A local singer-songwriter finds support in the creative community

SING ABOUT IT: During a difficult time, Adrienne Ammerman turned to music as a creative outlet. That renewed passion led to connections and collaborations through volunteering with Girls Rock Asheville. Photo by Meg Reilley Photography, album art by Hannah Dansie

“Making music isn’t something I’ve always done,” says singer-songwriter Adrienne Ammerman. Instead, her focus had been on her work in nonprofit and health communications (“I like storytelling, and I like writing”) and raising her young family. But not long after Ammerman’s 2012 move from Washington, D.C., to Asheville, she realized, “I’d lost the creative side of me that longed to do my own stuff.”

A period of introspection, revisiting her guitar and subsequent outpouring of songs led to the spare-yet-lush and hauntingly lovely album, The Hunt, released earlier this year. Ammerman will perform those songs and others at The Crow and Quill Friday, Dec. 4. The show includes performances by local experimental artists Lush Agave and Elisa Faires.

Ammerman winces at the cliché of how much music has helped her, but she’s quick to point out that she might not have taken the same creative journey were she still based in D.C. Western North Carolina has offered her not only the support of her family — her parents, formerly in the foreign service, raised her in the former Yugoslavia, India, France and Hong Kong, but have since settled in Asheville — but a creative community. Her husband, Vincent Gagnon, is one of the masterminds behind Woodpecker Handpies, a business planning to open inside The Mothlight. Ammerman, who works for the YWCA of Asheville, also found an artist outlet through the organization Girls Rock Asheville.

Scheduling constraints and a small child in the house meant Ammerman recorded The Hunt late at night. “I didn’t have the time to work with other musicians,” she says. “Even if [the record] was imperfect, I needed to do it all myself and have it represent this period of my life.”

But now she’s interested in collaborating. Drummer Nancy Asch and keyboardist Sarah Ristaino will join Ammerman’s set at The Crow and Quill; the three met through Girls Rock Asheville. “I volunteered with their first camp as a band coach, teaching guitar,” she says. The summer program seeks to empower girls and transgendered youths of all backgrounds through music education.

“There were workshops on knowing your gear that some of the young women in UNC Asheville’s music tech program led,” says Ammerman. “I found that so great for me.” After an open mic experience at which she felt condescended to, the information from the gear class helped Ammerman to bolster her own confidence and step up her game as a performer. Seasoned musicians such as Alisha Erao (aka Lush Agave), have also passed valuable knowledge onto Ammerman as she hones her craft.

But if The Hunt was a first effort, its creator didn’t play it safe. The collection of songs, Ammerman says, are about the shadow self and how that can be both something selfish and a force for change. “Thumbalina’s Mother” is slow and haunting, its minor chords and lilting notes recalling Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy.” The title track is both dreamy and urgent — rock drums (albeit soft ones) tick through electric guitars. Second track, “Manawee,” is the album’s standout. From its careful intro (“I had a twin who looked nothing like me, she fell in love far too easily”), the spooky fable unfolds. The song title, elongated into an enigmatic call, is the whole of the chorus, sung over staccato vocalizations.

Ammerman teamed up with dancer and choreographer Jennie Liu, a friend since high school in Hong Kong, for the video to “Manawee.” Liu now lives in Los Angeles, and when Ammerman approached her about a collaboration, “She had footage that she’d never been able to figure out what she wanted to do with,” says the musician. “When she heard ‘Manawee,’ she realized that’s what [the footage] had been waiting for.”

Another video co-creation could be in the future. Projects with fellow musicians are certainly in the works. “I think the next set of recordings I do will probably reflect that shift” toward collaborations rather than solo work, says Ammerman. “I’m still writing, [and] I’m focusing on feeling confident to share my music in public.”

WHO: Adrienne Ammerman, Lush Agave and Elisa Faires
WHERE: The Crow and Quill, thecrowandquill.com
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 4, 9 p.m. $5-$10 donation

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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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