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Fresh Coast Creatives: Bonfires, books and banjos with Ashley Christopher

Ashley Christopher playing banjo

This week on Fresh Coast Creative, we spoke with Ashley Christopher at her home in Kalkaska. Ashley is a member of the folk band Silver Creek Revival where she and her bandmate Sam Hess perform lead vocals.

The band had just got back from recording part of their newest album – driving their beloved tour van down to a prestigious studio called the Green House in Indiana. “It’s called the “Swaggin' Wagon,” Ashley said. “It actually has a horn that plays "La Cucaracha.”

But it wasn’t always nice studios and "La Cucaracha."

“When I was just out of high school,” Ashley said. “I would go to my buddy's basement and we would record some stuff like that video game Rock Band. We used a rock band microphone, but recorded on his computer.

Ashley cut her teeth as a musician playing at small festivals – or sometimes at parties at people's houses who happened to have stages in their yard. After the shows, there would usually be a fire and the people who were left would gather their instruments.

“That's my favorite, those fire jams,” Ashley said. “You’ve got to stay up late for them, they don't usually happen until the music's over on the stage. You meet a lot of people and you hear a lot of new songs. It's such great practice to just try and trust your ear and find a place to fit in.”

Silver Creek Revival (from L to R: Dane Moeggenberg, Sam Hess, Amanda Woodruff, Ashley Christopher, and Jack Jensen)
Silver Creek Revival (from L to R: Dane Moeggenberg, Sam Hess, Amanda Woodruff, Ashley Christopher, and Jack Jensen)

Ashley moved up north from the Kalamazoo area around eight years ago. She had been writing songs from a young age – playing guitar and doing choir and musicals in high school – a few open mics too but she didn't perform or play in a band much until she moved up north. “I think the thing that's most special to me is that it just fell in my lap, “Ashley said. “Like it felt like fate.”

Moving to Northern Michigan was one of the first times Ashley really got into improvising or jamming with a larger group – so I asked her if it was intimidating at first.

“A little bit,“ Ashley said. “But, you know, beer helps.”

Ashley loves playing in group settings, blending her banjo with other musicians around the fire, but her songwriting often comes from a much more solitary practice – reading. Ashley draws a lot of inspiration from books. One she mentioned to me was a book called "Blindness" by Jose Saramongo -- an apocalyptic story about an epidemic that causes a whole country to lose its sight.

“There's a line in there,” Ashley said, “basically what if all the way to heaven is heaven? You know? That really struck me. So I wrote a song about that.”

There’s another song, “When It’s Ripe” off the band’s first album where she writes about the rapture in the Book of Revelation. “The story of the song is about,” Ashley said, “if the rapture happened, what the people left over would think about it. If God has come and gone, I just can't believe that there still wouldn't be joy and love and good times if there are humans leftover.”

Throughout our interview, Ashley kept coming back to talk about the community which taught her to play around those late night bonfires when she mentioned another book – Neil Gaiman’s "American Gods" – this one a little less dark. In the book, there’s this idea of thin space – a place where the distance between heaven and earth grows thin and beautiful things can happen.

“That's the community that I kind of stepped into,” Ashley said. “I thought, Wow, holy cow. Northern Michigan is a special place.”

Silver Creek Revival’s next show is November 24th at the Alluvion. If you have any trouble finding the place, you can always listen for "La Cucaracha."

Support for Fresh Coast Creatives comes from the Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network, inviting you to Fall into the Arts, and through an award from Michigan Arts & Culture Council.