Photo by Dean Budnick
At only 23 years of age, it’s somewhat ironic that Marcus King already has a work schedule which is so hectic that he has to worry about missing events back home. Then again, the South Carolina native isn’t any stranger to the rigours of the road. He’s a fourth generation musical prodigy who’s proven his skills as a guitarist, singer and songwriter since his teens, often sharing the spotlight with such like-minded musicians as Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. And like his dad, revered blues band leader Marvin King and his fiddle playing grandfather and great grandfather, he’s dedicated himself to his craft, even when it’s at the expense of being home with family and friends.
To solve that predicament, King initiated the Marcus King Family Reunion, a hometown festival taking place at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain North Carolina on September 27 and 28. Hosted, naturally enough, by the Marcus King Band — King, drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax player Dean Mitchell and keyboard player Simon Thomas George — it boasts a star-studded line-up that includes such luminaries as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Yonder Mountain Band, Josh Ritter, Amanda Shires, Doyle Bramhall II, the Futurebirds, and of course the Marcus King Band itself. While the line-up is reason enough to pursue this venture, King says there’s a practically reason behind it as well.
“It’s a beautiful site and it’s always been my pick for a live outdoor venue,” King says. “The reason that we chose that location is because we really feel at home in that area. It was the first place that kind of adopted us and it felt like a quasi-hometown. We’re all from around there and it’s really grown in the past few years. I originally put the festival together as a get together. We’re on the road all year and that means you miss a lot of family birthdays, holidays and get-togethers. I missed a few of my key family reunions so I said, ‘Heck, why don’t I put together my own family reunion. I missed the home cooking and seeing my family, and I loved for all my bandmates’ families to be involved with this cookout and it kind of grew out of that. It became a two day event and turned into a festival. I’m kind of proud of the fact that it grew into a real event.”
Still, it seems like more than a modest undertaking at this point, especially considering the fact that King’s career only really launched officially six years ago. With that in mind, we sat down with him and spoke about the festival, the band’s first three albums, their upcoming plans, as well as the impressive musical trajectory King’s seen so far.
It seems like with everything else you do, this festival is an ambitious undertaking.
I see where it can come across as ambitious, but that’s kind of the catalyst for everything we do. We just kind of just go for it. It is a lot of work. When we did the first festival we got terrific support from the people in the area and it’s really just grown from that.
How did you connect with the other bands on the bill?
Because it’s family oriented, we wanted bands that we’ve crossed paths with on the road. They’re like our road family. You only get to see them at different festivals. So we decided to invite bands that we knew, and bands that we liked as well. That’s kind of how it started, and we still put together the lists of the bands we want, send it to our agent at William Morris, and. he puts the word out and sends out the dates, and then sees who’s available. People have been so kind to come out and participate in our festival.
I would imagine that there’s opportunity for a lot of jams.
Absolutely. That’s something I always observed at these different family gatherings as a kid. My grandfather would bring out a PA, but as my relatives got older, they would all jam on acoustic guitars around a table and the PA disappeared. Eventually that fell off, and I wasn’t able to make it because I was travelling so much. I wanted to bring that back and so we’re doing it with a much larger PA now. (chuckles)
You come from a decidedly strong musical background. Did you know early on that you wanted to pursue a musical career?
Yes, I did. I was talking about that last night with my father who was in town visiting. We were talking about how I was a very introverted kid and there weren’t really a lot of kids on the block to play with. I used to sit in the backroom and play guitars for hours. I didn’t really think of it as practice though. There was never really a definitive moment where I thought, this is what I’m going to do, but there was never a thought otherwise. I just thought, this is what I do. (chuckles)
How old were you when you first started playing?
I guess I was two or three when my dad first put a guitar in front of me. He was always very good about just giving me the option to play. He never pushed me. Everyone has these awkward years where working hard is not very appealing, especially to a kid. During those years, my father was on me because he saw my potential. My father is still my favorite player and my guru. He was able to show me the craft, and it’s still something I want to be better at.
How have you seen your evolution so far? You have three albums to your credit, and so how would you characterize your journey over the course of those three efforts?
That’s a great question. I just think about that first record that my drummer and I went out to San Diego to record. We self-produced that first album. With the second album, we had an actual producer come in, and we realized we had been doing some things wrong. We’ve always been open to criticism. It’s always constructive. That’s our motto. So with our second record, we thought it would be good to have someone who really knows what’s going on, and that was really a good growing period for the band. At that point, Justin Johnson, our trumpet player, had finished school and joined the band full time. When we met Stephen Campbell, our bassist, the group grew from there. With our third record, we really felt a creative push, and we did , a lot differently as far as the way we approached the album. In the past, the songs we recorded had been road-tested for a number of years. This time, I went in with a number of songs that I had written in hotel rooms. The band and me and Dave Cobb the producer got together every morning, and I played them the songs for them and we built them from the ground up. That was a completely different approach than we were used to.