Mountain Heart is playing its way back to the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.
On Nov. 3, the award-winning bluegrass group will perform at the New River Land Trust benefit concert — Land Jam 2012 — at the Lyric Theatre.
Mountain Heart is an acoustic Americana band with roots in bluegrass music. Its performance at this year’s concert will mark the band’s second appearance at the Lyric. John Eustis, executive director of NRLT, has been planning this year’s concert since last fall.
“They seemed to have a great experience here last time,” Eustis said. “Our work is conserving the rural land and heritage in the New River Valley, and that includes Appalachian music. Even though Mountain Heart plays a little more up-tempo, newgrass music, they are very rooted in that heritage.”
Lead vocalist Josh Shilling said the band’s musical style is often called high-energy.
“The guys I play with are some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen or heard,” Shilling said. “We can go on and do an Allman Brothers cover and flip right over into a gospel quartet or some kind of jazzy jam that goes on for 10 minutes. We can go out and be more island-y in the Caribbean and then become bluegrass gospel when we’re at the Grand Ole Opry. We’re a diverse, high-energy group of guys.”
Mountain Heart was named Emerging Artist of the Year in 1999 at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and has since been nominated in three other categories.
The band’s bass player, Jason Moore, was nominated for Bass Performer of the Year from 2004 to 2006. Fiddler and vocalist Jim Van Cleve was nominated for Fiddle Player of the Year at the IBMAs in 2007. A song from his solo project, “No Apologies,” was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2007.
Two of the band’s albums — “Wide Open” and “The Road That Never Ends” — peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Bluegrass radio charts.
Mountain Heart is more than used to playing large venues like the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville. Since 1998, Mountain Heart has toured around the world, playing alongside big-name acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Fogerty and The Avett Brothers.
“When you’re in front of 100,000 people, you’re not as connected,” Shilling said. “But when you’re in an intimate room with 300 or 4000 people, it’s like they’re sitting in your living room. For me, it’s a lot more nerve-wracking.”
The band has continued its tour even in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. The band played a show in Tampa Bay, Fla. on Saturday and will play in South Boston, Va. Friday night.
“Our touring never stops,” Shilling said. “Artists like Tim McGraw mainly tour during the festival season. Their schedules get pretty heavy toward the back of May and stop in October for the holidays. For Mountain Heart, if you want to have a show, we’re there, as long as it’s not Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, or Christmas.”
Like the rest of the band, Shilling does musical work outside of Mountain Heart. He is a full-time songwriter and has written for artists such as Diamond Rio, which has received 13 Grammy nominations. Shilling just released his debut solo record, “Letting Go,” and continues to write new music while on the road.
Despite a constant touring schedule, the band does not have trouble coming up with new material.
“I can get burnt out when I’m touring and writing, but we have some really creative guys,” Shilling said. “Over half of the band lives in Nashville and they all work as paid studio session artists. Some of them do production work as well. When we’re not out on the road, they’re in the studio.”
For Shilling, traveling to Blacksburg is like coming home.