Town Mountain has enjoyed a whirlwind of a year.
The talented Asheville-based quintet walked away from last year’s International Bluegrass Music Association awards show with two Momentum Awards: Band of the Year and lead singer/guitarist Robert Greer as Vocalist of the Year.
This year, the band was nominated for the Emerging Artist Award and will perform Friday afternoon on the Raleigh Convention Center Ballroom Stage as part of the IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. (Award winners were announced Thursday, too late for Friday’s print edition of the N&O.)
“The recognition has been nice,” says Greer. “It’s opened up more gigs for us. We’ve had some marquee festivals this summer playing at MerleFest, Rocky Grass, and Grey Fox. We head to Europe in November and December. We’ve been busier than ever.”
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IBMA’s Momentum Award recognizes promising new talent in bluegrass, while the Emerging Artist Award is given to “a group or individual, new to the national bluegrass scene, which has made considerable advances artistically and/or commercially.”
Like most bluegrass artists, Town Mountain’s “overnight success” was years in the making. The seeds were planted nearly a decade ago, when Greer and banjoist Jesse Langlais joined forces to make their living playing at the famed Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.. The fertile musical landscape of Western North Carolina prompted a move to Asheville to pursue the next phase of their career.
“We played under the name Mountain Town,” Greer says. “We moved to Asheville and changed the name to Town Mountain. The present lineup has been together five or six years. The bass player, Nick DiSebastian, joined us in March.”
Other band members include Chapel Hill native Bobby Britt on fiddle, and Phil Barker on mandolin.
Town Mountain has taken advantage of the celebrity earned from the Momentum awards. They’ve added to their fan base with a heavy touring schedule of some 160 dates. The three-week European tour will provide an international buzz. And in August they released a live album, “Live at the Isis,” which they recorded in March at Asheville’s Isis Restaurant and Music Hall.
The album captures the spirit and drive of Town Mountain, a band grounded in traditional bluegrass but also drawn to contemporary rock and country music. “Live at the Isis” features live versions of previously recorded original songs. They also cover George Jones’ “The Race Is On” and the late North Carolina fiddler Ervin Rouse’s fabled instrumental, “Orange Blossom Special.” In concert, Town Mountain may also feature songs by such celebrated tunesmiths as Bruce Springsteen and Townes Van Zandt.
“We’ve never been of the mindset of taking a tune and playing it 170 beats per minute,” says Greer. “We try to put at a tempo and in a key that works for our voices. Other than that, our policy is that if we liked the tune originally, let’s keep it ... kind of the way it was.”
In January, Town Mountain will return to the studio to record a new album to be released in the spring. The recognition earned at IBMA should advance the band’s goals of earning new fans and playing larger, more prestigious venues.
Greer says winning awards is good for morale. But it’s the music that keeps them fresh and on the road, a way of life that defines their friendship and career as one of the most promising young bands in contemporary bluegrass.
“If you don’t like it on the road, you’re probably going to wash out quickly,” Greer says. “We all get along. We’ve been friends since before we started playing together. We’re a close-knit group of friends who have a like-minded approach to music. It makes it that much easier to be on the road.
“We’re not in it for the awards. We’re in it to make this music. (But) it’s nice to be recognized for all the work we’re been putting in the past few years.”