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art theplaceThey were stuck. Sitting around the bar at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva, the members of rockabilly band Rumble Seat Riot were wondering if they’d make their upcoming show in St. Louis, if their broken down van in Greenville was salvageable, or if they’d even be able to make it back home to Des Moines. 


But one thing was for sure — they had a place to sleep, a meal to eat and a stage to play in Western North Carolina, at least until the other “what ifs” of their current tour found an ideal solution.

“If it wasn’t for Mary, I don’t know what we’d do,” said Gene Senn, lead singer/guitarist for Rumble Seat Riot. “We were stuck in Greenville, with nowhere to go, and a friend of ours who plays in another band said to get hold of Mary, and her hospitality has been truly amazing.”

Mary, as in Mary Harper — No Name bar manager, music booker, den mother to the melodic road warriors of the night. A selfless, loving woman who radiates music from every ounce of her being, Harper has become a sort of legend within the national touring circuits. 

“Music fuels my soul, it makes me happy, helps me cope,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to share that goodness with all the people who I cross paths with.”

With No Name giving Harper free reign to book any and all music acts, she has created an atmosphere as unique as it is popular and frenzied. Bands from all over the United States, from Colorado to Florida, New York to Texas, all find their way to Sylva, a music-loving town where new sounds and styles are supported — where if you play a great show in front of 30 people one random night, the next time you swing through 60 will hit the dance floor.

“Seeing my friends, customers, co-workers, and even strangers, get excited about a band coming to town means that I’ve given something back, something they want and appreciate,” Harper said. “Music makes then sing and dance — it doesn’t get much better than that.”

And for Rumble Seat Riot, stranded in Southern Appalachia, it means a two-night run of shows at No Name, and a safe harbor in the rough sea that is the music industry. Alongside Senn, Larry Kaster (standup bass) and Butchie Spektor (drums, former percussionist for Slipknot) barrel into the crowd, wave after wave of rock, punk and psychobilly rolling out of the speakers. The sound is as loud and commanding as it is catchy and captivating — you simply can’t turn away.

Smoky Mountain News: What keeps the band going, why do you do this?

Gene Senn: We’ve always loved traveling. This tour has been especially rough and you start thinking “Why am I doing this?” but it’s about seeing new sights and people, new areas we’ve never seen before. Every year you tend to get a little better, every year is your year, you know? It may not go as quickly as you’d like, but every year gets better, and hopefully you come across that one year where everything explodes.

SMN: What goes through your head when you’re onstage, firing on all cylinders?

Larry Kaster: I’m thinking at this point we need to drive it home even farther, that the show doesn’t ever plateau, that it gets bigger and bigger, louder and louder. This is the biggest high that you can ever have, being right here, traveling right around the country, meeting new people everyday, playing shows in front of brand new people, watching people get down and have fun. 

SMN: What has a life playing music taught you about being a human?

Butchie Spektor: Overall, it’s the fact of having that understanding that you’re blessed with the ability to play music, that you consciously made a choice to not follow the basic 9 to 5 job, get to do something that others may just think about doing and they never act on doing it. Good times or bad times, poor times or financially beneficial times, it’s all about that experience of being able to do this — appreciate the fact you’re doing something you love.



Hot picks

1: Bluegrass/gospel group Balsam Range will perform at 7:30 p.m.  Sept. 6, at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville.

2: The Dillsboro Celebration Train will depart at 1 p.m. Sept. 6 from the Bryson City Train Depot.

3: Blues-rockers The Hooten Hallers will perform at 9 p.m. Sept. 7-8 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.

4: Art After Dark will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 5 in Waynesville.

5: The Cherokee BBQ & Bluegrass Throwdown will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 5-6 at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds.

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