The Marcus King Band held its third annual Family Reunion two-day event in the foothills of Black Mountain, North Carolina this past weekend. Hosted again by the Pisgah Brewing Company, this year’s edition, which sold out for the first time in the festival’s short history, proved beyond all reasonable doubt that The Marcus King Band will continue to be a musical force to be reckoned with for decades to come.
This year’s Family Reunion saw its festival stages graced by several industry veterans such as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Yonder Mountain String Band, and Lettuce’s own Nigel Hall. It was the other lesser-known acts on the bill, however, which helped push the festival to new heights this year.
The Marcus King Band, which just recently received one of the loudest ovations at Eric Clapton‘s Crossroads Guitar Festival just a couple of weeks back, continued the tradition of introducing the Family Reunion crowd to rising acts that both surprised and at times, seemingly overwhelmed the masses.
Andy Frasco & The U.N., Futurebirds, Charlie Overbay and the Broken Arrows, and Los Coast all delivered sublime performances that had the audiences housed within the Taproom’s indoor stage, sweating, dancing, and begging for more at the conclusion of each and every one of these artists’ over the top sets.
Kicking the festival off on Friday were southern California’s own Charlie Overbay and the Broken Arrows. The band immediately connected with the Family Reunion audience with a collection of rabble-rousing tunes that traversed the landscapes of alt-country, southern rock, and even honkey tonk. Overbay, who has toured with the likes of revered acts such as Blackberry Smoke and even the legendary Motorhead, has also made a name for himself in the fashion industry as the proud owner of Lone Hawks Hats. Overbay’s abilities have been sought out by Marcus King himself, as well as Miranda Lambert, Miley Cyrus and the Foo Fighters amongst others.
The first act to hit the main stage at the Family Reunion this past Friday was Moscow, Idaho’s own Josh Ritter. Ritter’s infectious attitude and vast Americana themed song-book delighted the festival’s audience while also coming across as a perfect fit in terms of the spirit which King and his band have always envisioned for the Family Reunion. Ritter’s music is deeply personal, and although the Family Reunion’s main stage audience bonded with the singer-songwriter, the band may have had a greater effect on the fans who they had the opportunity to play for in the festivals’ intimate Taproom performance space.
The aforementioned point was hammered home with a thunderous strike by Amanda Shires, whose indoor set started mere minutes after Ritter finished up on the festival’s outdoor stage. Although Shires’ set was somewhat truncated, it was by far the most intimate and personal performance of the entire festival. Between songs that echoed country, bluegrass and Americana sensibilities, Shires seamlessly connected with the crowd via several yarns about her own journey through life.
One such moment included a story Shires expanded on which concerned the very first apartment she shared with husband Jason Isbell (who sat in for a few songs), that she jokingly referred to as a closet, located atop eight flights of stairs and housed within an industrial complex.
Following Shires on Friday night were the festival’s curators and hosts, The Marcus King Band. King has continued the tradition of playing as the warm-up act to the festival’s first night headliner on the main outdoor stage, which this year featured Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. There was clearly something different about this year’s Marcus King Band performance on night one in terms of the crowd’s sheer thirst for, well, all things the Marcus King Band. The past two years have seen the festival’s headlining acts’ fan bases dominate the festival grounds as darkness settled in over Black Mountain.
This year the buzz and anticipation seemed much more focused on King and his bandmates as they took to the Family Reunion’s main stage to deliver the first of two sets that they would later go on to perform over the course of the weekend. As has been the case in the past, The Marcus King Band played somewhat of an abbreviated set on the outdoor stage for night one, where the band focused primarily on their own material from their recorded releases to date.
Highlight’s from night one included a heartfelt rendition of “Homesick”, a three-song run by MKB that began with “Self Hatred” before segueing into a sing-a-long of the Marshall Tucker Band‘s, “Fire on the Mountain” and ending with an old school fan-favorite, “Rita is Gone”. Additional highlights’ from the Marcus King Band’s set Friday night included a fiery rendition of the “Sharry Barry” melody from the band’s 2017 EP, Due North, as well as eventual set-closer, “Welcome ‘Round Here”.
Night one of the Family Reunion’s outdoor main stage concluded with a fifteen-song set by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Isbell’s set started out strong with favorites that instantly resonated with the crowd including “Anxiety” and “Hope the High Road”. As the band’s time on stage moved forward, the energy and buzz circling throughout the crowd began to dissipate, as did the size of the audience surrounding the festival’s outdoor grounds.
