Around town: A weeklong celebration of women musicians

WOMEN TO THE FRONT: Nicole Nicolopoulos, Anastasia Marie, Ashley Heath and Kim Jade perform at last year's WTF Festival. This year's performances will culminate on Sunday, Sept. 17, at New Belgium Brewing Co. after a weeklong celebration at various venues around town. Photo by Heather Burditt

Musician Melissa McKinney was running Stages Music School in West Virginia when her daughter’s all-female teenage “positive message” funk band was invited to play at the LEAF Festival in Black Mountain. Their participation in the festival was McKinney’s introduction to the music scene in Asheville, and she fell in love. 

Now she and her daughter are hosting the second annual Women to the Front Festival. This year’s festival will include a weeklong celebration during WTF Week, Sunday, Sept. 10-Saturday, Sept. 16, during which shows will take place across the city at venues such as The Grey Eagle, The Outpost, Botanist & Barrel Tasting Bar + Bottle Shop and Pisgah Brewing Co. The week will culminate in an all-day, family-friendly festival at New Belgium Brewing Co. on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 11 a.m.

Since moving to the area four years ago, McKinney has laid a strong foundation in Asheville’s music industry, including leading her band Mama and the Ruckus, serving as a LEAF resident artist and maintaining the youth artist development program One Voice Project, which she founded while running Stages.

The idea for WTF was born one evening while chatting with fellow musician Rachel Waterhouse at One World Brewing West about “struggles that women face by just being a woman, as well as being a woman in the music industry,” she says. “We discussed how we could better support each other, and I ended up having this big get-together at my house where around 30 female musicians showed up. Dani Cox said she had always wanted to do a music festival, and I said that I had always wanted to, too.”

McKinney and Cox began planning immediately, with a focus on community building and connection as well as fair pay. Last year’s festival, held at New Belgium Brewing Co., was a well-attended success. McKinney says the only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough, and that was part of the inspiration for the weeklong celebration.

Cox is taking a step back from planning this year but is still involved and will perform during WTF Week. Other musicians include April B, Ashley Heath, Gill Knott, Kasey Horton and Peggy Ratusz. Sunday will also include a collaboration band, WTF Funk Project, made up of Lyric, Rebekah Todd, Whitney MongéKla Zuskin, Waterhouse, McKinney and her daughter, who goes by the name McKinney — and others. On Saturday, a panel composed of musicians and other members of the music industry will hold a discussion at Salvage Station.

“Next year as we grow, we want to include more panel opportunities for people to talk, share and learn,” says McKinney. “Our focus right now is on musicians, but in the future, we really want to be able to include visual artists, dancers, theater professionals, women in businesses — women in the world, you know?”

For more information, visit

Magical book release

Author, teacher and folklorist H. Byron Ballard, known locally as “The Village Witch,” is debuting her newest book, Small Magics: Practical Secrets from an Appalachian Village Witch, at a hybrid event at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Wednesday, Sept 6, at 6 p.m.

Ballard says the book is based on a class on practical magic, which she’s been teaching at Asheville Raven and Crone, as well as on the festival circuit, for over six years.

“I started teaching that class because there were so many people who were new to witchcraft who thought they could just buy a big stack of books, say two rhyming couplets and add a little garbled Latin on the end — and that’s what magic was,” she says. “But I learned a deeper practice that was more building blocks about how you do magic.”

Ballard, a native of Buncombe County whose local lineage traces to the 17th century, says she has been a writer “forever.” She grew up writing short stories and later founded the Smoky Mountain Repertory Theater. Her first full-length book, Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo, was published in 2012.

With Small Magics, Ballard hopes to instill confidence in beginners. So many early practitioners, she notes, are scared they’ll do something wrong “because they read about calling demons and all this other stuff.”
Her book, she continues, is about helping readers find what they need. “So, if you live in Asheville, you better have a parking spell that works,” she says. “Because if you don’t, you’ll never get parking.”
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café is at 55 Haywood St. For more information, visit

The Rhapsodist

A-B Tech’s student and faculty literature and art publication, The Rhapsodist, is accepting submissions for the 2024 issue.

The booklet, which is published annually in the spring, was the brainchild of A-B Tech English department instructor Erik Moellering in 2012. “The community college gets folks from all different types of backgrounds and walks of life, and that’s proven really interesting in the process of showcasing their work,” he says.

The publication’s staff and faculty group will begin reading the submissions in September, with the final deadline being Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Current copies of The Rhapsodist are available in the lobby of the school’s Don C. Locke Library, as well as the Elm Building.

For more information, visit

New McDaniel play debuts at UNCA

Asheville native and playwright Monica McDaniel‘s newest original play, Riding Hood, debuts Friday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. at UNC Asheville’s Carol Belk Theatre. A second performance will follow on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m., at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center.

The production honors legendary blues singer Big Mama Thornton and reimagines the classic Grimms’ tale “Little Red Riding Hood” with an all-Black cast and set in McDaniel’s hometown — which plays a role as a supporting character.

“Through the lens of Riding Hood, audiences will embark on a journey of self-discovery and connection, as the play explores themes of Black identity, young love and familial bonds,” according to a press release.

The Carol Belk Theatre at UNC Asheville is at 1 University Heights. The Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center is at 285 Livingston St. For more information, visit

Event memorializes artist Bellenoit

A celebration of life will be held for visionary artist Blais Bellenoit, who passed away unexpectedly in June, on Sunday, Sept. 10, 3-9 p.m., at Salvage Station.
Bellenoit, who lived on and off in Asheville for around 20 years, was known for his magical realist portraits, murals, one-of-a-kind canvases and sought-after prints, according to a press release.

The all-ages, indoor event has a $10 entry free and includes free parking. Proceeds will support the family with final costs.

The celebration will begin with a memorial service, followed by an art showcase with works by Bellenoit for sale. From 7-9 p.m., the JLloyd Mashup will perform some of Bellenoit’s favorite songs, as well as a song written by Bellenoit.

“Creativity ran deep in the roots of my family,” Bellenoit said in his biography, according to a press release. He grew up in Massachusetts and was a student at Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology, where he majored in illustration. “The art hustle was very challenging at times but allowed me to share a lot of art with my community.”

Salvage Station is at 468 Riverside Drive. For more information, visit

TEDxAsheville returns

After a yearlong hiatus, TEDxAsheville announces the return of their flagship TEDx event to the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 15. The independently organized event will feature local voices for a day of multidisciplinary TED talks, demonstrations and performances around the theme “Meet the Moment.”

“As we collectively emerge from the events of the last several years — a global pandemic; a much-needed racial reckoning; ongoing political divisiveness; accelerating climate change; the emergence of generative AI; and so much more — we are all grappling with how to navigate the uncertainty and opportunity provided by the seemingly intractable challenges of our time,” says Brett A. McCall, lead organizer of TEDxAsheville, in a press release.

In addition to the March event, TEDxAsheville will host two events this fall, with the next one on Thursday, Sept. 21, 5:30-9:30 p.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown.

“We are excited for TEDxAsheville to bring ideas worth spreading back to downtown Asheville,” says Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, president and CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., in the same press release. “As our community wrestles with the tensions of growth and sustainability; inequality and prosperity; divisiveness and reconciliation; more than ever, we need diverse, leading-edge voices to bring big ideas, inspiring conversations, and innovative solutions to Western North Carolina.”

The Hilton Garden Inn is at 309 College St. For more information, visit



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About Andy Hall
Andy Hall graduated from The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. After working at the United States Capitol for ten years, she has returned to her native state to enjoy the mountains — and finally become a writer.

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