Casey Kristofferson debuts album at Merlefest

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
The Casey Kristofferson Band released their debut album "Dirty Feet" on April 26, when they performed at Merlefest.

Music is in Casey Kristofferson’s blood.

The offspring of Grammy Award-winning artists Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Casey joined her parents on tour as an infant. She began writing songs when she was a kid and the certified Cecchetti method instructor has long been recognized in the mountain around Old Fort, where she’s lived since 2003, as a passionate ballet performer and teacher.   

With an outstanding musical pedigree and a fearlessness in the spotlight, she took the stage with her band at Merlefest on April 26, for the release of the Casey Kristofferson Band’s debut album “Dirty Feet.”

“It was an awesome place to have our CD release,” Casey said of her experience at the Wilkesboro music festival, attended by around 80,000 people annually. “It just blew away my expectations.”

The album offers a fresh interpretation of bluegrass, rock & roll and outlaw country throughout its nine tracks. The first release, “Blessed and Cursed,” is a collaborative effort between Casey and her longtime friend Amy Nelson, daughter of country music superstar Willie Nelson. Amy is one of many artists to lend their talents to the project.

Marshall singer-songwriter Andy Buckner, who appeared on Season 9 of NBC’s “The Voice,” is a featured writer, vocalist and guitarist on the project.

Yellow Feather’s Muddy Welles handles lead guitar for the CKB, which is rounded out by Zack Page on bass, Herschel Van Dyke on drums and Jim Aaron on harmonica. Asheville-based Aaron Woody Wood joined the mix in April to accompany the band on acoustic guitar and vocals for live shows.

The album features collaborations with Charles Humphrey III (Songs From The Road Band) and Graham Sharp (Steep Canyon Rangers). The track list includes Casey’s take on her father’s classic “Me and Bobby McGee.”

While Casey has always played music, she was “swept away” by ballet for many years, as she performed with the Asheville Ballet and established her dance school at Black Mountain Center for the Arts, which she still teaches regularly. She was also busy raising three daughters.

Casey Kristofferson, daughter of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, is following in her parents' footsteps as a singer-songwriter with the release of "Dirty Feet," the debut album from the Casey Kristofferson Band.

“When the kids were little and I was dancing I didn’t have a lot of time to do music,” she said. “One of my daughters has now graduated from college and my other two are 14 and 11, so I have a little more wiggle room.

Casey took ballet classes as a child, and turned back to the discipline after moving to the mountains 16 years ago.

“It was a shock at first,” she said of the move. “I was making trips out to Nashville to play music for a while and I kept losing my waitressing or bartending jobs because I was always leaving town. So eventually I decided I needed to settle down and find something I could do locally and artistically that wouldn’t jeopardize my well-being.”

She threw herself into ballet.

“Because it had been so long since I’d done ballet, I went back and took children’s classes, basically every class at every ballet school in Asheville I possibly could,” said Casey, who is the only certified Cecchetti method instructor in the state. “I just fell in love with it and it’s so much fun.”

Casey’s return to live music was a spontaneous one.

“Todd Snider came to town to play a show on the outdoor stage at (Pisgah Brewing Co.) and asked if I’d come up and join him,” she said. “I was really reluctant at the time because I hadn’t been performing as a singer in a long time. He was like ‘no, you got this, we’ve been doing this our whole lives.’”

Snider continued to urge his longtime friend to return to music following the show,

“I started checking out local artists and I met my dear friend and (Yellow Feather) bandmate Hunter Begley,” she said. “I wasn’t really confident enough in my music at the time to do music on my own; I didn’t feel like I was up to the standard I needed to be. When I heard Hunter’s music I couldn’t believe what a great songwriter he was, so I begged him to collaborate with me.”

Casey and Begley teamed up with Charlie Willis to form Yellow Feather, which released the album “And Gold” in 2017.

“We had so much fun putting together that record, it was such a good project,” Casey said. “We got to do a little touring and all of that. Through that process I realized I really wanted to play music.”

Casey was encouraged to spearhead a project by her manager Autumn Greenfield, the assistant manager and resident luthier at Echo Mountain, where “Dirty Feet” was recorded.

“She was one of the ones who pushed me to put together my own band,” Casey said. “A lot of people had had been telling me my whole life that I should start my own band, and that encouragement really helped get this going.”

The performance at Merlefest was Casey’s first as the centerpiece of a band.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “We had the best time and put on a great show. We worked so hard rehearsing for that performance and we all felt great about it when we were done.”

After avoiding the spotlight for much of her life, Casey is embracing her latest chapter.

“Our group communicates all day, everyday,” she said. “Just yesterday we found out we were getting some radio play in Texas, and there is something new popping all the time.”

The CFB will hold an album release concert at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 31, at the Salvage Station in Asheville and is set to appear at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in Austin, Texas.

“Honestly, we haven’t gotten over the Merlefest show and how exciting it was,” Casey said. “We can’t wait to be playing together again. I’m looking forward to every new show.”