In recent years, Asheville’s underground music scene has benefitted greatly from an influx of well-established musicians, DIY label honchos and motivated show promoters. Arriving from all corners of the country, these folks tend to share the same belief — that our little mountain province is as groovy a locale as any to set up shop and make cool things happen.
Former Chicagoan Jon Hency is one of these types. His label, Bathetic Records, has put forth a string of critically lauded records in the lo-fi drone zone, including recent titles from local sound explorers Villages, Merryl and Difference Clouds. Then there’s Robert Price and Priya Ray. Originally from Miami (via California), the two have wasted little time settling in and getting busy. Their group Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, a psych-noise-pop staple since the early 1990s, has already played a slew of gigs around town.
Yet another vital transplant is Rafi Bookstaber, who spent time in New York’s Hudson Valley and Philadelphia before venturing south. A versatile artist, he nails the trifecta of making music, releasing records and promoting shows. Recently, he masterminded one of the year’s most memorable events: avant-garde troubadours Ralph White, Joshua Burkett and Bob Gebelein all picking, croaking and getting weird inside a yurt (one christened Sonic Spaceship no less) in West Asheville.
The vibes were, of course, quite fabulous. That said, it served as mere warm-up for a far bigger happening: the strikingly named Inner Mountain, which takes place on Saturday, July 14 at The Grey Eagle. The daylong affair (a unique curio among WNC’s summer festival schedule) is an ambitious attempt to gather some of the most respected names in 21st-century psychedelia and free-folk experimentalism. Anchoring the lineup are three heavies in particular: lysergic rural-rockers MV & EE (festival co-organizers as well), crypto-songbird and violinist Samara Lubelski and visionary loner-moaner Dredd Foole (longtime alias for Dan Ireton).
As both a fan and a fellow musician, Bookstaber has accrued a rich history with these artists. The initial spark for Inner Mountain is his label’s upcoming vinyl reissue Blues Sermon With Congregation, a collaborative set between Dredd Foole and MV & EE. The latter was originally released on their Child of Microtones boutique imprint in 2004.
“I figured since I’m doing this record on my Humito label, and because we’re all friends, it would be nice to have everybody in the same room together,” says Bookstaber, who will have copies for sale at the event. “This festival is actually a rarity,” he adds. “If you live in Philly or New York, you can see MV & EE. If you live in western Massachusetts, you can see Dredd Foole. But to get them down here, all at the same time, takes some effort. These musicians are all so busy these days traveling, touring or dealing with home-life stuff.”
Busy, indeed. Much like self-professed idols The Grateful Dead (though their current sound is more akin to Neil, Mimi and Richard tackling Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees), MV & EE are in perpetual tour mode. Plus, they record incessantly. The Vermont-based couple’s latest full-length, the gloomy and unsettled Space Homestead, emerged at the tail-end of spring. Lubelski sustains an intense pace as well. Wavelength, her new album on De Stijl Records, is due out this month. Not only that, she has spent a sizable portion of her year participating in Thurston Moore’s touring unit (now a full-blown band called Chelsea Light Moving). As for Dan Ireton, he’s the wild card in the deck. Though his Dredd Foole project didn’t, uh, blow up when the New Weird America meme ripped through the indie sphere several years back, he is, in many respects, its founding father: a perpetually under-the-radar artist from New England who started exploring the whole folk-meets-noise-meets-punk-meets-jazz thing when some guy named Ronald Reagan was president (talk about prescience). Ireton is an inveterate homebody, too, which means him traveling just about anywhere for a performance rarely ever happens.
“Dan is a beacon of light,” says Matt Valentine of MV & EE. “Sometimes, you’ll see him in full-on Astral Weeks mode with an acoustic guitar, then he’ll completely switch gears and do a freeform vocal thing where a microphone is stuffed halfway down his throat and there are gobs of reverb.”
Valentine brings up a key concept: free form. In addition to the artistry of the musicians involved, it informs Bookstaber’s approach to festival programming. And here’s where the specter of The Dead once again emerges, specifically the group’s 1970 to ’71 era, when the band’s legendary performances with New Riders of the Purple Sage felt more like impromptu, neo-transcendentalist gatherings than formally staged rock concerts.
“At that point in their career, pretty much the same set of folks were always on stage, just going by different names,” he points out. “That’s what Inner Mountain is going to be, too. To the casual observer, it will look like the same set of people the whole time, yet these are all different artists when you get right down to it — different flesh to the same spirit.”
— Justin Farrar is Rock Editor at Rhapsody and a contributing writer to Spin.com.
who: MV & EE, Samara Lubelski, Dredd Foole, Herbcraft, Von Himmel, DJs Ian Nagoski and M Geddes Gengras
what: Inner Mountain: Contemporary Free Folk Festival
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, July 14 (Doors at 4 p.m. $15. Tickets available online from Harvest Records and Tomentosa).