From Top Shelf Music:

America is in a state of turmoil. Conflict. Confusion. Expand your horizons a bit past the border and realize that the rest of the world is quickly falling suit. What’s happening? Why can’t there be clarity in the chaos? Ever since the rise of terrorism, technology and political foul play, this nation — in particular — has been hit hard… struggling to regain a foothold of the old status quo. Whatever a status quo may mean these days, that is. Music has been a mouthpiece for the general public to either commiserate or invigorate others for change. Something’s gotta give. Enter a hip hop meets rock band out of Asheville, North Carolina with an overt social agenda. One, now that you mention it, who also has quite a literal name.

Natural Born Leaders isn’t afraid to hold back, evident in their sophomore EP out next month entitled Abominable Creatures. This six-song project, packed with social commentary, follows the band’s inaugural EP About Time and a life-changing contest last year. The genre-bending five-piece entered NPR’s prestigious Tiny Desk Contest with a live version of “Abominable Creatures”… and placed within the top 10. NBL performed the track in a tiny corner of a convenient store for their video submission to NPR, a tribute to lead singer Michael Martinez’s New Jersey roots, where he “used to count the days by nights and drive bys”. But, as the song’s lyrical content conveys, we’re all cut from the same cloth; humans err no matter the upbringing. Like Martinez is “only drinking liquor” when out of a “chalice”, society at large self-destructs through the very items that symbolize our success. Climb the ranks the best you can, yet always remember that face-planting on the ceiling hits just as hard as the floor. With disorienting distortion on the guitar and saxophone, paired to an ebb and flow of tempo, the track illuminates just how far down the rabbit hole we’ve fallen. Contorted? Yes. Do we like it? Absolutely.

Natural Born Leaders isn’t afraid to hold back, evident in their sophomore EP out next month entitled Abominable Creatures.

The contest results got NBL featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, enlarging their fanbase evermore and cementing their name as up-and-coming industry game-changers. Even before the radio spot, NBL’s sound garnered them the attention of platinum record holder Patrick Doyle (Jennifer Lopez, Earth Wind & Fire, Cory Rooney) to produce their first EP as well as Abominable Creatures, recording the latter between his private home studio and sessions at the band’s hometown Echo Mountain Recording Studio.

Martinez comments, “‘Abominable Creatures’ is about my association with time and progress in my life. And, like many of our songs, it serves as a reminder to me of how large or insignificant we all could be.”

With the EP’s release right around the corner on October 24th, Top Shelf Music is proud to host the world premiere of Natural Born Leader’s “Abominable Creatures” — the studio version. Yet, this is just a taste of what’s to come. For more information, visit the band links below after you enjoy the exclusive stream of the band’s latest single.


Courtesy of WUNC:

The Asheville-based swing group Queen Bee and The Honeylovers made their entire debut album a tribute to their beloved hometown. “Asheville” came out in late April and features tunes about the historical characters and legends of the city in the style of a 1920s swing record.

Lead singer and snare player Whitney Moore says she wanted to preserve some of the old stories for the native Ashevillains as the city undergoes rapid transformation. Moore and the other members of Queen Bee and the Honeylovers join host Frank Stasio in studio for conversation and live performance. The group includes Mattick Frick on backing vocals and guitar; James Posedel on the keyboard; and Trevor Stoia on the upright bass.

Queen Bee and the Honeylovers will perform at Arcana in Durham on Friday, May 31at 9 p.m. They will also be performing for the Triangle Swing Dance Society at the Murphey School in Durham on Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m. They will be at the Transylvania Concert Series in Brevard on Friday, June 7 and at Xpandfest in Asheville on Saturday, June 8.



Courtesy of Blurt Online:

Taking place Friday and Saturday of this week, May 31-June 1, in Canton, North Carolina, it features a slew of diverse artists—among them, Calexico, Milk Carton Kids, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Kat Wright. We talked to one of the festival organizers about its origins, its intention, and its overall success to date.


The summer festival season begins anew—having already been sufficiently primed/goosed by numerous pre-summer festivals, which seem to occur earlier and earlier each year—with festival-goers and musicians alike fairly frothing at the mouth over, respectively, the ensuing fun-potential and the ridiculously easy paychecks.

