The return of DIG (Downtown Independent Groove) Festival is not so much a reoccurrence as a comeback. The local music fest was first produced in 2009 with a focus on area Americana and roots bands. It was envisioned as a summer counterpart to the Pop Asheville festival, which at the time happened in January. But, right after the inaugural DIG, “Life got very busy for all of us,” says festival organizer Justin Ferraby.
It took four years to bring it back, “like the Olympics and the World Cup of soccer and all great things,” Ferraby jokes. But when he got to talking with co-organizers Jeff Santiago, Oso Rey and Ferraby’s wife, Erika Jane Ferraby, last year, “We kind of realized the structure of the festival was still there.”
The two-day extravaganza takes place the week college students return. It runs Thursday and Friday night, straddling Downtown After Five and, according to Santiago, taking into account the weekend schedules of Asheville’s service industry workers. Thirty-six acts (plus one jam session) will fill five stages (The Orange Peel, Emerald Lounge, The LAB, Asheville Music Hall and One Stop).
“This is within the same realm of what these venues and these bands are trying to accomplish throughout the year,” says Santiago. Booking and promoting shows, getting fans out to hear live local music. “We’re bringing it all together in one concept,” he says.
“If we can build this and make it bigger and better, it will be good for the local music scene,” Justin says.
Part of the plan, going forward, includes lining up some big-name bands that can draw attention to local up-and-coming acts. But, as far as showcasing, DIG already has that covered. The roster has expanded beyond the first year’s roots focus and now includes a full evening of punk sets, rock and experimental bands, funk, folk, hip-hop and a couple of regional outfits: folk-rockers This Mountain are from Johnson City and indie-rockers Sinners and Saints are based in Charlotte.
And there are a couple of triumphant returns — appropriate for an event that is, itself, a comeback.
Roots-rockers Old North State got their start in Colorado but relocated this year to Western North Carolina, where founders/brothers Dillon and Jantzen Wray grew up. Another brother-led band, The Enemy Lovers (who haven’t been heard from since heading to Germany two years ago) are set to play the Orange Peel stage. Rockers The Black Rabbits (whose amp awesomely caught fire at LAAFF in 2011) are back in the area after a stint in Florida. And Debrissa and the Bear King is the new project of soulful vocalist Debrissa McKinney and Rey, who has been musically quiet since his crowd-pleasing Soulgrass Rebellion disbanded.
For many musicians, Justin points out, a festival like DIG offers a chance to meet and collaborate. “Although Asheville’s kind of small, those different genres of music tend to keep to themselves,” he says. At a pre-festival party, “So many people were going, ‘You want to jam?’ There was one guy from the Pleasures [of the Ultraviolent] playing the drums with one of the guys from The River Rats while Pierce [Edens] was up there. They were like, ‘This sounds good!’”
He adds, “If they come up with something new, we all win at the end of the day.”
If the theme of 2013’s DIG remains hard to pinpoint, Justin offers this: “From talking with everyone, there seems to be a real sense of community and people are excited to be showcasing what Asheville has to offer, musically.” Uncle Hamish and the Hooligans won a slot through a battle of the bands contest.
That sense of community continues off-stage, too. The festival will feature a specialty Troy and Sons Distillers cocktail, and donations to the Bob Moog Foundation can be made at all DIG venues.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: DIG Asheville
where: The Orange Peel, Emerald Lounge, The LAB, Asheville Music Hall and One Stop
when: Thursday and Friday, Aug. 15 and 16 (8 p.m., $5 per venue/$10 day pass/$15 two-day pass/$30 VIP pass. https://www.facebook.com/DIGFestival)