Holy Ghost Tent Revival perform at DC9

Greensboro's bluegrass folk rock band Holy Ghost Tent Revival blow through DC's DC9.

WASHINGTON, November, 7, 2012 —In an odd way, bluegrass bands seem well suited to performing in a bar scene. Over the years they’ve mostly become mainstays on festivals circuits, and there’s a good argument to be made for seeing a bluegrass band in a wide-open setting outdoors. The feeling is that bluegrass bands have an earthy, homespun feel to them that fits in perfectly with the sights, sounds, and smells of the open air.

On the other hand, the best bluegrass bands have something of a gritty quality to them. This quality is actually brought out best when they’re playing in the confines of a dimly lit bar. That’s the kind of scene that Holy Ghost Tent Revival found themselves in while playing at DC9. It’s a venue that’s transformed itself into a prototypical bar scene that almost seems custom-built for creating this kind of atmosphere.

Playing in a setting like this allows a band like Holy Ghost Tent Revival to play looser with a bit of an edge that they normally aren’t able to exhibit. Despite being easygoing in the usual bluegrass way, there wasn’t much else that was laid back in Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s set.

For much of their set, they focused on the inherent rock aspects of their sound. They allowed each of the songs to be more guitar driven than one would normally expect from these Greensboro natives.  

Usually, Holy Ghost Tent Revival presents a mellow vibe of a honky-tonk band with big band aspirations. But for whatever reason, this night they performed without their horn section of one.  So instead settling into a groove where they almost serenade the audience, they stripped everything down and picked up the pace a good bit. It’s not necessarily harder, but it does bring out the modest dollop of indie rock sensibilities that lie just beneath the surface of their sound. 

This slightly darker mood fit the venue better than the light, easygoing bluegrass sound that’s their normal staple. The earthy feel of Holy Ghost Tent Revival isn’t one of abandon so much as an output that’s backgrounded in favor of a looser approach to their signature sound. One can say they ignored their roots in this live performance. But if that’s the case, it’s in service of putting on a better show and matching the style of their environment.

This ultimately fits DC9 to perfection if only because the group added a grittier appeal to their normal bluegrass sound. This approach resulted in what could be classified as toned-down rockabilly instead of a less intimate big band-style sound. For any number of bands, this kind of gentle shift in sensibilities could feel forced. But that never happened with Holy Ghost Tent Revival, mainly because they never seem to lose their collective sense of self. There’s nothing particularly different about the way they’re playing, it’s just a different aspect of who they are and whom they represent.

Holy Ghost Tent Revival at first glance doesn’t really appear to be the kind of band that can convincingly alter its style ever so slightly depending on the atmosphere, considering how ingrained they are in the bluegrass scene they are to begin with. But this band has a bit more of a chameleon spirit in them than is apparent at first look or listen.  This made their recent show at DC9 all the more enjoyable.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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