My introduction to Heather McIntire’s music came courtesy of a Battle of the Bands contest in Wilmington, N.C., nearly 10 years ago. On a big stage, the small-framed guitarist with a huge voice belted out angular, jarring indierock tunes with only a drummer accompanying her. What Heather may have lacked in control she made up for with emotion, and her band, Bellafea, was declared the winner. This resulted in instant backlash from my guy friends in other bands who competed that night. How could someone just pop up from out of nowhere and give such a raw, even unpolished performance, yet defeat them at their own game? Well, what they didn’t get, was that Heather had IT. Even then.
Fast forward to Friday, September 9, the second night of the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, where I had the pleasure to see Mount Moriah perform. To say I was blown away might be an understatement. To see Heather now commanding an alt-country band comprised of some amazing musicians in their own right is truly remarkable. Not just because the songs are incredible, and the playing is totally pro. But more than that, it’s the way Heather, when onstage, completely OWNS it.
Heather and her band performed most if not all of the tunes of their recent self-titled release, which will no doubt find a spot in many a critic’s best of 2011 list and grow their ever-widening fan base. Performing in front of a full house and headlining a night of music that included such respected acts as Wooden Wand and John Vanderslice might be an intimidating task to most bands as young as Mount Moriah, but Heather and company handled it with ease (their recent stint as the opening band for the Indigo Girls may have helped). Keep an eye out for this band. Their songs, raw and honest almost to the point of being uncomfortable, simultaneously make you feel like you’ve reunited with an old friend for a beer and been kicked in the gut. But you will love every second of it.
The next day I managed to head over to Deep South early to catch Renee Haran fronting Filthybird, who happen to be labelmates of Mount Moriah (both having released records on the Holidays for Quince label). The small daytime crowd was mesmerized by Renee’s passionate vocals, which recall at times a prettier Kate Bush, anchored by the intricate guitar lines of her husband Brian Haran. I’ve described Renee’s voice before as sounding like “what the heavens sound like.” It’s easy to get completely swept away by the beauty of their songs, which sound like a very interesting mix of southern gothic and southwestern-influenced psych-pop.
Prior to Filthybird’s outstanding set, I was treated to a fun set from Chapel Hill’s Schooner, which features Reid Johnson on vocals and guitar, and his girlfriend Maria Albani on bass. Their set was just one of several appearances from Maria, who literally hopped from one stage to the next almost constantly, performing twice at different day parties with Schooner and once with her solo project, Organos. On the same stage much later that evening, Organos was rounded out Reid on guitar, North Elementary’s John Harrison on drums, and Annie Chu on various percussion. Together they played an eclectic, lively mix of fun indie rock tunes that almost always varied from the standard pop/rock format, in both song structure and instrumentation, but also never failed to entertain. Maria has that rare ability to make songs both catchy and very unpredictable, which no doubt keeps things interesting for her bandmates, who all seemed be having a blast playing with her. I was fortunate enough to pick up a pre-release copy of Organos’s upcoming release, Concha, and after listening to it multiple times (it’s REALLY good), I’m amazed at how accurately it captures the vibe of the band’s live show. Look for it to make waves this coming spring when it’s released on the Potluck imprint, which Maria operates with John Harrison.