Start LAAFFing even sooner

The biggest change for this year’s Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival is that, while it won’t keep its two-day format from last year (that expansion was special for the festival’s 10th anniversary), it will include a Saturday night component.

And that new addition, the Pre-LAAFF-A-Thon Pub Crawl, is an adult oriented evening of music, playing out on a number of downtown Asheville venue stages. According to LAAFF director Jennifer Gordon, the pub-crawl maintains "the vibe of the festival and really highlights music"; one of the aspects that keeps growing is the interest from musicians. Gordon says that LAAFF planners wanted to provide "an opportunity for local musicians to have venues to perform, and that built-in audience that LAAFF draws." (She also points out that the festival’s draw from outside of Asheville increases each year, and this year LAAFF will conduct a survey among festivalgoers to find out how much).

The pub-crawl, a ticketed event, also provides a means to pay LAAFF musicians who, until now, have donated their time to the all-local celebration. Gordon and music coordinator Arieh Samson say that the pub crawl-entry wristbands (available for $20 in advance or for $25 at participating clubs on the day of the festival) will also raise funds for Arts2People, LAAFF’s parent organization.

Venues include Asheville Music Hall, the LAB, Blend, BoBo Gallery, Emerald Lounge, 5 Walnut and the French Broad Chocolate Lounge; all will host bands from 8 p.m.-2 a.m. There’s also a new LAAFF outdoor stage: The IAMAVL and Echo Mountain Stage, located on Rankin Avenue. That stage will host music on Saturday from 5-10 p.m.; those sets are free. (IAMAVL, a local and independent arts promoter, will stream LAAFF performances online at and will conduct stage-side interviews with artists.

"We’re able to put some of the edgier artists, who we can’t really put in the festival, into these venues," says Samson. Think: the bombastic rock of Ivan The Terribles, hip-hop by Bobby F—king White and BIGhands and the sad/funny/weird/genius songwriting of Mother Explosives. "That way we’re representing as many artists as possible."

Sunday at LAAFF is business as usual. It’s free, and held mostly outside along Lexington Avenue. ‘Usual,’ of course, entails imaginative costumes, street performers, vendors, food, crafts, activities for kids, lots of art and music at every turn. New this year: An expanded footprint to allow for more vendors, and a bigger stage on Walnut Street (that’s the Mountain Xpress stage, FYI).

This year also brings several experimental mash-up bands – something that LAAFF is known for. "It’s the beauty of what we do," says Gordon. "People are like, ‘Let’s do that.’ A week beforehand. And we say OK." The Invisible III (Saturday night, IAMAVL/Echo Mountain stage) is an experimental outfit with Jay Sanders (Donna The Buffalo), Ryan Burns (Laura Reed & Deep Pocket) and Mike Rhodes (The Blue Rags). Mama Funk’s Rising Stars (Sunday, IAMAVL/Echo Mountain stage) is made up of the kid musicians (including MC Fireworks of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo fame) who study with Mary Frances of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band. They’ll perform original material.

And, of The Archrivals (Sunday, Xpress stage), Samson says "I feel like they’ll have some surprises, too. There’s no telling what they’re going to pull out."

Alli Marshall can be reached at
what: LAAFF
when: On and near Lexington Avenue and in various venues
when: Pre-LAAFF pub-crawl is Saturday, Sept. 1, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. $20 in advance or $25 at the door
when: Festival is Sunday, Sept. 2 (11 a.m.-9 p.m., free.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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