If you stepped off Scranton’s Adams Avenue into The Bog several years ago, you would have found yourself immersed in a festive but peculiar scene: A band crammed onto the tiny stage, blasting a raucous brand of roots music that filled the room; a packed house, many singing along to every word. If you asked around, you’d have found that a few of the revelers made the trek from a few states away.
You couldn’t be blamed if you assumed the band on the receiving end of all that love was an entrenched local group, but nope, it was Asheville, N.C.’s own Holy Ghost Tent Revival. It didn’t take long for the group to win over Northeastern Pa. audiences, book repeat performances and even pick up a new member from Scranton – Kevin Williams.
HGTR will return to The Bog on Friday, Aug. 28, on a bill alongside Scranton’s Heavy Blonde. In advance of the band’s set at its adopted Northeastern home, we spoke with drummer Ross Montsinger about the collective’s recent festival dates and upcoming shows with Lake Street Dive, a new album in the works, and, of course, the Scranton connection.
You’ve been playing a lot of festivals this summer. How has that been going and do any particular events stand out to you? Are there any particular acts you enjoyed watching?
We’ve played a lot of great city festivals lately, and in towns that we’ve really wanted to see more of, like Denver. We’ve seen Robert Randolph, Alanna Royale, Kansas Bible Company… it seems like horns are popping up all over the place.
You have a few shows coming up with Lake Street Dive. Have you played with them before? How would you describe the opportunity to open for a band that is at that level right now?
We’ve played with them a couple times. The level of success they have achieved is pretty inspiring, but what we really admire about that group is how tight and exciting their performances are. Watching them play is always a learning experience for us.
Who are some other like-minded acts you’d like to perform with?
It’d be great to do some shows with Charles Bradley. Maybe some Wilco, Dr. Dog, Sharon Jones, The Stones…
You recently did a show covering Beck’s “Midnight Vultures.” Three-part question: What makes that album important to you guys, how did that show end up working out and do you have any plans to do something similar in the future?
The album is important to us largely because of its range of tones and colors and effects. Not only was it sonically groundbreaking at the time, but the record sort of reflects a direction that we wanted to take our own music. We figured if we could learn it, we could apply what we had learned to our own songs.
The show itself went without a hitch and we’ve already been talking about other artists and records that would be good for doing something like this again.
What are some of the differences between the audiences you play for in different regions of the U.S. (the South, East Coast, etc.)?
The South has the best dancers. Out West they like to understand the music intellectually. In the Northeast they seem to be more interested in us as people. The Midwest is just happy to have us.
On that note, you’ve been playing Scranton for quite some time, and even picked up a band member from there. Another three-parter: What initially led to the band coming to Scranton? What has been bringing you back? And how would you describe the audiences and reception you get there?
A MySpace message from a mutual friend about a band we should play with — And The Moneynotes — was all it took to get us to visit Scranton on our first tour ever. We fell in love with the vibe and the people, so we’ve been coming back ever since. Our music is appreciated there, but the connection we have is more people-oriented than with many other cities. We always have lots of catching up to do with folks when we get there.
The songs for that record all started cropping up at a similar time. There were a lot of ideas floating around — perhaps too many for us to incorporate effectively — so we came to realize that we wanted to work with a producer… to help refine the overall sound of the record.
Why did you decide to work with Bill Moriarty in Philadelphia?
The Dr. Dog sound that he was known for was something that we always wanted to emulate, and it seemed like it would fit well with the batch of songs that we had in mind for “Right State.” He really helped us paint a clearer picture as to what we wanted those songs to be.
Are you working on any new recordings? Are there plans to do a new album or EP in the near future?
We’ve got a whole bunch of new songs worked up and we are excited to be recording a new full-length album in January — this time with a bit more of a soul/Motown leaning.
The band has been together for close to a decade. Looking back, how has the band changed as both writers and performers? How as the live show changed?
We’ve picked up more instruments and learned to fill a wider range of sounds. We’ve become nicer and more tolerant toward each other. The songs now, I feel, are much more based in real experiences — the experiences we’ve shared as a group on the road — and so we can all relate to them a little more closely.
How would you describe the band’s fanbase?
It’s a unique, passionate bunch of people who really love music. Most fans, at some point, took a recommendation from a friend, and most, we hope, will share their love of the band with someone else.
Besides the old-fashioned way of touring, how have you spread the word about the band to new people? Is there anything a band can do these days besides play shows and use social networking?
We’re hoping to keep finding ways of sharing our story with the world. The music is one part of that, and we’re happy with how the songs have evolved, but our stories as individuals and a band are something that we’re hoping to share on a larger scale.
Is there anything else going on with the band right now that you’d like to mention?
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Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Heavy Blonde, Friday, Aug. 28, 10 p.m., The Bog (341 Adams Ave., Scranton). $5, 21+
Photos by Kristi Knupp – Evoke Emotion Photography