Rising Appalachia Merge Social Activism And World Music In Northern California

The ever-evolving sounds of Rising Appalachia represent a rallying cry for social, environmental, and economic justice with their blend of world music expression and passion to resist. Led by sisters Chloe Smith and Leah Song, Rising Appalachia weaves an afghan of musical color and cultural traditions, while also seeking to uplift the consciousness of their fans. The band prides itself on promoting awareness and action about the many issues of our times. Last Monday, on October 16th, fans in Nevada City, California, welcomed the celebrated return of Rising Appalachia to the area, as the group packed Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts to the gills for two consecutive nights. 

Behind the siren sisters are multi-instrumentalist David Brown and all-world percussionist Biko Casini, uniting to create a fantastic foursome that makes a vivid tapestry of song and emotion. During Tuesday show in Nevada City, Rising Appalachia’s lifetime of influences were on display throughout their ninety-ish minute set, ranging from traditional Appalachian folk to NOLA Lagniappe, from West African riddims to activist hip-hop and a nod to mid-90s R&B.

Eschewing an elaborate introduction or stage set-up, the unassuming sisters took the stage and unveiled their empowering folk anthem, “Wider Circles.” With the captivated audience under their proverbial thumb, Leah and Chloe captained a journey through the annals of their thick songbook, reaching back for the fan-favorite “Pretty Little Foot” and the impassioned “Scale Down”. The sisters spent a few moments between songs plugging their recently released live LP Alive, which was culled from several performances in recent tours. The group also delivered a phenomenal version of “Lean In” (found on Alive) that incorporated portions of Aaliyah‘s classic “Are U That Somebody”.  

Inspiration and introspection were embedded into Rising Appalachia’s messages and melodies. The band’s harmonies were serene and scintillating alike, filling the hearts and minds of all who were lucky enough to take in the majestic performance. After the scathing “Filthy Dirty South”, Song invited West African multi-instrumentalist Arouna Diarra to the stage, who brought uncanny improvisational prowess and an affable stage presence.

Diarra played kora and the kamel n’goni—a 14-string harp-like instrument—that he crafted himself. Later, on “Medicine/Caminando”, he stepped to the forefront with authority, playing with a melodic and percussive sensibility. Diarra blessed up another familiar selection “Downtown”, and locked into a fierce jam session with Brown and Casini that acted as a de facto set break. Tuesday evening after the Rising Appalachia show, Casini and Diarra went on to play a spirited set of West African riddims and improvisational dance music at the Haven Underground in Nevada City. 

Rising Appalachia is no stranger to activism in action; the band has aligned themselves with progressive social and environmental causes since their inception a decade ago. Pioneering the Slow Music Movement, fighting industrialized prison systems, promoting Permaculture, and supporting the water protectors at Standing Rock are merely a few of the efforts they have publicly championed.

In the Grass Valley, Rising Appalachia welcomed WaterNow,  an organization that focuses on sustainable, environmentally friendly water solutions, and local holistic health company Vital YogiGuayaki Yerba Mate has also been along for the entire West Coast leg of Rising Appalachia’s fall tour.  Cebador (and former Rising Appalachia tour manager)  Rueben Sadowsky and his Guayaki team were  sharing mate and educating fans on the benefits of this ancestral wonder of nature as a part of their tremendous Come to Life program.


To bring us on homeward bound, and send the capacity crowd spinning into the night, Smith and Song unveiled two storied, traditional hymns in all of their hybrid glory. First, Leah asked Brown to dust off a bluegrass guitar intro for the timeless “Cripple Creek”, before the women plus Biko co-opted the tune with their smooth and sultry update, working the audience into pickin’ frenzy. For an encore, Rising Appalachia took the crowd back on down to the “St. James Infirmary”, a callback to their halcyon days busking in the beloved Crescent City of New Orleans. As the Second Line swagger oozed from the pores of this time-honored classic, Leah and Chloe channeled just a smidgen of Satchmo for a Sierra foothills serenade.

Photos and Video used with permission, courtesy of Sydney Woodward, Come to Life/Rising Appalachia.

Words: B.Getz