Words and Photos: Jerry Friend
The Marcus King Band came rolling into the Triangle for their sold out performance at the Ritz, Raleigh. Fans were eager to catch the band, whose tour continues up the East Coast. The energy level in the room was higher than the nearby treetops.
Hannah Wicklund opened the show, she proved to be a powerful guitar player having a very dynamic stage presence. Her three piece band quickly won the crowd with her confident vocals which earned her an army of new fans. She was at the merchandise table after her set and mixing with fans in the crowd. She even came over to thank the photographers and media reps for coming out before disappearing back stage.
Hailing originally from Hilton Head, South Carolina, Hannah's now based out of Nashville and that's where Marcus King had recorded his most recent release, El Dorado, produced by Dan Auerbach, of The Black Keys at his Easy Eye Studio.
Marcus King was born in Greenville, South Carolina. His father Marvin King was a well-known Blues guitar player as well as playing with Gospel bands in this region and even his grandfather had also been a popular musician there. Those influences are easily heard in Marcus's playing and songwriting. Marcus began playing guitar at a very early age, by the time he was eight years old he had already begun playing shows with his father. By age eleven, he had already played on one of his father's recordings and when he reached his teens, he was already juggling local club gigs at night while still attending school in the morning. Marcus decided to leave school in his junior year but continued to work to obtain his GED, after deciding to pursue a career in music, obviously a decision that is now paying off in spades but it was a serious gamble. In his case Marcus benefited from both natural talent and an environment that nurtured that talent with his family's musical legacy
Although both artists appearing together on this current tour hail from the same state, I was told that they hadn't met until they were both working in the Music City where the idea for this tour was formed. Hannah's performance was clearly ready to thrust her beyond the role of a supporting act. Her set was all the proof needed as to why you should always try to catch those opening artists.
Once the Marcus King Band started up the room was captivated by the band, and you could see that almost everyone in the crowd knew the words to every song that was played and many happily sang along. It was clear that this was the band that they had been waiting for and that they were fully present.
Another Nashville touch that caught my attention was the recent addition of Drew Smithers, as a second guitar player in the Marcus King Band. Drew originally from Mobile, Alabama, and previously played for the band Bishop Gunn. Once he was in Nashville he had the opportunity to take guitar lessons from Jack Pearson, both Drew and Marcus count Duane Allman as one of their top musical influences, and Jack Pearson is well known in Allman Brothers Band circles as one of the greatest modern slide guitar players alive today. The addition of Drew to the band, throws the performance level of the band up a notch and allows Marcus to not only shine with his soulful vocal style, but it adds the ability for more guitar interplay between two incredible musicians that drives the energy to new heights. This gives the band even more of a Southern rock appeal as well as that Soul-influenced psychedelic sound that they have already established.
As if the crowd didn't have enough to celebrate with the return of live music after the threat of Covid-19 starts to diminish, Marcus told the crowd during the performance that he had gotten engaged and introduced his fiance as he brought her on to the stage to sing "Proud Mary". Briley Hussey, a strong vocalist in her own right, is originally from Kinston, North Carolina. Briley has performed the national anthem for NASCAR as well as for President Donald Trump at campaign events. I saw some amazing video clips on YOUTUBE of her singing "Natural Woman", perhaps made most famous by Aretha Franklin, but penned by Carol King. As well as another video of her singing Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive". She is clearly a rising star and someone to keep an eye on. I had heard that Marcus and Briley originally met at Red Hat Amphitheater and that is where he proposed earlier in the day. There were many friends and family in the venue that night to celebrate the engagement.
At the end of the night Marcus King brought his father Marvin King out on the stage for the band's encore of the Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See", and that brought the room into a frenzy and there's no way that anyone left that show feeling disappointed at what they had witnessed.