Around Town: Asheville Gay Men’s Chorus celebrates 25 years

A QUARTER-CENTURY: The Asheville Gay Men's Chorus, pictured here in the early part of this century, is celebrating 25 years with an anniversary concert. Photo courtesy of Nancy Banks

The Asheville Gay Men’s Chorus will celebrate 25 years at an anniversary concert at Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre on Thursday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m. During the event, City Council member Kim Roney will announce a city proclamation declaring June 15 as Asheville Gay Men’s Chorus Day.

Dr. Will Jones, a member of the chorus since the beginning, reflects on the anniversary in an email exchange with Xpress. “Seeing the changes through the years has been gratifying,” he writes. “Remember, when we started, there was maybe one state (Massachusetts) that had full marriage equality, and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (the U.S. military’s ban on gay and lesbian service members) was in full force. We incorporated with ‘Cantaria’ as the moniker, as ‘gay men’s chorus’ would have prohibited many men from being involved. About 10 years in, we started going by ‘Cantaria — the gay men’s chorus of Asheville,’ and finally in about 2018 became the Asheville Gay Men’s Chorus.”

Jones adds that community support has helped the chorus through the years. “Honestly for a city of this size to even have a gay choral organization, much less one that has performed across the country and even internationally, is an indication of just the kind of wonderful, diverse city we live in,” he writes.

Jones adds that he’d like to see the chorus grow in terms of membership, diversity of membership and sphere of influence. After the anniversary concert, the chorus will participate in local Pride performances in September and will be working toward its annual holiday show as well as the GALA Choruses 2024 Festival, an international convention of LGBTQ choruses.

“Through it all, the joy of making beautiful music with my friends, connecting with the audience, knowing that we are making a difference in people’s lives … I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years brings,” says Jones.

Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre is at 92 Gay St. For more information, visit

Hot Springs ‘homecoming’

The Madison County Arts Council will present the 26th annual Bluff Mountain Festival on Saturday, June 10, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Hot Springs Resort and Spa in Hot Springs.

The free, family-friendly event will feature entertainment from local bluegrass and old-time musicians such as Whitewater Bluegrass Company, Dangerous Curves and the Madison County Ballad Singers. There will also be a performance by the Green Grass Cloggers, an artists market, food vendors and a silent auction of regional items.

“The festival began as a fundraiser to fight for the protection of Bluff Mountain from clear-cutting, and 26 years later the mountain has been zoned as an ecological interest area,” says Laura Boosinger, executive director of the Madison County Arts Council. “The festival heightened awareness of this special place.”

Boosinger adds that the setting of the festival, held under a “massive” magnolia tree on the banks of a spring creek, is a highlight but that the traditional music is the big draw. “Madison County is known for its centuries-old, unbroken, ballad-singing tradition. … Our traditional old-time and bluegrass music is performed by the best in the region,” she says. “And the dance floor stays full of dancers throughout the day.”

Boosinger adds: “Our festival is really a homecoming. Friends and neighbors look forward to the event every year.”

Hot Springs Resort and Spa is at 315 Bridge St., Hot Springs. For more information, visit

Tell us a story

Asheville Storytelling Circle will present Stories for a Summer Evening at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts on Friday, June 9, at 7 p.m. The program, which will consist of personal narratives, is geared toward adults and children older than 12.

Storytellers include former middle school teacher Zane Chait, whose stories range from family to folk tales; Chuck Fink, who dived into the art of storytelling at 63 after taking a class at UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; and poet and storyteller Kyra Freeman, who grew up in Vermont with her “no TV” parents telling her bedtime stories.

The Asheville Storytelling Circle, which welcomes new members, meets monthly on the third Monday at 7 p.m. in the Asheville Chamber of Commerce second-floor boardroom, 36 Montford Ave.

“The mission of the Asheville Storytelling Circle is to affirm our various cultures, nourish the development of emerging and established artists, and promote excellence in the oral traditions,” says Larry Pearlman, president. “We have been active in the Asheville area since 1995 and include members from neophytes who never plan to appear on stage to internationally known artists such as Connie Regan-Blake and Michael Reno Harrell. Our motto is, ‘If you have a life, you have a story.’”

Black Mountain Center for the Arts is at 225 W. State St., Black Mountain. For more information, visit

What’s the secret?

The Big Secret Family Festival is returning for a second year. The event, which is a fundraiser for the nonprofit BeLoved Asheville, will take place held outdoors at Salvage Station on Sunday, June 11, at 2:30 p.m.

The lineup features funk, hip-hop, jazz, circus acts and Cherokee storytelling. Live bands include Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Firecracker Jazz Band and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo.

“Unlike last year, we will also have Cherokee storytelling by John Grant and taekwondo exhibitions by Asheville Sun Soo Martial Arts,” says Cactus, founding member of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. “Plus, there’s a feature film about Asheville being shot partially at the festival.”

He adds, “The Big Secret is all about community collaboration. One of the ways we spread that message is by having each of the bands perform a collaboration set with each of the other bands.”

Cactus says the festival was created with three ideas in mind. “[We wanted] to create a day of family fun so mind-blowing that no one will ever forget it, pay the local performers fairly for their work and combine the profits from sponsorships from local businesses and ticket sales to make a bunch of money for a local organization that does good in the community,” he says. “Last year, the festival generated $23,000 for My Daddy Taught Me That, a mentorship organization for underresourced youths. This year, we want to keep that number growing.”

This year’s beneficiary, BeLoved Asheville, is an organization that works to help Asheville’s unhoused and working poor communities, with a focus on racial equity.

Cactus says organizers hope to grow the community celebration annually. “Asheville is a multifaceted city,” he says. “It’s a place where the wealth gap widens every day, where some people are displaced while others thrive. People are drawn here for many reasons, especially the beauty, the art and the music. By creating a situation where people can gather in a beautiful spot and dance to local, collaborative music, be amazed by stories and circus acts, employ local artists and also generate funds for the members of our community that need a little help, my hope is that we can unite disparate elements of Asheville for the common good. Put more simply, it’s a festival of giving … and getting down!”

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

A day for clay

Clay Day, an educational event sponsored by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, will celebrate one of the oldest craft mediums in the auditorium of the Folk Art Center from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, June 10. Guild members will volunteer their time to provide hands-on projects and live demonstrations of techniques such as turning on the clay wheel, coil building and decoration.

Folk potter, historian and author Rodney Leftwich will be in the Folk Art Center lobby throughout the day to talk to visitors about pottery traditions, as well as demonstrate his own techniques.

“Traditional pottery had a large role in the lives of earlier residents of the southern Appalachians,” says Janet Wiseman, guild executive director. “Items such as pitchers, mugs and containers were useful and functional to everyday living.”

The family-friendly event is free.

The Folk Art Center is at Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 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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