Pisgah’s outdoor stage ‘dives’ into summer lineup

Michael Flynn
Special to The Black Mountain News

A seasonal music ritual returns to the Swannanoa Valley Thursday, June 2 with the reopening of the outdoor stage at Pisgah Brewing Co. For its summer concert series, the 2,250 person-capacity facility, which first hosted performers in 2010, is featuring a diverse line-up of artists who are gaining notoriety on the national music scene.

“I feel like I say it every year, but I’m as proud of this line-up as any,” said Benton Wharton, Pisgah’s events director. “These acts are seeking out the venue earlier in the game, which makes our job that much easier.”

From the rootsy reggae of SOJA on Thursday, June 2 to the season-closing inaugural “Jam in the Trees” festival Aug. 26-27 - an event that includes more than 12 bands performing a range of bluegrass and Americana - the venue will host an expansive menu of sonic treats amid the stage’s leafy setting framed by the beautiful Black Mountains.

The stage steps up Friday, June 3 for a triple-bill that includes Lake Street Dive, a globally touring foursome that has been spotlighted on radio station WNCW 88.7-FM. The band has also been featured on several national TV shows and has just released a new album “Side Pony” in the wake of its 2014 breakthrough “Bad Self Portraits.”

The band’s blend of jazz, soul and pop, powered by Rachael Price’s attention-grabbing vocals, has garnered the group countless fans, including Asheville’s Kathryn Thompson.

“I was so excited to see Lake Street Dive on the lineup,” she said, noting her prior efforts to hear the band had been thwarted. “They’ve always sold out, so I’m looking forward to catching the show this summer.”

The stage’s opening weekend rolls on Saturday, June 4 with “Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass,” featuring The Infamous Stringdusters. The show will include a solo set by Williams, a set by the Stringdusters, and conclude with a combined set of “Grateful Grass,” consisting of Grateful Dead tunes played bluegrass-style.

The final June show spotlights musical legends Bruce Hornsby, whose keyboard-driven sound with his then-backing band The Range earned a Best New Artist Grammy in 1987. Hornsby will play Tuesday, June 21 with bluegrass standout Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Among other outdoor stage shows, this combination “looks great” to Asheville music fan Maria Wise.

On July 6 the venue hosts California canyon folk rockers Dawes, led by the sibling team of Taylor (guitar and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums). The band’s current touring roster also includes guitarist Duane Betts, son of original Allman Brothers Band member Dickey Betts. In addition to Duane’s praiseworthy playing, “he’s the spitting image of his dad when he’s got his hat on,” Wharton said.

Notable Brooklyn-based Dawes’ openers The Lone Bellow have a wide-ranging sound on their latest release that The Wall Street Journal has deemed “challenges the slick design of contemporary country and the occasional complacency of Americana.”

Colorado-based newgrass jammers Yonder Mountain String Band return July 8 to Pisgah Brewing. Western North Carolina, where they’ve played numerous shows during their more than 15-year history, has long welcomed them.

Another WNC favorite, alt-country standout Robert Earl Keen, hits the stage July 15, followed July 18 by Philly-based indie rockers Dr. Dog, who helped close last summer’s outdoor stage music series in October by performing with Trampled by Turtles.

Dr. Dog also played the former Bele Chere festival in Asheville, as well as several gigs at The Orange Peel. “It’s an area that we all really love, and we all have a lot of personal connections to,” singer and lead guitarist Scott McMicken told The Black Mountain News last September.

The soulful rock of Michael Franti & Spearhead hit the stage July 20, before Dark Star Orchestra recreates the Grateful Dead experience Aug. 5-6. Famous for playing complete shows from their mentors’ tireless touring history, DSO has maintained close connections to the Dead’s surviving members through the years.

Another longtime WNC favorite, JJ Grey & Mofro, return from Grey’s north Florida base Aug. 19, bringing their swampy mix of rock, soul and funk perfected by their leader during his 15-year performing career. This show is also on Asheville music fan Thompson’s must-see list, even if she’s out of town. “I’m definitely going to come back to Asheville for that one,” she said.

The season concludes Aug. 26-27 with the first Jam in the Trees. All shows are rain or shine. For show times, ticketing, directions, seating, schedule changes, food truck options, inside-the-brewery events and more, see pisgahbrewing.com.