The Road Less Traveled
Makia Groove, featuring (l-r) Billy Owens, Dan Pederson and LukeWood, is expanding the jam-band genre by incorporating Latin jazz, Afrobeat and other forms. (photos by Jordan Green)
The three guys from Asheville are about to make their move. Bassist Dan Pederson and guitarist Luke Wood confer at the bar with fan Lindsay Harris while drummer Billy Owens runs over some details with the sound technician. The trio does business under the moniker Makia Groove, and it’s their first time in town. Harris, a longtime patron and booster of the scene here at the Blind Tiger, now resides in Asheville herself, and coincidentally finds herself at her old haunt with these new friends. The room is sparsely filled at 10:30 p.m., the appointed start time, but these guys are professionals who, true to their word, take to the stage basically on time and start cooking up a funky version of Miles Davis’ “All Blue.” Meanwhile, Harris borrows a handful of cell phones and starts calling and texting friends to help turn out a crowd. At Harris’ urging, a friend connected to an area music festival is sticking around to check out the band. She wears her short hair under a cap and cloaks her eyes behind shades. She dervish-whirls in a manner free of self consciousness, tossing the energy back at the three dudes standing onstage and unleashing their groove. The sound technician, the bar staff and an area bass player watch from the fringes, looking suitably impressed, but aside from the talent scout, it’s Chan Wade who truly surrenders. Dressed in a flannel shirt, cargo shorts and ponytail, the former bartender hops across the floor, leans deep, swivels, cries out in appreciation at the musicians and throws out his hands in a motion suggestive of a poultry worker grabbing slaughtered chickens off a conveyer belt. The band settles into a boogie in its second song, and Wood pays homage to some of his roots, singing, “I’m going back home, Lord, to see my kin.” The song switches up with a bit of mathematically precise guitar playing while Pederson keeps the groove locked on the bass, Wood again subtly shifts, now to some spirited Clapton-style wailing and then into some heavy reverb dub-style reggae. Harris’ crowd is trickling in, and a couple of women obligingly indulge in what looks like interpretive dance — crouching, springing, joining hands with each other. “It’s our first time in town,” Owens says. “We’re having a good time, so far. We hope you are too.” A slightly winded gent seated at a detached bar in the center of the room nods. “Y’all can come back,” he says. “Sounded good.” The three musicians are iconoclasts, but also very much of their time and place. Their eclecticism and spiritual orientation are reflected in their name Makia — a Hawaiian shaman term meaning “energy flows where attention goes,” Owens says. A jam band, they unabashedly acknowledge the Dead as an inspiration, and cover “China Cat Sunflower.” Southerners, they bear the indelible influence of the Allmans — that fluid, smoldering refinement of the blues. Owens’ lyrics reflect a naturalistic, anti-consumerist, anti hurry viewpoint that owes to Bob Marley in political orientation and delivery. Owens and Wood have been playing together for a decade, since they met in Kingsport, Tenn. “We met in a head shop, of all places,”
Woodsays. “I don’t do school. He moved there for disc golf.” Disc golf?“Yeah, there’s a league,” Owens says. “There’s people who make a livingat it. A lot better than we do.” At first they played as a four-pieceband before Pederson joined. In the interim, they moved to Virginia. At the behest of the two former members, a bassist and guitarist, they relocated again to Asheville. Itturned out for the best because it was there that they met Pederson,who had recently moved there with his wife, a masseuse, after stints inSeattle and Sedona, Ariz. The journey has included some bumps,including a van breakdown in July that wiped out savings for a new CDproduction. The van’s radiator and transmission went out while Owenswas driving to a gig in South Carolinathat was to include their friend, world freestyle hacky-sack championPeter Irish, juggling in tandem with their music. They slipped thetow-truck driver an extra $75 to pack them all in the cab and hitch ona rented U-Haul trailer to the van. “Real improv is venturing into newplaces together,” Owens says. “When you get somewhere together, youcreate a new place; you don’t know if you can go back there again.”
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