WNC Magazine’s Last Band Standing put five local bands in competition for a rather ceremonial Bele Chere slot: 4:30 p.m. Friday. That’s the kickoff, the Champagne bottle against the hull. Fletcher-based rock outfit BlackJack won the final round and proved that classic rock was not only timeless but ageless, too. With its deep riffs and a wealth of original songs, the band of 15-to-16-year-olds beat out rockers twice their age. Either vocalist Johnny Blackwell is an early bloomer or this teenager will have a hard-rock growl deeper than Warren Haynes by the time he’s 20 — and probably without the cigarettes. Blackwell and the rest of the band embrace their supportive parents who make the effort to attend every BlackJack performance. You will probably figure out who those “older” people rocking out and clapping profusely near the front of the Haywood Street Stage are. No one is a bigger fan than your own mom.
Friday’s lineup brings some of the best indie rock and good-old-fashioned Americana to Bele Chere. Sharing the Festival-christening slot is Asheville’s If You Wannas, who recently released Electric Toaster & The Battle Axe, a retro indie-pop re-imagination of an 8-bit world of wizards and warriors. The band’s do-it-yourself approach means that a lot of the distortion and guitar effects you’ll hear at their show are from homemade equipment.
If you’re a little more masochistic with your eardrums, be sure to stick around at the Battery Park Stage for the singularly loud The London Souls. Fresh from a May tour of China and Hong Kong, these well-traveled rockers re-ignite the sound of classic blues-rock bands with a healthy dose of distortion and fuzzed-over bass. Guitarist Tash Neal’s shrill upper octave solos and intermittent shreds bring a Hendrix flair to a Zeppelin sound. You’ll be hard-pressed to believe that the sheer volume of the London Souls is the work of a three-piece.
Folk rock … and more folk rock
Fans of the Avett Brothers will appreciate Nashville’s The Apache Relay, a harder blend of folk and foot-stomping. The two bands have worked with the same producer and recorded in the same studio, Doug Williams’ ElectroMagnetic Radiation Recorders in Winston-Salem. But where the Avetts like to soothe the crowd with the occasional slow-burner, the Apache Relay keeps the tempo up, the energy high and the crowd on its feet. Guitars, mandolin and violin blaze through the band’s set with acoustic rhythms that build to shouted harmonies and leave the listener with the sense that they’ve just seen something significant and authentic.
If you finish the Apache Relay’s set and your hunger for hard-hitting folk rock still hasn’t been satiated, make it over to the Battery Park Stage and catch Greensboro’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival. Its big band-meets-Americana sound is sure to get you into a wholesome sort of swing-meets-square-dancing groove. Asheville has been a regular stop for the band since it first got together, and now you finally have a chance to hear Holy Ghost Tent Revival on a festival stage downtown. Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s shows are more like get-togethers than concerts. If you aren’t participating by the end of a performance — either clapping, dancing or signing along — then you must have toilet paper in your ears and your eyes closed. There’s a certain spirituality to the band’s shows, and if you get riled up enough or caught in the fervor, you might just find yourself converting and purchasing one of its albums.
Buncombe County: A musical oasis
If you’re coming to Bele Chere to check out the best of the local acts, don’t miss the progressive Secret B-Sides. This Asheville staple combines a smooth, jazzy horn section with the sounds of rhythm and blues and hip-hop. The name of the band’s latest release, Flowers & Chocolate, perfectly embodies the Secret B-Sides’ classy sensuality and often romantic cadences. With its bizarre faux history and band mythology involving flying saucers and dinosaurs, you can think of the Secret B-Sides as a modern-day Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
If experimental R&B isn’t your thing, then make your way to the Rock N’ Kiss stage to witness Floating Action, the eclectic brainchild of Black Mountain’s Seth Kauffman. Like Talking Heads before and Dirty Projectors soon after, Floating Action mixes world sounds, like a reggae offbeat or Caribbean chords, with an indie temperament and the sounds of American soul to make something truly unrecognizable. If there’s one act to catch in order to get a good understanding of where Asheville’s music scene is at right now, it’s Kauffman and Floating Action.
Rock n' Kiss Stage on Coxe Avenue
Sanctum Sully (bluegrass) 5-6 p.m.
Floating Action (indie rock) 6:30-7:45 p.m.
The Whigs (rock) 8:15-9:45 p.m.
U.S. Cellular Stage on Biltmore Avenue
The Critters (rock) 5-6:15 p.m.
The Apache Relay (indie rock) 6:45-8 p.m.
Marc Broussard (bayou soul) 8:30-10 p.m.
Battery Park Stage
If You Wannas (rock) 4:30-5:30 p.m.
The London Souls (rock) 6-7:30 p.m.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival (stomp roots) 8-9:30 p.m.
Haywood Street Stage
BlackJack (rock) 4:30-6 p.m.
The Secret B-Sides (souk) 6:30-8 p.m.