party like an Andy Frasco and The U.N. party. Frasco and company shut the night down on the Taproom Stage. Playing to a packed house of revelers who were not ready to call it a night, Frasco eased into the night gently with “Change of Pace” but then proceeded to rip the joint up in typical Frasco bonkers fashion. The band’s show is slap-stick physical where the audience has no choice but to participate, unless getting trapped under a writhing pile of sweaty bodies is your thing. The night broke wide open after “Love is a Waiting Game” with Frasco and saxophonist Ernie Chang charging into the audience for mayhem, trailing teases of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Saxsquatch. Photo Credit: Dalia Jakubauskas

Somewhere in there, artist-at-large Saxsquatch, a for-real 6-foot-something dude in a Sasquatch costume, showed up to play a mean sax. Not sure if he’s related to Jared Seiner of Saxsquatch & The Bridge Band, but he sure made an impression. After that, the rest of the night was a blur, but Andy Frasco and The U.N. (Andy Frasco on keys, Ernie Chang on sax, Shawn Eckles on guitar, Andee Avila on drums, Jelmer Olsman on bass, and Niels Kant on trumpet) finished the night by turning the hounds of hell loose on Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name.”  


Patrick Armitage of JBOT Photo Credit: David Lee

Saturday’s festivities got underway in the Taproom with an outstanding performance by JBOT, a rotating cast of musicians headed by Josh Blake, a longtime fixture on Asheville’s music scene and all-around renaissance man. As engineer and producer at Echo Studios in Asheville, Blake is a wiz behind the scenes as well as in front of a mike with guitar in hand. His work in the studio includes time spent with some of music’s legends including Warren Haynes, Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), and Leftover Salmon as well as its rising stars like Marcus King, Snarky Puppy and Jon Stickley Trio, to name a few. He’s also a member of the house band for Asheville Music Hall’s longstanding Tuesday Night Funk Jam and is a standing member of a number of bands including the iconic Granola Funk Express.

Another great discovery from The Marcus King Band Family Reunion last weekend – Josh Blake.

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

With Blake on guitar and vocals, Simon George of MKB on keys and Patrick Armitage, formerly with Jon Stickley Trio and Atmosphere, JBOT dished out a set of mostly instrumentals showcasing a dazzling display of musicianship that ranged over multiple genres including jazz, funk, rock and psychedelia. There was even a nice touch of reggae-esque grooves with vocalist Marisa Blake taking a turn on “Here Comes The Fool” off Nothing’s In The Way, Blake’s phenomenal album released in May. JBOT’s performance threw down the welcome mat and set the stage for festival-goers about to soak up the day’s performances.  

Photo Credit: David Lee

A severe thunderstom, lightning included, forced the cancellation of Mimi Naja‘s outdoor set. Missing the chance to take in the Fruition multi-intrumentalist and vocalist perform solo was my only regret for the weekend.

The Shady Recruits. Photo credit: Dalia Jakubauskas

The Shady Recruits were setting up on the Taproom Stage when lightning struck, and everyone was herded out to their cars or into the Taproom to take shelter. After waiting out the storm, the crowd was primed for the band’s funkified performance.

The Shady Recruits killing it again this year at The Marcus King Band Family Reunion.

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

When not hitting the skins at his day job as drummer for The Marcus King Band, Jack Ryan is playing with The Shady Recruits, a band he helped to found. The current incarnation of the band also includes David Katilius on bass, Marcus White on keys, Charles Hedgepath on guitar and vocals, and MKB’s Justin Johnson on trumpet, trombone, and vocals. With an undercurrent of jazz, R&B and improvisation running through it, the band’s wholly satisfying set ran through a number of tunes off their new self-titled release and even included an appearance by MKB member Dean Mitchell for a side of saxophone. The band never missed a trick, urging attendees to buy their album, was all in good humor, but I’m deadly serious when I say run out and get it.   

Nigel Hall. Photo Credit: David Lee

Fans were still trickling into the festival when Nigel Hall took the Outdoor Stage with the band bearing his name – Nigel Hall Band (Derwin “Big D” Perkins on guitar, Eric Vogel on bass, Brandon Butler on keys, and Alvin Ford on drums). A soulman of the highest order, Hall’s main gig is as keyboardist and vocalist with funk juggernaut Lettuce. While he’s an integral part of Lettuce’s rage machine, he gets to dip into his gentler, more soulful side with his New Orleans-based band. And he did just that.

Nigel Hall, a soul man of epic proportions, with Nigel Hall Band at The Marcus King Band Family Reunion. #BlackMountain, #PisgahBrewingCompany

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Sunday, September 29, 2019

His super-sized heart poured into soul that informed his youth, including “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross. Hall’s ode to love and joy “Gimme a Sign” lifted us up to a higher plane, and perhaps the highlight of the set was the O’Jays’ “Family Reunion” with Marcus King joining in on vocals and guitar. There couldn’t possibly have been a more fitting song for the occasion.

