Fast-rising indie jam band Ghost Light hits Crystal Bay

Ghost Light debuts at Crystal Bay Casino on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Jam fans are a sentient community.

A band on its first tour without any published music shouldn’t have a ghost of a chance. However, 18-month-old Ghost Light was an instant success.

“People were excited to hear something new and to take a chance,” said keyboardist Holly Bowling. “We played great venues and had a really dedicated, amazing fanbase from the beginning.”

Bowling, whose solo career took off after experiencing a Phish show at Lake Tahoe, lives in San Francisco. More on that later. The other four members of Ghost Light are from Philadelphia. The first time all five were in the same room, it was in a studio when they began recording the album “Best Kept Secrets.”

“We’re a Zen diagram except there’s five circles instead of two,” Bowling said. “Everyone overlaps with each other either in past bands or other gigs. But all five of us had never played together. We became a band making that record in the studio before we ever went out and played shows together. It was a very interesting way to start things off.”

Songwriters Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen previously played with American Babies, a group that crossed Bowling’s paths so much that she often joined for onstage jams. The timing was right to connect when the artists were searching for a new music project. Ghost Light’s bass player is Dan Africano of Elephant Wrecking Ball and the drummer is Scotty Zwang from Dooapod and RAQ.

The music is improvisational indie rock.

“Our goal every night is to find a new space in our improvisation that we haven’t been sitting in before.,” Bowling said. “We keep searching for the little unexplored corners or ideas that we haven’t dug up yet. If that’s the definition of jam band, then, yes, I would put us there. The overall sound we have doesn’t fit neatly into that category and the songwriting is sometimes more in a indie rock space, but I think we can be all of those things.”

Although four of its five members are from the East, Ghost Light’s first tour and festivals – including High Sierra – were on the West Coast. After five days of rehearsal in Bellingham, Washington, Ghost Light started a full-length West Coast tour, which includes the Crystal Bay Casino on Thursday night.

Bowling will always have a close connection to Lake Tahoe. She was inspired by a 37-minute improvisational jam by Phish on July 31, 2013, at Harveys Outdoor Arena. A classically trained pianist, she repeatedly listened to the jam and in a nearly yearlong “painstaking, meticulous” puzzle project, wrote “Tahoe Tweezer.”

“I took little bits and pieces of the 37-minute stint of improvisation and connected the whole thing,” she said. “It’s a recreation of Phish’s improvisation but refracted through the lens of how I heard it and interpreted it and how it fits onto a single instrument instead of four. It wasn’t meant to be a public thing. I just love nerdy projects like that. Once I start something like that, it’s very hard to not finish it. My husband urged me put it online.

“It caught on in a way that I hadn’t expected, and it led to a bunch of gigs and eventually a couple of albums and the opportunity to tour in a solo album context that I really hadn’t had the opportunity to do up until that point. It was a real turning point in my life and in my musical career.”

 — Tim Parsons

Ghost Light
Werewolf Club
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the show
Red Room after-party: Big Sticky Mess

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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