Beer and music partnerships are a longstanding tradition in America, and Asheville's breweries are no exception. Week in and week out, local tasting rooms host a seemingly endless stream of regional talent, usually for free.
But Highland Brewing Company has gone a step beyond providing a room to perform; the local hop-house actually employs a variety of local artists at its east Asheville factory. That relationship has given birth to a local music compilation, sponsored by the brewery, with a release party to be held at, you guessed it, Highland's newly opened Tasting Room.
The project began when Now You See Them drummer and event co-organizer Jason Mencer heard the Xpress' 2008 local music compilation and decided a similar project was overdue. The idea remained on the back burner for several months until one afternoon, when working the Highland factory line, Mencer realized there was an album's worth of talent in that very room.
"There were just amazing bands being represented," he remembers. "So I thought, 'This is the perfect opportunity!' I started talking to Highland about it, and they were on board from the very start, just saying, 'What can we do? Let's make this happen.'"
But even with the unwavering support of the area's largest brewery, compiling the disc was no small task. Mencer says he and fellow event organizer Gene Dolan have been at work on the project since early last summer.
"It was a very slow process getting all the ducks in a row and figuring out how possible all this was," he recalls. "Overall, I would say just to get to this point now, we've probably been working on it for seven months."
Now, at long last, the project has come to fruition. Though short by compilation standards, The Mountain Medley Mix CD — which borrows its name from the Mountain Medley 12-packs its contributors assemble at the Highland factory — boasts a wide range of Appalachian sounds from artists including Johnson's Crossroads, The Honeycutters, Grant Desantos & Fatback, Josh Phillips Folk Festival, Lyndsay Wojcik and Modo. As an added bonus, it even features previously unreleased tracks from Underhill Rose, Uncle Mountain and Now You See Them.
The release party, too, promises to be a medley of sorts, with food from Bistro 1896, Fiore's and Mela included in the $10 admission. A host of other local businesses — including Malaprop's, Organic Mechanic, Virtue, Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, Burgermeister’s and the Asheville Fine Arts Theatre — have also chipped in with items for a silent auction.
In addition, the event will serve as the official debut of Highland's latest specialty beer, the LAMA Legato Saison, which bears the name of Mencer and Dolan's newly established LAMA music management agency. The pair were instrumental in crafting the brew, and Mencer says legato was added to reflect the experience of organizing such an inclusive Asheville event.
"[Now You See Them singer/guitarist] Dulci [Ellenberger] actually came up with the legato," he notes. "It's a musical term meaning tied together, which is perfect because we just wanted to make this a local event and incorporate the community and basically tie everybody together. It's just worked so well, as we knew it would."
If a brand-new Highland offering isn't enough, The Hop will be on hand with a new specialty flavor based on the LAMA Legato Saison.
As for the music, Mencer says the performance will be more of an "impromptu jam" than a formal show. A LAMA Festival with proper sets from each of the album’s nine artists is scheduled for March 26 at the Grey Eagle.
"We'll just basically have jam sessions," he says of the Highland event. "All of these musicians know each other and all of us know at least some of each others’ songs. So it will be fun to hop up and play with everyone."
And even though the inaugural event has yet to take place, Mencer admits he and Dolan are already looking to the future.
"I don't know if it's necessarily going to be a compilation every time, but based on how much time we have and how much work all of this is, we'd like to turn this into a bi-annual festival. Maybe spring and a fall. I don't know how big we're looking to grow or exactly what's going to happen, but we would at least like to do something like this two times a year."
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Now You See Them, Overflow Jug Band, The Honeycutters, Uncle Mountain, Grant DeSantos & Fatback, Modo, Lyndsay Wojcik, Johnson’s Crossroad and Underhill Rose
what: CD-release show for the Mountain Medley Mix CD
where: Highland Brewery tasting room, 12 Old Charlotte Highway, No. H
when: Saturday, Feb. 5 (5 to 9 p.m. $10, includes food from Bistro 1896, Fiore’s, Mela and Salsas, specialty ice cream from the Hop and more. Also, save the date for LAMA Festival on March 26 at the Grey Eagle. lookatmeasheville.com)