Ask the members of Greensboro band Holy Ghost Tent Revival about their musical influences, and the answer will likely be “good old rock ’n’ roll.”
At least, that was the answer from one band member over the phone last week, as Holy Ghost Tent Revival was getting ready to play Spring Fest in Suwanee, Fla.
They didn’t appear to want to get too much into specific influences (although it was revealed that trumpet player Charlie Humphrey likes Brooklyn-based instrumental band Snarky Puppy), probably because they get asked that question a lot.
That’s what happens when a band evokes rock ’n’ roll’s past, which this band certainly does, but more in terms of musical philosophy than faithful emulation.
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Schooled in classic ways
This is not a band created from the punk or post-punk ethos of three chords and one radical idea hatched in somebody’s garage. The members of Holy Ghost Tent Revival are musicians of the most “musicianly” order – schooled in the classic ways. And they’re not easy to pin down.
They are as equally adept at banjo-and-piano-driven ragtime as they are at brass-inflected New Orleans jazz. Sometimes, that transition may occur within a single song.
Other influences? Maybe zydeco, probably The Band, and definitely the theater backgrounds of some members.
The six-member group has existed since 2007 and is popular in Charlotte and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, where Holy Ghost Tent Revival will play back-to-back shows on March 28 and 29.
The first show is at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, described on the band’s website as “our old stomping ground.”
“It basically was the first place we ever played in Charlotte,” says drummer Ross Montsinger. “Over the years, we’ve ended up doing some residencies. Like, there was a time when we played there for four weeks in a row.”
One of those shows was a Halloween show, at which the band all dressed as dinosaurs – with the exception of trombonist Hank Widmer, who dressed as a robot.
A top stop
Holy Ghost Tent Revival also counts Chapel Hill-Carrboro as a favorite stop, thanks to past successful shows at Local 506 and The Cat’s Cradle, where they are playing Saturday with well-matched local openers Matt Phillps & The Philharmonic and The Morning Brigade.
“I was just talking about it last night,” says lead guitarist Matt Martin. “When we were playing the 506 years ago, we sold the 506 out. But our bass player comes down with a virus and he can’t play the show.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, the band discovered – just 10 minutes before showtime – that the keyboard player had the same virus. And it wasn’t a pretty discovery.
It must have been a good show anyway, because the band laughs about it now.
‘Just enjoy life’
HGTR is also known for making entertaining videos – just check out the video for 2008’s “Getting Over Your Love” sometime. If ever there was a reason to bring back the term “goodtime music,” Holy Ghost Tent Revival is that reason.
They just enjoy making music – and they never seem to stop. While taking what the band calls a “winter hiatus” recently, lead singer Stephen Murray recorded the nine-track album “The Backlot Sessions” in Greensboro. It’s available on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, Martin wrote and recorded music for a play in Virginia. A group album was recorded last summer, but Holy Ghost Tent Revival is currently shopping for a label, after putting out six of their own releases since 2010.
“We’ve been able to be creative and focus, and just enjoy life,” Murray says.
If enjoying life seems like a plan to you, then go check these guys out.