Columbia-based River Ghost Revue, an acoustic group with bluegrass and Americana influences, describes itself as “hard-hitting songs for hard-hit people.” The band emerged out of its members’ desire to dabble in acoustic music after years of playing in rock bands. What began as a few shows snowballed into each of the members’ primary musical endeavor. I spoke with Robert Watson, the group’s guitarist, about the band and its origins. “I was like, ‘Oh hey, people seem to really like this and we’re having a lot of fun,’” he said. “And the simplicity of acoustic instruments appeal to all of us, too. […] We all gather around a single microphone. So when we’re playing live, it’s very, very simple for us to set up because there’s no amplifiers. I mean, as long as we basically have somewhere to plug in that microphone, we can play a show.”
This laidback energy seems to be a defining quality of River Ghost Revue, with different members coming in and out of the group, and the acting members frequently switching instruments. But more often than not, the band is comprised of Robert Watson on guitar, his brother, Joel Watson, on mandolin and back-up vocals, and Ed Gorum on vocals and stand-up bass.
The group’s casual vibe is what gives their sound so much charm, but it doesn’t take away from their talent, nor their dedication. For example, some of their live shows involve the band selecting an album and covering the entire thing in a single show. Watson recalled playing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle be Unbroken, a behemoth double-album, which they covered at Rose Music Hall with the help of fellow local musicians.
The band has a penchant for outdoor shows, which means they’re a bit quieter over the winter months, but you can catch them at The Focal Point in St. Louis on March 26th (pandemic-allowing) and they’ll play at Columbia’s annual Heritage Festival in September. Otherwise, they frequently play Cooper’s Landing in the warmer months, as well as other venues around town.
You can listen to their music on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Robert suggests starting with their 2015 album, A Land of Deepest Shade. “We recorded it in a bar and just kind of set up and it’s pretty unadorned and stripped down. It’s pretty representative of what we sound like live. It’s original material primarily with a couple traditionals thrown in.” Keep up with the band’s live show schedule and new releases by following them on Facebook.