Mountain Heart kills with Skynyrd

Aaron Ramsey, Jason Moore and Josh Shilling of Mountain Heart in concert with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Elizabeth City, NCMountain Heart is back from their big weekend out with Lynyrd Snkyryd, and sent along a report and some photos from the shows.

Fiddler Jim Van Cleve tells us that they had a blast taking bluegrass to the die-hard Skynyrd fans, and that they were delighted – and a bit overwhelmed by the response.

“The whole weekend was definitely a career highlight for Mountain Heart.

The audiences seemed to dig the band’s energy right off the bat. In one of the venues, they were maybe a little hesitant at first, but not too much so. Really, we just got an overwhelming response from the crowds each night. But the show in Boone, at the Holmes Center Arena was one of the most incredible reactions I’ve ever witnessed for an opening band! We had the crowd standing up after every song. And when we finished up with #6 Barn Dance, that crowd went NUTS!! It was a very special moment for us!”

These were large venues (8,000-10,000 seats) full of people ready to see one of their favorite bands, and for an opening acoustic act – let alone a bluegrass band – to get that sort of reaction is quite a feat.

But it wasn’t just the fans that were blown away by Mountain Heart and their frenetic stage energy. The headliners and their entourage took note as well.

Mountain Heart in Elizabeth City, NC -  - photo by James Fay“The first night, prior to the show, I don’t think anybody was planning on paying much attention to us, which is understandable. But the crew started gathering around the stage during our sound check, and then during the show, about half the band stood off the side of the stage watching.

As we were leaving the stage that night, we met several of the Skynyrd guys and they were very complimentary.

While we were setting up and sound checking the next day, in Boone, NC, several of the crew, and the stage manager sought us out to say how impressed they were, and how impressed Johnny VanZandt had been.”

Jim said that they were also psyched by the number of Snynyrd fans who bought CDs and other MH merchandise from the sales table after the shows.

“That was really cool, considering that they dug you enough to take something home with them. We’ve had over 100 emails just in the first three days of this week from people who ‘are new fans’ that were at the shows this weekend. That is an outrageous number for us to receive.”

But the news kept getting better for our bluegrass adventurers…

Mountain Heart on stage during their 9/08 tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd“After the Boone show, several of the crew and the band members were gathered around behind the stage in the tunnel. The Skynyrd guys told us they’d made a point to get to the show early that night to see us, since all their stage hands were talking about us from the night before. That’s when they told us that they were going to propose to their management about us joining them on their next tour as THE opening act!

They told us, ‘The crowd loves you, and you are on and off the stage so quick, we don’t even know you’re done before you guys are completely loaded out.’ I guess they’re used to drum kits and amps being loaded out…which we obviously don’t have!

Going out with them again would be really exciting, but we’re not holding our breath – well, maybe a little – but you just never know. WHO could have predicted that type of reaction from both the Skynyrd fans, but even more surprisingly, Lynyrd Skynyrd themselves?”

Van Cleve can be forgiven for his understandable pride in how well Mountain Heart did on this short tour.

“I think it’s a great attribute for our band to be diversified enough to do so well at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert one weekend, and then go share the stage with Mr. Tony Rice the next, playing straight-up traditional bluegrass! Variety certainly is the spice of life!”

For folks who despair for the future of bluegrass and the difficulty of finding new audiences, here is an example of how it can be done.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.