Malcolm Holcombe plays at 641 rpm
"I'm just another sad sack beating on a guitar, man, hooting and hollering, making up tunes as we go along you know," he said.
But, as his fans will tell you, he's anything but a "sack."
The Asheville-based folksinger's Appalachian voice and raw folk acoustics have taken him around the world, to acclaim at home and abroad, and Friday marks his return to Boone. "I'm just glad to be working, honey," he said.
Despite successes like "A Far Cry from Here" and "Gamblin' House," he's not one to gloat, and shies away from comparisons between himself and icons like Townes Van Zandt.
"It just scares the s*** out of me," he said. "He's, in my opinion, a poet and a songwriter that reaches deep into the human condition, and so I strive to call a spade a spade. That's something."
It's that human condition that Holcombe busts wide open with a dirty raw grit that's all his own. It's a talent born of observation, he said.
"Just hanging around the barbershop," Holcombe said. "You hang around the barbershop for a long time, you get a haircut."
A combination of his mother's French harp, music shows and a pocket transistor radio served as the barbershop. The drive came from Holcombe himself, as he hit the road with a band called Redwing, eventually moving to Nashville, Tenn., and recording his debut in 1996. Featured everywhere from Rolling Stone to Billboard Magazine and working with people like Grammy Award-winning producer Ray Kennedy, Holcombe continues to find success with his rugged picking and Appalachian spirit.
But he never had that defining moment, the moment where a musician knows he's "made it." That, after all, isn't the point.
"It's very elusive," Holcombe said. "It's such an ego-driven money conscience business that I really find it very uncomfortable to pat myself on the back as being anything other than just a chef, cook, bottle washer, and I just try to be of service."
Notable places he's played lately?
"Paris, France, the Netherlands, Marshville, North Carolina," he said.
His favorite locale?
"Anywhere where there's an opportunity to sling the hash and be of service," he said.
A pet peeve? Commercialism. Take a recent trek to Gambina, Italy, a place he calls "beautiful."
"But you see where Anne Frank was buried and next to it is a damn Starbucks," Holcombe said. "There's always room for some idiot who wants to scream out a dollar."
He's definitely not "the idiot."
He's just grateful for the opportunity to play and says he'll continue to sing as long as there are folks to listen.
That means a lot of traveling, but Holcombe has a secret to surviving life on the road.
"Have an extra pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee," he said, "and I try to stay in my own lane as much as I can. I'm just grateful to be working. Job security these days, people trying to keep body and soul together. I just count my blessings every mile."
Holcombe plays Friday at 641 rpm (691 W. King St.) in downtown Boone. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and is open to all ages with an $8 cover.