Around town: Connect Beyond Festival celebrates art that inspires

CREATING CONNECTION: The Connect Beyond Festival returns to downtown June 7-9. Photo courtesy of Jessica Tomasin

The Connect Beyond Festival will return to downtown Asheville Friday, June 7-Sunday, June 9, exploring the way art forms inspire positive change.

The themes of the fourth annual festival, featuring performances, panels, film screenings and workshops, are Connection to Deepen Resilience and Keep Moving Forward. “We designed this year’s festival to be a little smaller, more intimate and scheduled in a way that guests can attend everything if they want to,” says Connect Beyond’s director, Jessica Tomasin. “There’s no overlap in events, and there’s breaks for lunch and dinner. [It’s] a fully immersive experience.”

The weekend’s lineup kicks off Friday night with a screening of the Sundance Award-winning documentary Step at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. After the screening, the cast will be available for a Q&A. Saturday’s events will take place at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, including a screening of the award-winning documentary We Are Guardians, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and directors, Edivan Guajajara, Chelsea Greene and Rob Grobman.

Other scheduled speakers and performers for Saturday include Lonnie Holley, critically acclaimed musician and visual artist; Julia Hotz, author of The Connection Cure; Paula Dofat, advocate and motivational speaker for historically Black colleges and universities; DeWayne Barton, social entrepreneur and Affrilachian performing artist; Ezekiel J. Walker, award-winning screenwriter, author and editor; and Jared Wheatley, founder of the Indigenous Walls Project. The workshops will cover a range of topics at the intersection of art and activism such as solutions journalism, how to make an impact in your community and using recycled materials to make art.

“It’s really going to be helping people who attend the conference who are thinking globally on how to take sustainable steps to act locally, like how to take that first step getting started on addressing an issue,” says Tomasin. “It’s truly going to be a really great way to connect in a time when people feel more disconnected than ever.”

For the first time in the festival’s history, Friday’s events will be free, though reservations are still required. Saturday’s day pass is $50 and includes entrance to all events and panel discussions. Sunday will be a community day of action with a local sustainability organization yet to be announced and will be free to all participants.

Wortham Center for the Performing Arts is at 18 Biltmore Ave. The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is at 87 Haywood St. For more information, visit

Richard II comes to Montford Park

The Montford Park Players continue its summer season with Richard II, opening Friday, May 31, 7:30 p.m., at Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre.

For the 2024 season, titled Muse of Fire, the troupe will perform the nine Shakespeare plays that recount the Wars of the Roses. The first play, Edward III, opened May 10 and ran through May 26.

Richard II is the story of the English king’s rivalry with his successor, Henry IV, before Henry’s ascension to the throne. Directed by Jason Williams, it stars Emilie Soffe as King Richard, alongside Eric Vik as Henry Bolingbroke. “It’s one of my favorite histories after having performed in it once,” says Williams in a press release. “It’s a beautiful play with lots of beautiful writing and thoughts on what it takes to be a king, ruler or any person in power.”

The rest of the summer schedule runs as follows:

Friday, June 28-Sunday, July 21: Henry IV, 1.2.

Friday, July 26-Sunday, Aug. 25: Henry V

Friday, Aug. 30-Sunday, Sept. 22: Henry VI, parts 1-3.

Friday, Sept. 27-Sunday, Oct. 27: Richard III

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Vendors are available, offering popcorn, soda and other refreshments with proceeds going to local nonprofits. Coffee and pastries will be available from local coffee stand Two Birds, One Scone. All performances are free, and attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

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

Pritchard Park Arts and Culture Series returns

The Asheville Downtown Association announced the return of the Pritchard Park Arts and Culture Series.

Events will be held in Pritchard Park every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from June through August, 5:30-8 p.m.

On Mondays, local singer-songwriters will perform for Pickin’ in the Park, sharing the stories and musical heritage of Asheville.

On Tuesdays, Asheville Museum of Science will host Summer of Science, inviting participants to learn and interact with science-based activities such as bubbles and noise machines. The hands-on demonstrations are appropriate for all ages.

On Wednesdays, Hoop Jam will bring a live DJ and hula hoops to the park. Hula hoopers of all skill levels are invited to “dance, spin and groove to the music in a welcoming and energetic atmosphere,” according to the press release.

On Fridays, the drum circle returns. The community is invited to bring drums, dance or observe.