Doyle Bramhall II, Photo Credit: David Lee

Meanwhile, Doyle Bramhall II was blasting the Taproom with electric guitar riffs powerful enough to raise the hair on your head. The son of Texas music legend Doyle Bramhall and collaborator with none other than Eric Clapton brought his gifts to bear full force on the audience, packing the small room, with the crowd flowing out into the courtyard. The power coursing from his guitar is what happens if Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn had a love child. Bramhall is also a sought-after composer and producer whose vocals are just as distinctive as his guitar. We were grateful to be in the presence of this kind of power. (Bramhall also was an integral part of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s performance of Derek and the Dominos’ Layla at Lockn’ along with Trey Anastasio.)

Yonder Mountain String Band, Photo Credit: David Lee

Colorado-based Yonder Mountain String Band are no strangers to these parts, having made frequent stops at Pisgah Brewing Company, Asheville, and the surrounding areas. So their turn on the Outdoor Stage was packed to the gills with ardent fans who gleefully rocked out to whatever the progressive bluegrass band dished out, and they were dishing out an amazing lot.

A righteous “Son of a Preacher Man”done by The Yonder Mountain String Band at The Marcus King Band Family Reunion.

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Saturday, September 28, 2019

Their high-energy set was filled with plenty for fans to sink their teeth into, including “Sideshow Blues,” “Left Me In A Hole,” and The Grateful Dead’s “Brown Eyed Women,” dedicated to the late Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The band, made up of Adam Aijala on guitar,  Ben Kaufmann on bass, Dave Johnston on banjo, Allie Kral on fiddle, and Nick Piccininni filling in for Jacob Jolliff on mandolin, hit a high point during a sublime version of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” with Allie Kral killing on vocals and fiddle and on an otherworldly, psychedelic “Jolene” by Dolly Parton with Marcus King joining in. 

Los Coast – Photo credit: David Lee

In the Taproom, Austin, Texas-based Los Coast was laying down a sound that defied description. Psychedelia? Rock? Soul? Metal? Punk? All of the above? Made up of Trey Privott on guitar and vocals, John Courtney on guitar, Megan Hartman on bass, and Damien Llanes on drums, Los Coast was sucking fans into their vortex of high-velocity, psych-tinged rocking soul. Trey Privott’s vocals veered from gospel-tinged punk to full-bore soul at the drop of a hat. Keeping up was an exhilarating challenge but left us wanting more.

Marvin King and Marcus King. Photo Credit: David Lee

It was time to bring the family together for the longest and most anticipated set of the evening on the Outdoor Stage. For the next two and a half hours, Marcus King and the constellation of musicians he brought together played from their hearts to the breaking point for a rapt, packed audience. The massively powerful, emotional set included contributions by Marvin King (Marcus’ dad), Josh Blake, Nigel Hall, Charles Hedgepath and Doyle Bramhall II.

The Marcus King Band. Photo Credit: David Lee

Highlights included King’s soft and soulful rendition of “Guitar in My Hands,” “Orange Blossom Special” (a favorite of King’s grandfather), and a rocking take on the Jimmy Reed classic “Big Bossman.” Nigel Hall came out for a joyous turn at the The Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do” and the civil rights anthem “Compared to What.” There was an incendiary version of The Allman Brothers, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” but the one unquantifiable moment came when King busted out a completely unexpected and mind-blowing take on Frank Zappa’s “Eat The Question.” We were all searching the ground for our faces after that, because they had completely melted off. The set finished appropriately enough with The Band’s “The Weight,” an entreaty to take care of each other because we’re all family after all.

Because there is just no damn way to get enough of The Marcus King Band live. Still buzzing from the weekend. #MarcusKingBandFamilyReunion, #BlackMountain, #PisgahBrewingCompany

Posted by Dalia Jakubauskas on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Floating on a high, a good portion of the crowd made their way to the Taproom to see Doom Flamingo, a sextet from Charleston, South Carolina, making their mark on the festival scene at the moment. Their haunting, dark synth soundscapes are almost operatic in nature, especially with the visually and sonically stunning Kanika Moore fronting the band on vocals. Backed by Ryan Stasik on bass, Ross Bogan on keys, Thomas Kenney on guitar, Stu White on drums, and Mike Quinn on saxophone, Doom Flamingo blanketed the small room with a cyclone of sound. Sensory overload was the order of the night here, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Kanika Moore. Photo Credit: David Lee

Marcus King has put together something incredibly special with this yearly gathering. It’s a beautiful reminder that we are truly family with more that binds us together than tears us apart. It’s a reminder to take care of each other and practice small acts of kindness every day. It’s another chance to go out into the world and spread these truths, because they are the constant that holds us together. We’ll gather at the foothills of the Black Mountains to celebrate fellowship and music again, and we can’t wait to see what King has in store for us next year.


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