Asheville is a city that prides itself on community and sharing. This weekend, that sentiment will spread to the local music scene as some 34 artists perform on three stages for the venue-based music festival known as POPAsheville.
In addition to showcasing a who’s who of local indie music—including headliners like Stephanie’s Id, Seth Kauffman, On the Take and Nevada—the two-day festival will feature tours of Asheville’s Echo Mountain Recording Studio, offer a music-business panel discussion and provide an opportunity for fans to watch Stephanie’s Id record a new track live at Collapseable Recording Studio.
Festival organizer (and vocalist for Stephanie’s Id) Stephanie Morgan says that it was important to construct a multifaceted experience designed not only to entertain, but also to bolster sharing and cooperation among the city’s numerous touring bands. That, she says, was at the heart of the festival’s original intent.
The event that would become POPAsheville began in 2003, and was originally called Id Fest. It was intended to be a one-shot celebration of local independent-music acts gathered together by Stephanie’s Id.
Id Fest “started as a fun way to have bands from out of town come and play with us,” Morgan explains. “We owed a lot of bands shows, so it was our way of paying them back.”
The event proved popular enough to warrant a repeat, and soon became a more-or-less annual event, growing a little more each time. In 2007, Id Fest “got really big,” Morgan recalls, and was rapidly becoming more than just a simple showcase. Not knowing how long her band would be able to directly organize the festival, Morgan and crew decided to give Id Fest an overhaul.
“We wanted to give it a more universal name and a sense of a genre, and really start establishing that so it can live on beyond this band,” she says.
There were more changes in store, too. Instead of sticking to the one-night and one-venue model, the fest now spans two nights and three locations—The Grey Eagle, Stella Blue and the recently opened Rocket Club. And that doesn’t even count the en-route busking-style performances provided on the LaZoom Tours shuttle.
“The shuttle will be awesomely entertaining and lively!” exclaims Morgan. “It’s big, purple, totally renovated for entertainment, probably quite warm, and it serves as a fourth stage for POPAsheville entertainment.”
The festival has also taken on another role: providing much-needed education on the music business. Morgan says that with increasing involvement from the local music community came an opportunity to share more than gigs. Years of experience as a touring performer have taught her that playing onstage is only a small part of making it in the industry.
“We started recognizing a real need in this community to have a business backing behind the band to really keep it afloat financially,” she says. “We wanted to share that with the Asheville community.” The “informal” music-business panel—featuring a number of regionally based industry experts—will discuss how to make it as an indie act.
Another aspect of the festival’s new outlook is the inclusion of out-of-town acts to the bill, such as the Atlanta-based group The Howlies.
“Those bands were picked because they’re willing to gig-swap and kind of schmooze and rub elbows with other bands and set up shows in their town,” she says.” We’re trying to create a real music scene rather than just a showcasing opportunity for the bands.”
But with POPAsheville’s growing profile and outside involvement also comes the risk of over-commercialization. Morgan says that the organizers have been cautious not to outgrow their audience or lose sight of their indie ideals.
“We definitely want it to grow, and we want to make Asheville a center for new thought around the indie scene and the modern music world, bringing people from out of town and putting Asheville on the musical map,” she says. “But we don’t want to grow so fast that we lose the spirit of great music that truly hasn’t been heard getting exposed. I think what tends to happen really easily is [that] sponsors begin to get more and more excited about what you’re doing, and they want to have a certain amount of say in what’s going on. It would be easy to become very commercial.”
For now though, Morgan is confident that Asheville is on the right track.
“We know we’re walking a fine line,” she says. “But we know our town … what it can handle and what it can’t.”
[Dane Smith is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
what: A two-night, three-venue indie music festival
where: Grey Eagle, Stella Blue, Rocket Bar and LaZoom Tour bus
when: Friday, Jan. 18 (registration) to Sunday, Jan. 20. ($15 all-access pass or $10 per night. Visit www.popasheville.com for a complete schedule of all events)