As the main stage field thinned out, a vast majority of the crowd that was still in attendance started to make their way over to the Taproom stage to take in the final performance of the evening by Andy Frasco and the U.N. There are many adjectives to describe Frasco’s live sets, but words like “insane”, ballistic, and bat-shit crazy are all merely just adjectives which don’t even come remotely close to the actual feeling of being locked in live musical cage with this madman. Highlight’s from Frasco’s set included a combustible take on “Love is a Waiting Game” and a red hot cover of Rage Against the Machine‘s, “Killing in the Name Of”.
Day two of the third annual Marcus King Band Family Reunion began with a trippy set by Asheville’s own JBOT featuring local musician Josh Blake on guitar, MKB’s Simon George on keys, and Patrick Armitage (formerly of the John Stickley Trio) on drums. The band’s setlist was primarily composed of instrumentals and ran the musical gamut from funk to psychedelic while also serving as the perfect way to welcome the audience to the final day of the Family Reunion.
Following JBOT inside Pisgah’s Taproom stage was Greenville, South Carolina’s own, the Shady Recruits, which included Marcus King Band members Jack Ryan on drums and Justin Johnson on trombone and vocals. The band’s jazz improvisational nature shined throughout the performance with every band member getting a bit of time in the spotlight throughout the set. Even Marcus King Band member (and a somewhat regular contributor to the Shady Recruits) Dean Mitchell ended up making his way up on stage for several of the band’s songs.
Day two’s outdoor main stage was opened by the Nigel Hall Band, fronted by the one and only Nigel Hall of Lettuce. Unlike his primary project, the Nigel Hall Band focuses less so on the funk and much more so on straight southern soul. Hall’s ability to connect with any audience is not exactly a secret, however, it was hard to not fall in love with the keyboardist and his bandmates after their Saturday set. Between his soul-inspired vocals, storytelling, and just plain likability, Hall easily commanded the attention of anyone within earshot of his performance on the festival’s outdoor stage. The principal highlight of Hall’s setlist had to be when King joined in for an effulgent take on the O’Jays‘ staple, “Family Reunion”.
Up next on the festivals’ main stage were The Yonder Mountain String Band. The progressive bluegrass band is a regular in the western mountains of North Carolina, thus it came as no surprise that the Asheville based crow came out in force to take in every minute of YMSB’s set. Many fans in attendance would likely attest to the fact the there were several noteworthy highlights from YMSB’s time on stage, but few would argue that the signature moment from the performance came when King joined the band for an uplifting take on Dolly Parton‘s, “Jolene”.
Before The Marcus King Band took to the festival’s main stage one final time, fans had the opportunity to bear witness to a performance which those who experienced will likely gush over for weeks to come by Austin outfit Los Coast. Los Coast’s music is tough to actually define, but the ferocity of their live show and stage presence is beyond undeniable. The band brilliantly weaved in and out of genres that included touches of psychedelic, funk, progressive folk, and even southern baptist church music. Singer Trey Pivott was seemingly a mutant as he was able to embody the spirit of Little Richard one moment, Prince the next, and even an evangelical preacher at times.
The Marcus King Band’s festival-closing set on Saturday night, billed as “Marcus King and Family” was one which fans will likely be buzzing about until the band hits the stage for the fourth annual Family Reunion sometime next year. King choose to begin the band’s time on stage Saturday evening alongside MKB multi-instrumentalist Dean Mitchell for acoustic takes on “I Won’t Be Here” and “Guitar in My Hands”. Both songs featured King’s soulful vocals blended with the hauntingly beautiful slide guitar playing of Mitchell.
The remaining stand out moments from Saturday’s headlining performance included the band’s blistering take on the The Allman Brothers Band‘s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (which included contributions from Doyal Bramhall II and King’s father, Marvin King), an unexpected and beyond jaw-dropping rendition of Frank Zappa‘s instrumental masterpiece “Eat That Question”, an upbeat and sinfully joyous performance of the Isley Brothers‘ “Work to Do” featuring Nigel Hall on vocals, and a performance of “Orange Blossom Special”—a country and bluegrass staple that was a favorite King’s grandfather, Bill King. The band closed out the two days of music with a feel-good, festival-closing performance of The Band‘s classic, “The Weight.”
As the Marcus King Band’s star continues to rise it’s important to note that the egos in the band have not. King and his bandmates continue to embrace their fan base as their family more so now, than ever before. The bond that they’ve created with their fans is, of course, grounded in the music, but it’s undeniably bound by the genuine and personal connections which King and his bandmates continue to seek out with their ever-growing legion of fans.
The biggest takeaways from this year’s third annual Marcus King Band Family Reunion may have well just been a theme that’s existed within the group since the day they first started out—music, friendship, and love. That’s not a bad mission statement, not a bad one at all.