“The guy who plays drums for Kronik cuts my hair each week,” reveals Lewis Lankford, president of the West Asheville Business Association.
And Bryan Marshall of country act Bryan Marshall & The Gone Wrongs, well, his wife Terra owns The Beauty Parade, a nearby salon.
Lankford is naming off many of the musicians who not only gig on the west side of town, but hang their hats there, as well — and who are slated to play the second-annual WestFest.
“There’s definitely a lot of local talent within West Asheville,” Lankford continues. “I try to tell that to the people who are [booking entertainment] for the festival.”
Of course, not everyone slated to play the multistage WestFest is from West Asheville. “But if someone comes along and they fit in, that’s great,” Lankford asserts.
Don’t hate him because he’s West-centric. It wasn’t many years back that people turned up their noses at the redheaded stepchild across the river, calling it “Worst Asheville” with a snigger. In fact, it’s only recently that many Montford-ites stopped being confused about the difference between downtown’s Haywood Street and West Asheville’s Haywood Road.
But all that’s changed.
“I think that in the past four years, West Asheville has had a real infusion of young couples and new businesses — revitalization and transformation,” Lankford states. And he’s part of the phenomenon: The prez helps out at West End Bakery, co-owned by his wife, Krista Stearns, and is often spotted peddling vegan muffins and cookies around town.
What makes his part of Asheville different than other areas of the city, Lankford proposes, is that “there hasn’t been a lot of conflict between newcomers and those who’ve always lived here.
“So the festival is a way to get together and celebrate [that],” he adds.
Just to set the record straight, singer/songwriter Valorie Miller lives east of town, though she’s worked on the west side.
“I’m doing that East Coast/West Coast thing — doing my part to prevent future rivalries,” she jokes, spoofing on the rap world’s infamous territorial strife.
For many local musicians who depend on bookings outside the fickle downtown scene, events like WestFest are an outlet that lets them still perform on their own turf.
“I love Asheville, but it’s hard to rustle up a guarantee [for a gig],” Miller admits.
The folk artist has enjoyed prominence on the local scene for years, initially as a first-name-only solo act and creator of Redhead Records, then as a duo with former partner Malcolm Holcombe. Now going it alone again, Miller is re-fashioning her niche, a kind of self-styled, country-rock-meets-folk. Just don’t call it Americana — “I don’t even know what that means,” the singer moans.
As for her new work, “It’s all original [material],” she says. “I’m primarily a singer/songwriter. I’ve gotten really into finger-picking [from] hanging out with [Holcombe]. I really accelerated my learning.”
With the Nashville-connected Holcombe, Miller toured all over the country — but was often relegated to backup status. Fine for some, but too bad for a fiery, independent artist with three solo albums already to her credit (the most recent being 2002’s Sweeter Than Salt). In fact, Miller is known for her voluminous red hair and striking logo/stage persona — a fairy in biker boots.
She’s hardly a wallflower, in other words.
“It was hard to put my stuff on the backburner,” she admits now. “Playing doghouse bass was fun, but I won’t ever make that my primary focus again.”
Today, she gushes about her new love — a guitar.
“It’s actually an old guitar, from the 1850s,” she explains. “I call her ‘Little Pretty.'”
The second-annual WestFest happens 12-7 p.m. Saturday, May 22 in West Asheville (between Vermont and Oakwood streets). For more information, see www.ashevillewestfest.org.
• 9 a.m.: 5K Fun Run & Walk begins at Wachovia (Vermont Avenue)
• 12-12:40 p.m.: Nobody Knows (bluegrass)
• 12-12:40 p.m.: Valorie Miller (singer/songwriter)
• 12:30-1:20 p.m.: Jim Taylor (storytelling)
• 1-1:40 p.m.: Jeb Holmes Band (rock)
• 1:30-2:20 p.m.: Simple Folk (’60s-’70s folk)