Heather Gillis cut her teeth on the blues jam circuit in Tallahassee, Florida, where she met the Allman Brothers Band founding member and drummer Butch Trucks, with whom she ended up collaborating.
Trucks was visiting Tallahassee, where he was teaching a percussion seminar at Florida State University. While in town, he organized a jam session at a local blues club.
“The owners called me to be a part of it. I played a couple of songs with him,” Gillis said.
Trucks invited Gillis to join his new group, “Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band,” in 2015. Gillis played with the band for nearly two years. After Trucks died in 2017, Gillis gathered together her own musicians to form her own band.
“He was the biggest mentor in my life,” said Gillis, 23. “He changed the way I approach music. He taught me to be fearless — to get lost in the song.”
The Heather Gillis Band is based in Atlanta, where Gillis said she also played with Colonel Bruce Hampton, another influential mentor.
Her band will perform on Friday, July 13, for the Moab Free Concert Series during the Moab Farmers’ Market at Swanny City Park.
“We were looking for a blues artist to complement our Moab Free Concert Series roster and the Heather Gillis Band fit the bill,” said Cassie Paup, assistant director of the Moab Folk Festival, the organization that founded the free concert series. “Her instrumental prowess, song-writing skill, experience and youth were icing on the cake. We’re excited for the show.”
The band is currently working on its second CD, and will be playing new songs from the album, including four tunes never performed before this tour, Gillis said.
Gillis, who plays guitar and sings, is joined by Evan Sarver on bass, Dallas Dawson on drums, and Tommy Shugart playing the organ. Gillis writes songs by drawing on her life experiences, and from stories she heard along the way.
While much of their material is original, occasionally they’ll cover a song by the 60s rock band Cream, or from Bobby “Blue” Bland, Willie Nelson or the Allman Brothers.
“We’re a mixture of a lot of things; we incorporate a lot of jam into our set,” Gillis said. “We’re based in American Roots music, but we like to rock it up a bit.”
Opening for Heather Gillis are the local duo The Rail Birds, comprised of Josie Kovash playing bass and Lisa Hathaway on guitar. Some may recognize those musicians from other bands with whom they perform: Phil Dirt and Road Assets. Hathaway is also known for playing with the former Sparklemotion, a prominent disco-cover band in Moab during the mid-2000s.
The Rail Birds is a cover band that adds its own spin to songs, Kovash said. Expect to hear songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as Lera Lynn and Leonard Cohen.
The musicians are influenced by 1970s rock and roll, as well as more current bluegrass and folk music, she said. The Rail Birds also perform songs by Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist Anne McCue, who has performed for the Moab Folk Festival.
“When Lisa first called me years ago (to perform in her band) her vision was to start an all-female ‘Black Keys,’” Kovash said.
So it’s fitting that they’d be opening for the Gillis band, because it reminds Kovash of the Black Keys, she said. The Rail Birds will take the stage at 4:30 p.m.
“These concerts last year were a total highlight,” Kovash said. “It brought the Moab Farmers Market to life. So many businesses and volunteers help make it a vibrant scene. It’s a wonderful community event.”
Moab’s Rail Birds to open the free Swanny Park show on July 13
When: During the Moab Farmers’ Market on Friday, July 13; Show starts at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Swanny City Park, 400 N.100 West
Information: moabfreeconcerts.com or heathergillisband.com