An exceptional folk-hybrid band takes stock of a rapidly changing world as they continue on their journey.
By Steve Houk
Of all the bands in the land that could have their heart and soul most deeply affected by the recent US presidential election, it just may be Rising Appalachia.
Not only because of their own inner belief systems, but because of the beliefs and practices of the “collective” that their band experience encompasses — which includes not only their fans but the roving community of activism they have fostered — and how they might be most potentially impacted by the new political climate.
But with worrisome, tumultuous times comes the power of a voice, or millions of voices. And along with dissent can come meaningful and powerful music also borne from turmoil.
“If you look at times like the 60’s, and even the Bush years, the creativity was pretty on point, and on fire, and charged,” said Chloe Smith, one quarter of Rising Appalachia, as she and her bandmates drove from Raleigh to Charlotte on the start of their 2017 tour which stops Saturday at 930 Club. “And I think that will be the balancing side of this political time frame that we’re in right now. That artists and teachers and activists and movers and shakers will be the voices of America even more. And I think Rising Appalachia feels that so much right now, since we have this massive voice that does not at all represent our feelings or emotions. So we have to do that much more to make sure that the voice of this country is not…well…what I want to say you shouldn’t print.”
As Smith and her three Rising Appalachia cohorts — her sister and band co-founder Leah Song, percussionist Biko Casini and multi-instrumentalist David Brown – prepare for the next phase of their wondrous musical and spiritual journey, they are keenly aware and quite concerned about the effect a Trump administration will undoubtedly have, and in some cases already has, on the people and groups and movements within their core, their center, their base, one they have come to rely on and adore and learn from, all as they have made their way across the world playing their exceptional brand of folk/world/bluegrass music.
“There’s a lot of deep concern for different things,” Smith continued as the RA caravan rolled through the North Carolina hills. “Like cutting funding for the arts. We have so many friends that are in theater companies and circus groups and journalists and all sorts of things that rely heavily on grant funding. Luckily our project is funded by the people, which we are very grateful for, and we don’t really rely on any government arts funding. However, so many of our collaborators do, and there’s a lot of anxiety and care for people’s careers, for people’s passions and their work and their neighborhoods and their funding, a lot of that is getting cut pretty drastically. So as an artist, you know, seeing our collective get sort of cut, cut, cut, is a little concerning.”
For generations, songwriting has been a conduit for thoughts and feelings and emotions surrounding political upheaval. And that’s no exception for Rising Appalachia, who are currently working on a new album that will follow a live record due out this spring. Their music has always managed to walk the line between measured political expression and preachiness, and this period in world history will be no exception.
“There’s inspiration to be drawn from unrest,” Smith said. “So I’ve been writing quite furiously. Some of it’s political, but alot of it is also just like a balm to get out of the political spectrum and speak to some of the beautiful things that songs are always being written about, like love and life and family and nature. So it’s a bit of both, we always try to strike that balance of being political but not bashing anybody over the head with one political rant after another.”
Smith realizes that despite the vehemence of those who are opposed to the policies of the new administration, change can’t happen overnight. But it’s staying active and involved that is the common mantra.
“I see it already,” Smith said, “I think one of the main hopes is the daily localized efforts which have been fortified. I think alot of people have been like, OK, now’s the time where I really need to step it up. But I also see people getting more involved in local politics, like, who are your representatives, and getting to know a little bit more about the localized government system, which I think people of my generation were a little bit clueless about to a certain extent. And I think there’s been a magnification of that being a necessity of change, of people running for office, at least knowing who is in their local offices, calling them, writing them letters, showing up for meetings. And I hope that will continue in the years to come.”
“I know it’s gonna be a long journey,” Smith continued. “I think people will need to step in and out of that so as to maintain their own internal fire and not get burnt out, cuz it’s not necessarily like immediate change that you see when you write a representative a letter. But I think hopefully that some scales will get tipped even in the years to come, even in five years. It might not be immediate, but I hope that people will get more engaged and activated with the political system of this country. Because obviously it slips quite far out of so many of our hands.”
Rising Appalachia’s main focus is their incredible music, it always has been, and theirs is a musical experience that has transfixed a legion of followers over their 11 years together. But amidst the turbulent and even explosive times now facing the landscape, they know that in addition to dissension and objection, that togetherness and understanding are still what can best save the soul, not division and alienation.
“We can’t let anxiety and fear run away with our better selves,” Smith said with a clear passion. “There’s already so much separation and this ‘us versus them’ mentality in this country, it’s not gonna get us any further if we continue down that route of separation and fear. So I think it’s about the daily work and daily practice of talking to people that don’t look like you and think like you, and reaching out and knowing your neighbors. And yes, doing daily acts of ‘resistance’ but really also love and kindness, that will help soothe a lot of the boisterous unsettled energy that I think we’re all feeling.”
Rising Appalachia with special guest Lowland Hum performs Saturday, March 25th at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. For tickets, click here.