Although “pretty much everybody” told them it wasn’t a good idea, Matt Schnable and Mark Capon opened Harvest Records in 2004. “We were just out of college and pretty headstrong about it,” says Schnable. “We figured even if were open just a year, at least we had seen something through.” The West Asheville-based store was embraced by the community and prospered, and will be celebrating a decade in business with the second iteration of Schnable and Capon’s Transfigurations festival — first held to mark the store’s fifth anniversary in 2009.
“That [first festival] was kind of a pivotal moment for us. We had gotten a loan to open the shop, and had finally paid it off,” Schnable says. “It was the beginning of a new era, of being not quite as stressed out.” The store owner credits his and Capon’s involvement with the extended community for their success, citing their work as music promoters on the side and using their storefront for monthly art shows and other happenings as key to their continued existence. “I think that it’s really important to try and stay active and engaged in the world outside of the record shop,” he says.
For the first Transfigurations, Schnable and Capon decided to book a festival based entirely on their own predilections. Given their record-store pedigree and the event’s obscure namesake (The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death by American Primitive guitarist John Fahey), it’s not surprising that lineup varied from standard festival fare: Akron/Family, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and The Books numbered among a cadre of other cerebral indie and folk acts.
The lineup for Transfiguration II — Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 28-30 — is, if anything, more diverse, with acts ranging from the retro soul of Lee Fields & The Expressions to psych-rockers Moon Duo. This year’s plans also expand the original multivenue model (The Grey Eagle and The Mothlight) to include an all-day outdoor stage on Saturday at Blannahassett Island in Marshall.
“We’ve got everything from folk to grunge to damaged techno,” Schnable says. “People will have a chance to step outside of their comfort zone, open themselves up to new things.” He’s particularly psyched for New Zealand’s The Clean, a jangly, psychedelic pop band that rarely tours the States and that the promoters sought out on a whim. And there will be sets by outsider folk artist Michael Hurley (whose debut LP was released 50 years ago this year on Folkway Records) and guitarist William Tyler (performing his instrumental material with a full band).
Tyler will also play with another of the N.C.-based acts on the weekend’s schedule, Hiss Golden Messenger. That band is largely the songwriting vehicle for M.C. Taylor, a California transplant whose music seems to capture the vibe and personality of Transfigurations.
Taylor moved to North Carolina in 2007, determined to gain a better understanding of the American South. “Everything I’ve been most energized by musically and culturally has its roots in the South,” he says. “I felt it was incumbent on me to try and understand the region more deeply.” The music Taylor makes as HGM filters the mystical elements of gospel and old-timey folk, along with a dark, psychedelic-tinged indie-rock edge.
The result, says Taylor, are songs about “reckoning with the lies we tell ourselves to exist on a day-by-day basis.” His latest effort, Lateness of Dancers, while somewhat lightened by the births of his two children, is “all a part of the same tapestry” of the progression of albums he’s made under the HGM moniker. Taylor’s deep love of words and sounds pervades much of his work — the title of the new album comes from a Eudora Welty story, but was chosen for the lovely interplay of its syllables.
The balance of deep Southern roots and sense of tradition with the adventurousness and uncertainty of the modern world is also something both HGM and Harvest have in common. The first HGM record was simply Taylor recording at home in his kitchen, but the project has grown to include venerable N.C. sidemen like Tyler and erstwhile Megafaun members Brad and Phil Cook, and will now see a strong national release on Merge Records, a label based in Chapel Hill.
“Harvest is a great model of a mom-and-pop business,” Taylor says. “It’s what a brick-and-mortar record shop should be.”
WHAT: Transfigurations II, harvest-records.com/transfigurations
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, The Mothlight, Blannahassett Island in Marshall
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 28-30. See website for schedule. Weekend passes are sold out. Thursday and Friday individual show passes are $12-$25; Saturday passes are $50 advance/$60 at the gate