Group At Work: Holy Ghost Tent Revival
What do a Carolina highway billboard, a Canadian preacher’s kid and a dormitory bathroom have in common? They all helped create Holy Ghost Tent Revival, a six-man band that’s one part Midnight Ramble, one part gospel resurrection and one part Huey Lewis concert.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival was born in 2007 in a dorm room at the University of North Carolina as the result of late night jam sessions between roommates Stephen Murray and Matt Martin. Murray, the preacher’s kid, was raised on Suzuki violin tapes and weaned on the radio songs of The Rolling Stones and The Rascals. Martin, a Carolina-born-and-raised guitarist, cut his teeth on Alice In Chains and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Finding common ground between their divergent musical backgrounds, Murphy and Martin began writing songs together, drumming up neo-folk ditties and blending Old Crow Medicine Show-style vocals with Bourbon Street rhythms. When it came time to write horn charts, the pair inducted trombonist Hank Widmer into the fold, a guy who Murray says they knew “because we shared the same dormitory bathroom.”
Taking their name from a billboard on Carolina route 421 advertising “Cecil B. Hanby’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival,” the band gained immediate attention for their ferociously energetic live shows and their skillfully crafted songs. Within a year, they released So Long I Screamed, a 15-song set heavy on the Dixieland rat-a-tat-tat. This fall, they followed it with another long player, Sweat Like the Old Days. Though it delivers fewer songs, there are a greater variety of styles: ska-like dance tunes, bluesy strolls, and Northern soul dance romp, all featuring their trademark vocal style.
“People walk up to us after seeing our shows and say they understand why we call ourselves Holy Ghost Tent Revival,” says Murray. “They talk about how our music penetrates them and energizes them.”
Was the band purposely named to capture the confluence of his family background, their North Carolina location and fervent musical style? “It’s interesting that it’s worked out that way,” muses Murray, “but, really, we just picked the name because we thought it sounded cool.”
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