5 questions (LEAF edition) with Free Planet Radio

Free Planet Radio, photo courtesy of the band

LEAF is almost here — the festival’s 40th iteration runs Thursday-Sunday, May 7-10. In advance, Xpress is talking to performers about what they have planned and why being part of LEAF’s 20th anniversary is so special.

World music trio Free Planet Radio (Chris Rosser, River Guerguerian and Eliot Wadopian) has played many a LEAF festival — and the three musicians also have their hands in a number of other projects, from LEAF stages to world tours.

Mountain Xpress: You’ve been part of LEAF for awhile — what does the 20th anniversary/40th festival mean to you?

Chris Rosser: Having performed at some of the very early LEAF festivals, it has been incredible to watch the festival grow into one of the premier festivals in the country. I think it is great that the festival continues to have local performers be such a big part of the festival as well.

Eliot Wadopian: Twenty Years!? It’s been 20 Years!?? Oy! Really great to think back as I’m sure I played at one of the first festivals. Great to hear LEAF has sustained and we are so fortunate to be a small part again this year!

River Guerguerian: To be hosting a festival so successfully for so many years … in this business and in this economy. Is a true testament to its true value in our region. Beyond the festival, LEAF does great work in the community throughout the year as well, and people around here respect that.

As a world music band, does LEAF provide a special or different platform for you in comparison to other festivals?

CR: Our motto in Free Planet Radio is that music has no boundaries and borders, and LEAF seems to embody that same spirit. In other words, good music is good music no matter what country or culture it comes from, and broadening our musical horizons can make us more tolerant and compassionate as people.

RG: Amen, Chris.

EW: LEAF is always special and remains to be one of the unique festivals in this country. With the inclusion of so many acts from around the world, Free Planet Radio feels incredibly fortunate to share the stage with such diversity.

RG: LEAF supports and gives a lot of importance to world music. It shows in their programming over the years. It doesn’t make world music a “side thing” as other festivals do.

How does the experience of performing in an outside, open-air setting compare to the concert hall? Do you have do do anything differently to connect with your audience?

CR: In a concert hall where the audience is superquiet and focused, you can perform with a little more subtlety and nuance. Our performance at the barn will probably be more like this. When we perform on the festival main stage, we have to project the energy outward more and tend to play more upbeat tunes and music with broader brushstrokes so that it will travel far out into the festival grounds.

RG: From a drummer’s perspective, my attention and response to the crowd is very different outside because I am following and leading the groove of the elements and the inspiration that more people will want to dance and move around. And perhaps give us their “Asheville Freestyle Dance” moves.

What other LEAF artist from this season’s lineup would you most like to collaborate with?

CR: I’m a big Karsh Kale fan – I’m looking forward to hearing him live and would love to collaborate with him.

RG: Love Karsh Kale also, and hope to do a jam with Natalia, she is doing a residency at Odyssey School where my music studio is. Xavier Rudd would be a good one also. There are a lot of new acts I don’t know about but am looking forward to seeing. And it’s also very cool that I have played/jammed with about five other bands on the lineup. It’s like a big extended family.

What’s a favorite memory from LEAF — either as performer or a festival-goer — that you can share?

CR: One of my favorite moments as a performer at LEAF would probably be the three of us backing up Lizz Wright at the festival a few years ago. Some of my favorite moments in the audience were [for] Tinariwen, Richie Havens and the Indigo Girls.

RG: That’s an interesting question… I started performing LEAF in 1999, and immediately loved everything about it and what it stood for. I also started bringing my family there, and they fell in love with it, and still do. I just finished a three-year term as a LEAF board member and I am now on the advisory board helping with the upcoming teaching artist institute. So… it’s an interesting and growing memory that’s built upon community and hearty fellowship. Sometimes we go not because of who is playing, but because of the vibe and camaraderie that we know will be there. Cheers to another 40!

Free Planet Radio performs on the Lakeside Stage on Friday, 4:30-5:30 p.m. and on Saturday at The Barn, 2:30-3:30 p.m.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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