DIG Fest, day 1

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The first night of DIG festival looked to be a success, with eight downtown Asheville venues hosting music and a couple dozen bands performing. The way the ticketing works — full weekend passes, passes to all venues on one day, or passes to all bands at a single venue, meant that festival-goers could design their own experience. Bounce from show to show or stay put, watching the crowd and lineup change around you.

PAPER CROWNS, an on-and-offstage couple (and recent transplants to Asheville), played an early set at 5 Walnut. Spiro Nicolopoulos played electric guitar and banjo; his wife Nicole played acoustic guitar and harmonica and between them, they composed an entire rhythm section with foot-powered percussion (including a cymbal and tambourine). Their jangly folk, mostly upbeat, was underscored by palpable chemistry. They often locked eyes while playing, their voices well-matched and their songs both hooky and storied.

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JEFF SANTIAGO Y LOS GATOS NEGROS played Tressa’s, filling the jazz and blues club with a distinctly ’90s-era, grunge-inspired sound. Santiago’s songs melded sweeping, angst-tinged melodies with driving percussion that managed to feel cooly retro (college radio of a by-gone era) and bracingly modern. Debrissa McKinney (who performs in four DIG Fest bands this weekend) added vocals and tambourine; Jarod Perkins kept the percussion crisp. Tressa’s itself added to the aesthetic, its martini bar glamour (velvet curtains, chandeliers, a disco ball slowly scattering improvised starlight against the ceiling) seemed at odds with Santiago’s Seattle-esque grit — and yet, together, the end result was cinematic and escapist in the best way.

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WARM THE BELL took over the roof at The Social, a great place to be on a warm summer evening. The band split its set between the ’60s-inspired folk pop of its album, “You Are the Sun,” and the Americana/shoegaze of Nevada, the band in which co-songwriters Vickie Burrick and Sean Robbins previously played. Lots of reverb, vocal delays, two guitars and keyboard built the dark and dreamy sonic tapestry. Burrick’s lead vocal on a few songs also recalls the ’80s alt-rock of bands like Let’s Active and The dB’s.

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JEFF THOMPSON also played at 5 Walnut with 3/5 of his band, The Outliers. While a full band would have easily overwhelmed the wine bar’s small space, the trio — which took its cues from a jazz combo even as it played rock offerings — was a good fit. Thompson’s songs, soulful and blues-tinged, showed off his range with upper-register vocalizations and plenty of humorous winks. Even as a skilled musician with a formidable backing band, Thompson doesn’t take himself too seriously. Still, just in case anyone questioned his commitment to craft, Thompson finished out his set with a cover of Otis Redding’s emotive “Tenderness” that melded into a scorching, take-no-prisoners rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”

Find tonight’s DIG Fest lineup here.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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