One relatively young event is the two-day Cold Mountain Music Festival, May 31-June 1, occurring in Canton, North Carolina (specifically: 25 Wormy Chestnut Lane, Canton, NC 28716). Canton is about a half-hour west of Asheville, already renowned for its thriving music scene, and the hills of Western N.C. are similarly alive with the sound of music (to paraphrase a great philosopher). And as we pointed out not long ago here at BLURT, it’s to be “a tasting board of artists ranging from the folk, funk, Americana, bluegrass, and post-rock worlds, with highlights including Grammy-nominated alt-rockers the Milk Carton Kids, critically acclaimed “desert noir” duo Calexico, crowd-favorite jamgrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, fast rising troubadour J.S. Ondara, “soul queen” Kat Wright, the equally Stax-worthy Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics, and improvisational genre-benders Driftwood, among others.”

There’s an interesting angle here, too: the family-friendly camping festival, now in its third year and located in Pisgah National Forest at the wonderfully scenic Lake Logan, is put on by the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in order to support the work of the ministries of the Lake Logan Conference Center and Camp Henry. Doesn’t exactly sound like your garden-variety sex/drugs/rock’n’roll gathering, where topless girls get hoisted upon the shoulders of their E-gobbling boyfriends and frats on leave from campus slam beer-bongs in between actual bong hits, eh?

I posed that question, or at least my somewhat toned-down version of it, to Lake Logan Conference Center’s Development Director Michelle Robinson, as I was curious to learn if the festival organizers have ever encountered raised eyebrows when informing someone about potential looming collisions between Dionysian youth practices and Faith-based church cultures. I got a firm “LOL” from her…

“We haven’t seen any of that,” chuckled Robinson. “I hope it’s respect for the place we are in and for those around us. If we are to continue to have this festival, we can’t have issues like drugs destroying the vibe. Christians are not excluded from liking good music, be it rock ‘n’ roll or any other. And we count it as a blessing that we have very poor Wi-fi here—people aren’t walking around with their faces in their phones. Instead, they are connecting with their neighbors and enjoying nature. It’s amazing to watch.”

In our conversation, Robinson professed to be a big fan of music festivals in general, adding that she has prior experience with large such events. She always had a hunch that the Lake Logan setting would be an ideal one for such a gathering, and explained that while the venue had always been used primarily for summer camp and church groups, “the festival arose as a thought between a few long-time supporters of Lake Logan and myself—I knew we could make it happen. My best friend is married to one of the Steep Canyon Rangers, so she was very helpful, as were the Rangers, with getting the first one going. We knew the location was perfect for it! It took a lot of work that first year from the entire planning committee, the Diocese staff and Lake Logan staff—I’m always afraid our head of facilities will retire! We have great people at Lake Logan and in the Diocese office in Asheville. Everyone works hard to make this a success.

“And there is a great deal of organization to it. I work for Lake Logan and Camp Henry, with support from the Episcopal Diocese of WNC. And Bishop José McLoughlin has been our strongest supporter. He understands our goal [is] to bring all people together in this place where all are welcomed. He lets us do the job and trusts us to make good decisions.”

Good decisions, indeed. Early on, the festival organizers determined that strategic partnerships would be key, and by the second year they had brought on well-respected and -connected Asheville concert promoter and talent buyer Jeff Whitworth, of Worthwhile Sounds, to help line up performers, along with Chad Stewart of Asheville’s Sound to coordinate the lighting and sound systems. (Robinson: “He’s the best, so that was an easy choice.”) Also in the mix now: Haywood County’s weekly newspaper the Smoky Mountain News, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority helping out with some of the talent costs, and the Haywood Sheriff Department for festival-related security and traffic control (not to mention accompanying bureaucratic hoops). Plus, plenty of participation from local breweries, food trucks, and regional merchants—crucial for probably every kind of music festival on the planet.

Robinson adds that another crucial element in mounting a solid festival is lining up sponsorships in order to cover the costs of the booking budget. “We have been successful financially so far,” she says. “It isn’t a huge profit yet, but we keep growing. We have many generous sponsors who come back year after year to help us make this happen. And the Haywood TDA gave us a grant this year that has been a huge help for getting great talent. In terms of genre, we stress that this festival is not a bluegrass festival. We love bluegrass and we have it on the schedule, but we don’t stop there. We want diversity in the music and in the musicians. This year, we have some great soul acts, Americana, folk, country, and bluegrass—and some that I’m not sure how to categorize, but it’s good music.”

And she’s quick to point out that the Cold Mountain Music Festival is intended to be more than simply musically inclusive:

“This festival sort of announced to the community that Lake Logan is open for all. We are not a private campus and we welcome all. You don’t have to be Episcopalian to be here. We host artist retreats, family reunions, private retreats, dancing, and the list goes on and on. Last year, our new-ish Executive Director, Lauri SoJourner, opened Lake Logan for annual memberships. That has been a huge success with our neighbors. People can come out for the day to enjoy the lake or to fish.

“We really do welcome all.”