Pritchard Park is at 67 Patton Ave. For more information about the Pritchard Park Arts and Culture Series, contact

Benefit concert for Black Mountain schools

Pisgah Brewing Co. will host Vibes for the Valley benefit concert on Saturday, June 8, 6:30-9:30 p.m.

The concert is a collaboration with the Black Mountain Schools Parent Teacher Organization to raise money for the district’s after-school programs. Scott McMicken & the Ever-Expanding will perform, as will Asheville’s Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters and Hannah Kaminer & The Wistfuls. All performances will take place on the outdoor stage.

“We want to bring after-school programs back to the Black Mountain Schools in a big way — these programs are so important for kids’ socialization and academic achievement, and for parents, it’s critical to have after-school care for their kids,” says Katie Duval, vice president of the Black Mountain Schools PTO. “If we want to keep our public schools thriving, we must bring back more of these programs and make sure the teachers are compensated to do it.”

There will also be a silent auction with items provided by local businesses, including Trailhead Restaurant, White Horse, Hey Hey Cupcake and many more. Tickets for the event are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. All proceeds will go to the Black Mountain Afterschool Programs.

Pisgah Brewing Co. is at 2948 U.S. 70, Black Mountain. For more information, visit

Juneteenth performance at Vance Birthplace

The Vance Birthplace State Historic Site will host a performance of Leah & the Rabbit: A Conversation Around Resiliency and Reclaiming Narratives on Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m.

The performance is a collaboration with the American Myth Center, which will honor Juneteenth by presenting a morning of historical drama and discussion focused on reclaiming African-American stories, the resilience of enslaved people and the romanticization of the plantation era. The three-act production tells the story of Leah Erwin, an enslaved woman in the 1790s living in the Vance house. The first act incorporates a 30-minute tour of the Vance Birthplace, including Erwin’s story and dwelling. The second act, written and directed by local artist Mikayla Wilson, features puppetry and live storytelling of Brer Rabbit tales. The third act features a post-play discussion with the show’s performers about resilience, understanding and how history can serve as a healing dialogue.

The program is free and is expected to last an hour and a half.

The Vance Birthplace State Historic Site is at 911 Reems Creek Road, Weaverville. For more information, visit

ArtsAVL receives new grant

ArtsAVL has been approved for a Grants for Arts Projects award of $75,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts and will use the funds to support over 40 local nonprofit arts organizations, according to a press release.

“We are incredibly grateful for this funding support from the NEA, which will help ArtsAVL continue to support local arts organizations at the same level this year,” says ArtsAVL Executive Director Katie Cornell in the release. The NEA grant will help replace soon-to-expire American Rescue Plan funds through the N.C. Arts Council.

The N.C. Arts Council and Buncombe County government also support ArtsAVL’s Grassroots Arts Program grant, which has been operating since 1977. The next grant cycle opens in August.

For information about this and other projects in the NEA’s grant announcement, visit

Matt Peiken music series at Citizen Vinyl

“The Overlook with Mike Peiken” podcast will present the next performance in the Hear Here musical series at Citizen Vinyl on Tuesday, May 28, 7 p.m.

With Hear Here, Matt Peiken is looking to highlight Asheville’s indie, rock and experimental scene. Each evening will feature two artists, with live performances followed by on-stage interviews that explore the stories behind the music. The performances are recorded, serving as two episodes of Peiken’s podcast, “The Overlook.”

“It’s also a sit-down show, starting earlier in the evening, to present an inviting alternative to the late-night club scene,” says Peiken. “With Hear Here, you’ll probably be home by nine.”

Hear Here’s first production was in April and featured the bands Pink Beds and Caged Affair. For the second recording, Hear Here will present the bands Detective Blind and O•VAD•YA.

Detective Blind is a New York City-based rock band composed of three girls, the oldest being around sixteen. “I just randomly walked into one of their sets near Mars Hill and was really taken with them,” says Peiken. “They’re three sisters and they really rock it up.” Peiken found O•VAD•YA after putting out an open call for local bands. He was impressed by O•VAD•YA’s psychedelic-world influences and thought it would be fun to have an all-female performance. If the events do well, Peiken hopes to make the performances a monthly event and eventually press the recordings into compilation albums.

Citizen Vinyl is at 14 O. Henry Ave. For more information, visit


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