Show Review: Mountain Faith @ WCU

Mountain Faith plays in the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, photo by Mark Haskett

Mountain Faith plays in the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, photo by Mark Haskett

One word was bouncing around my head during the Mountain Faith concert on Thursday night: precious.

With the harmonies of biscuits-and-gravy angels, and lyrics as pure as a Saturday drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mountain Faith is everything and more you could hope for in a small-town band. Sam McMahan is the patriarch of sorts of the band—he plays an upright bass while his daughter, Summer, fiddles and does lead vocals and his son,

Summer McMahan performs lead vocals on most of Mountain Faith’s songs, photo by Mark Haskett

Brayden, plays banjo. With longtime friends Luke Dotson on guitar and Cory Piatt on mandolin (and providing the gorgeous harmonies), watching them perform on a stage is probably an honest representation of their southern-tinged banter on their big, red tour bus. They began playing music in the backroom of Sam’s tire store/service station in Sylva where they all worked. They’ve been quietly but consistently making a name for themselves in country/bluegrass music circles since the release of their debut album, Save Me, in 2011. Last year, Mrs. McMahan (Sam’s wife and Summer and Brayden’s mother) secretly submitted a video of the group performing to America’s Got Talent, and, well, now they boast a semifinalist title and their latest release, this year’s That Which Matters, debuted on the Billboard bluegrass chart at number one.

When I read in WCU’s release about the show that they are “bluegrass-gospel,” I have to say that I cringed a little. As someone who grew up in a back-road church that regularly hosted “bluegrass-gospel tourin’ groups,” those words together give me worrisome visions of teal polyester suits and bolo ties. It is safe to say that Mountain Faith totally busted that preconception for me. While I would probably refer to their genre more as “newgrass,” or “progressive bluegrass,” these guys (and girl) have a strong grip on old-fashioned, authentic bluegrass and a smart knowledge of current pop music. They played a nice chunk of their new album and a few new yet-to-be-recorded songs. They threw in one of the country-fied pop covers for which they are most well-known to America’s Got Talent audiences, Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance With Me.” They also played a couple of classic pieces, including the prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1. Hearing centuries-old songs redone with the fast picking of a mandolin and banjo is just plain fun. There’s no doubt that

Photo courtesy of Mark Haskett

Mountain Faith puts a lot of emphasis on the “faith” in their name. They were very open about their beliefs and even requested that the audience remember them in prayer as they are traveling overseas next week to perform for our troops.

“Pray that we can just be an encouragement to those guys, and bring a little home to them out there,” Sam implored in his steady, fatherly diction.

Many of their personal family and friends were in the audience tonight, but I imagine that Mountain Faith spreads their hope and sincerity about as equally in any other venue on any other day of the year. I know they are making Sylva proud with their incredible talent and charming humility; WCU alone sure seemed to burst with pride during our standing ovation.

Check out Mountain Faith’s website or Facebook page for videos, tour dates, and more.