Holly Bowling has spent years mastering her craft and revamping the DNA of some of jam music’s most enduring songs by the Grateful Dead and Phish. Holly is on her current tour in support of her album Better Left Unsung, which will continue through to the end of the year. All along the way, Holly has been recruiting new HoBos—a term fans refer to themselves as—and this effort is aided by the Rocketman, Holly’s husband, roadie, archivist and streamer-in-chief Jeffery Bowling.
A burbling, engaged, and irregularly pleasant online community of couch-tour aficionados has since sprung up since Holly began touring more fervently. Religiously catching shows on easy access platforms such as Mixlr and Facebook Live, while many other internet forum users struggle to tear one another apart, a Hobo’s chat is distinctly civil and pleasant. With healing mind music as the backdrop, there is little room for divisiveness. We old hippies are a notoriously irritable bunch, but this music is so ingrained within us and performed with such elegant grace that its pleasantness becomes viral.
In an amazing turn, live audiences are extremely attentive, setting aside cell phones and casual conversation, instead allowing themselves to be swept up in the heady brew of sound, light, and sorcery. Holly doesn’t simply caress the 88’s—her technique is akin to the way a DJ might work the steel wheels. The texture of her sound comes from laying hands, mallets, brushes, and other instruments of dominion directly onto the strings, emulating modulations and evoking ethereal tones that were originally crafted by groups of four to six men drenched in psychedelia. Her playing is sumptuous, transcendent, and no less defiant than the original electric boogaloo. However, in her masterful hands, a song like Phish’s “Stash” lifts up its tunic and reveals its origin (intended or otherwise) in Gypsy Jazz—where speed, syncopation, and simplicity are the currencies of value.
Holly Bowling, “Stash”, 11/7/2017
[Video: David Nathans]
There is a beautiful grandeur to the songs that form the granite pillars of jam music. Yet, when their sounds are spun from these lacquered behemoths, they somehow become more luminary in their purity. Tendrils of tunes like The Grateful Dead’s “Help on the Way > Slipknot” may be intermingled with Phish’s “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing (ASHITOS)” and even “God Bless America” and Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s “Ohio” (as she recently did in Nashville). Together, this creates a vivid orchestral tapestry that is at once thoroughly unique, amazingly familiar, and completely satisfying. These palettes create sweet soul salvation for those who choose to engage with it.
In addition to the expected songs in rotation, this tour has expanded Holly’s tonal horizons with new covers such as Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”—a song she recently debuted in Portland, Oregon, whose beautiful grandeur was produced with crazy overtones and feedbacks using 3 different Ebows. Likewise, Holly is mixing in original material such as “You Are Not Are You”, which came out in Nashville, and “Proxima B”, a dark wash of euphoria with undertones and shadows of Dave Brubeck at his beatnik peak.
Holly Bowling, “Hurt”, 9/28/2017
[Video: Holly Bowling]
Holly has become a regular at Terrapin Crossroads, playing sets in the Grate Room as well as sitting in with Phil Lesh on the Back Porch. On December 1st & 2nd, she will also join Everyone Orchestra at the legendary venue. Likewise, she has also been spotted playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s Tom Hamilton in a variety of settings, including a recent breathless duet at her show in Philadelphia. But the place where Holly shines brightest is solo onstage, just her and a grand piano with the overhead view of her talented hands augmented with lavish liquid lights projected as the backdrop.
Phil Lesh & Friends (w/ Holly Bowling), “Dark Star > St. Stephen”, 1/12/2017
[Video: Holly Bowling]
Phil Lesh, Holly Bowling, Ross James, & DiBernardino, “Eyes Of The World”, 11/4/2016
[Video: Holly Bowling]
Make no mistake, this is no simple stoner rock. This is thinking music of the highest order, on par with Brubeck or Chopin. Setlists are thoughtfully crafted in a manner that articulates the diversity and warm healing of songs that has so often been hidden under layers of lysergic sound. In charting highly improvisational pieces like Phish’s epic Tahoe Tweezer, Holly unveils something pure and magical that lies at the heart of these songs. Where previously there was a dynamic kinetic energy blasting into the stratosphere and beyond, there now resides sublimely ethereal majesty—a luminary journey inward.
There is a curative mystique which permeates Holly Bowling’s music. A piano under her direction allows listeners to wash away the cares of their day. Whether through headphones or in Holly’s humble presence audiences are swept away to traverse majestic sonic landscapes. In a world gone mad, there must be something more than this—and that something is the divination and healing spectral wonder of Holly Bowling’s Mind Music.
[Photo: Dave Vann]