I have covered many festivals this year, big and small, from Lockn’ to 420Fest in Atlanta. The Marcus King Band Family Reunion Festival was like none I have ever been to. Thrown at the Pisgah Brewing and Venue deep within Black Mountain, North Carolina outside of Asheville; it is always a pleasure to see the Marcus King Band live but these performances were like nothing I have ever seen before. From massive sit-ins, covers and improvisational jams, here are all my highlights from the MKB Family
Pisgah Brewing Company is well hidden from the road; pulling into the open field/parking lot, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was greeted warmly and courteously and entered the venue easily. The outdoor stage at Pisgah is simply beautiful, made from thick timbered native lumber, this is one of the coolest outdoor stages that I have seen and the atmosphere of Pisgah is like a private party in someone's backyard. This was the perfect venue to hold the inaugural MKB Family Reunion, which truly felt like a real family reunion. Marcus took the helm with his entire entourage, friends and family by his side. I have seen MKB five times this year and truth be told, Marcus and his band only get better and better. Much more on this later…
The Big Something started off the festivities; they have been a new favorite of mine, having seen them several times this summer at numerous festivals. It was good to see Marcus representing the up-and-coming Jam bands. This is truly important to the continuing and the thriving of this scene. While, the Marcus King Band brings a soulful arrangement of Southern Rock and Blues, there is something more to it. There is almost certainly a Jam/Progressive Jazz quality to the Marcus King Band and that's what keeps me coming back for more. Marcus completely shreds and takes us all on a face melting improvisational roller coaster through many genres.
Opening with one of my favorite MKB songs, ‘Sharry Barry’ it has the perfect amount of Jazz breakdowns, including the classic Chicago riff from‘25 or 6 to 1’ and standard Jam technicality with a creative name and song structures. Marcus King Band Jams ‘Ain't Nothing Wrong With That’ with chaotic and beautiful transcendence. The potential of not only Marcus but also his entire band is outstanding. The addition of The Eric Krasno Bands keyboardist and JBP friend DeShawn Alexander brings original character and funky style to the band. I have seriously already forgotten about the other guy. DeShawn and Marcus have a musical connection that is visible, not only to me but to the entire audience. The use of stops and breaks within these transitional Jams should be accentuated more but the thought level of this band is so impressive, that I am blown away by how they can shift seamlessly back-and-forth between Jams and songs.
Marcus is a constant bandleader and rhythm guitarist, using body language and vocal cues to lead his band into new heights. ‘Fraudulent Waffle’ is another one of my favorite songs from Marcus King Band and it shows great Jazz work from all players, horns and drums included. Marcus's father joins him on stage and completes the family-like atmosphere of this festival and after this, there was an array of sit-ins and guest musicians including Jaimoe, drummer from the Allman Brothers Band for a rousing ‘Elizabeth Reed’
Seeing Blackberry Smoke for the second time this summer, I have finally begun to understand them as a band. I feel like they are basically a comedy act, with songs like ‘Six Ways To Sunday’ which is oozing sexual innuendos and ‘I Can Feel A Good One Coming On.’ I haven’t laughed so hard in awhile. Either way, it adds a twist to their music that I was missing out on; a southern fried comedy rock band.
Jaimoes Jasssz Band was last up on Friday night with DeShawn and many musicians coming together in the barn/garage of Pisgah for an intimate late night performance. Marcus would of course join them for an Allman Brothers Band medley and even take over on keys for DeShawn while he took a bathroom break and no surprise, Marcus can play the keys, as well. This truly felt like a family reunion when Marcus got up on stage and yelled for his mom and dad.
Saturday was jam-packed with music and special guest artist at large Brandon “TAZ” Neiderauer who is a 14-year-old powerhouse on guitar. I'm extremely impressed by TAZ’s virtuoso and genius playing, I daresay TAZ is already well beyond his years on guitar and moving up quickly, keeping up with Marcus and everyone around him. Showing great improvisational spirit and uplifting guitar solos that made me proud to be seeing the future of the Jam world. This music, this scene will not die and it is best exemplified through both TAZ and Marcus King. TAZ has the Blues, Rock, Pentatonic scales down, now it's time to work on Jazz and progressive scales perhaps, some Zappa when he is ready.
George Porter Jr's set was smooth and groovy and of course features sit-ins from the all-star cast of characters at this festival. Highlights of this performance were a ‘Love Light’ dedicated to Colonel Bruce Hampton, who we lost this past year. George Porter Jr is a must see if you love funk and anything from The Meters. A legend of the funk world, Porter would sit-in with many of the bands performing that evening.
I caught the Asheville Music Professional panel both evenings, which had various guest and professionals from the local music industry notably, Stef Scamardo, Warren Haynes wife and manager and Marcus King himself. Marcus discussed an array of topics from improvisation to musical tactics but what stood out to me was his attitude and personality, which seem wise beyond his years. I can recall Marcus saying this, "I've learned that people who talk the most are the ones that know the least." Very true brother Marcus, very true.
I had recently seen the revivalist at Lockn’ this summer but truly hadn’t paid much attention. It isn't my type of music, although I do appreciate some aspects and can see the merits of why many are fond of them; it's entertaining and high-energy. David Shaw's solo acoustic set was more storytelling and political/social commentary. TAZ would sit-in and David remarked, "He's never played the song, he doesn't even know what key it's in but he's going to play it anyway.” This quote right here shows the level of professionalism and virtuosity that TAZ is playing with already at 14.
I caught some of the Peoples Blues of Richmond or PBR, who will be joining The Marcus King Band for their upcoming New Year's Eve performance in Baltimore at the Soundstage. PBR is a raw, strange mix of Hard Rock, Irish folk and high-powered Blues. I'm not sure about these guys yet, more to come on them as I see them in the future.
The Marcus King All Star Band’s headlining performance was something very different than the previous night. It was much more explorative and improvisational. It included some amazing covers, sit-ins and guests from just about every band at the festival. This was truly an all-star band with highlights including ‘Sexy Ida’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ ‘Compared To What’ and ‘Dreams.’ Add TAZ, Ron Holloway, George Porter Jr, David Shaw and the female vocalist from the Ron Holloway Band and you get one of the funkiest ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’ I have ever heard, ending with a powerful “Proud Mary” Ike and Tina style. Marcus would even play solo acoustic during the middle of this set, playing the bluegrass classic, “Rocky Top” and “Learning To Fly” for Tom Petty.
Marcus King is truly a young lion, prowling the stage with a glare of intent, head forward as he advances in his career and his musical prowess, finally pouncing when the time is right. I have no doubt Marcus will be the next big thing. What that thing is? I don't know but it will be big. The inaugural Marcus King Band Family Reunion festival in Black Mountain North Carolina was truly a success and I am sure it will not be the last. This is only the beginning of what Marcus is capable of achieving and I feel honored to be able to cover this festival and his band while they are still growing and evolving into something greater. This will not be the last time you will be hearing about MKB from me. I will continue to help spread the word about this band and their amazing music. As many of you may know, I have been trying to see all the up and coming Jam bands out there and Marcus King Band is at the top of that list and for a good reason. Do yourself a favor and see this band!
May The Jam Gods Be With You,
Jam Band Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.