Downtown Asheville’s Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival, now in its sixth year, is billed as a local festival for the locals. Locally based merchants sell locally made foods, microbrews, crafts and other products. Local talent pulls out all the stops when it comes to music, dancing, spoken word, performance and visual arts. In fact, LAAFF is so down-home, organizers don’t even advertise outside the immediate area—unless you count a flurry of e-mails to London-based Guinness World Records.
Festival co-creator Michael Mooney, a self-professed “bike nut,” is in the process of building the world’s tallest bike, which he plans to ride at an event during this year’s festival.
“The first time you ride a tall bike, you just smile like you’re a little kid,” Mooney says. A semipro racer during the ‘90s, Mooney pedaled across the entire country before moving on to a new challenge. He was introduced to tall bikes (a recreational bicycle usually created by welding two regular bike frames together for extra height) by Jim Lauzon, co-owner of Asheville’s LaZoom Tours. Lauzon, a New Orleans transplant, took to riding his oversized bike around town, inspiring Mooney to build a half-dozen of his own creations.
“I’ve got a tall mountain bike made of three mountain bikes,” Mooney says. “I ride it on trails and I jump it big: I don’t just mess around.”
And he’s not messing around when it comes to breaking the world record for riding the tallest of these clownish contraptions. The current record holder tops out at 18 feet. Mooney, who heard the owner of that bike is building a 20-footer, decided to up the ante.
His creation—still in the construction stages—will reach a towering 44 feet. That’s four stories. “I figured if I built a 20-foot bike I could die just as easily,” Mooney shrugs.
The Guinness judges won’t actually be on hand to verify the local daredevil’s record-breaking stunt. Instead, Mayor Terry Bellamy and Clint Spiegel, owner of team sponsor Industry Nine Wheels, will carry out the Guinness-mandated measuring and officiating.
Mooney’s biggest challenge? Mounting the tall bike. For protection, he’ll be wearing a climbing harness, and so will the bike. But to break the record, the rope will have to remain slack, so it’s a safety device rather than a balancing aid.
“My friend Pandor is determined to turn me into Asheville’s Freak Folk Hero,” Mooney says. It’s arguable that that role has already been filled—many times over—but Mooney will have his own theme song, which Pandor will perform either before or during the momentous ride.
For bike fans looking for more two-wheel thrills, LAAFF is bringing back the popular bicycle jousting. This year, there will also be a children’s class and kid-sized gear for ages 10 and up. Kids who want more action can join the Berserker squad, armed with rubber-chicken nunchucks, rubber-chicken maces and foam-covered swords for putting the adult “losers” in the bicycle jousts out of their misery.
The rest of LAAFF will probably be more of what fans have come to expect (art cars, belly dancers, bands), though with a few tweaks. Organizer Erin Scholze lists all-day events at the location that formerly served as the Vincent’s Ear courtyard, a bluegrass jam at the Shady Grove Courtyard and a singer/songwriter circle (led by Jen and the Juice front woman Jenny Greer with Menage’s Mary Ellen Bush) as new to this year’s festivities.
“One of the things I really like about Asheville is how members of different bands will get together and make a new band,” Scholze says. Case in point: LAAFF serves up Asheville supergroups like the Big Money Band (with members of Strut, GFE, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and Fiddle Dave) and Sons of A Keeled Over Snake (with members of Sons of Ralph, Snake Oil, and the Larry Keel Band).
Even though organizers make a point of highlighting up-and-coming area talent (Latin fusion act Quebrao, alt-country group Nevada and jazz-funk newcomers Thing Three are included on the roster), it’s not strictly a music festival.
“LAAFF does showcase so much,” Scholze notes. “LAAFF involves that whole other group of performers besides musicians.”
In fact, the daylong festival was originally envisioned by Mooney and Kitty Love as an art-car parade. When the co-creators went to the city to procure the necessary permits, they found out it was easier to have a festival than a parade, Scholze recalls. Thus, LAAFF was born.
Still, a parade is on the itinerary (Firecracker Jazz Band spearheads that effort, scheduled for 4 p.m.), along with performances on the LaZoom theater bus (parked outside Bobo Gallery) and plenty of other surprises.
One request from organizers: Festival attendees should come in costume. “If everyone’s part of the show, it will be overwhelmingly good,” says Mooney (he’ll be the guy in the climbing harness, pedaling a brachiosaurus-sized bicycle).
“Don’t be a spectator in life or at the festival,” he adds. “Be part of the fun.”
LAAFF facts & acts
LAAFF takes place on Sunday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on North Lexington Avenue between College Street and the Interstate 240 overpass. Free. Info: www.arts2people.org.
The Electric Stage
• 11 a.m.—Quebrao
• Noon—Sons of a Keeled Over Snake
• 1 p.m.—Bandazian
• 2:15 p.m.—Kellin Watson
• 3:20 p.m.—Chalwa
• 4:45 p.m.—CXI
• 6:15 p.m.—Trainwreks
• 7:45 p.m.—Big Money Band
• 9:15 p.m.—The Rebelles with their band the Pheromones
Performing Arts Stage (on Walnut)
• 11 a.m.—Jarrett Leone Didgeridoo
• 11:25 a.m.—Nevada
• 12:05 p.m.—Dance with Luna May Seal
• 12:20 p.m.—The Oxymorons Improv Comedy
• 1:05 p.m.—The Electromagnetic Duo (theremin music)
• 1:45 p.m.—Jodi Taylor and her Dancers
• 2 p.m.—The Sophisticated Chimps
• 3 p.m.—Maria-guajira
• 3:30 p.m.—Vendetta Crème
• 4:10 p.m.—Baraka Mundi
• 5 p.m.—Speedsquare
• 6 p.m.—Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola Asheville
• 6:35 p.m.—Hip Hop Revolution (Kids Breakdancing)
• 7 p.m.—HuNab Kru Breakdancing
• 7:50 p.m.—Avec La Force Percussion and Dance Initiative
• 8:40 p.m.—Wicked Geisha
• 9:15 p.m.—Unifire Theatre
Bobo Stage (by Patton Avenue)
• All Day—LaZoom Bus Tours with performance acts
• 11 a.m.—Rev-Doc Spins
• 2 p.m.—Guerguerian, Benavides and Wolf
• 4 p.m.—August Hoerr and Shane Perlowin
• 5 p.m.—Rev-Doc Spins
• 6 p.m.—Banana Da Terra
• 8 p.m.—The Plowshares
• 10 p.m.—Earthtone Sound Systems (inside Bobo)
Shady Grove Courtyard
• Noon—Thing Three
• 1 p.m.—Bluegrass Jam
• 5 p.m.—Songwriters Circle hosted by Jenny Greer and Mary Ellen Bush