Music swap

The Restoration, from Columbia, S.C., is already familiar in Asheville.

Photos: 1. The Restoration, from Columbia, S.C., is already familiar in Asheville. 2. Local duo The Moon and You plays sweet, folk-tinged songs with gorgeous harmonies.

Festivals come and go in and around Asheville. Lately they come and go a lot, but as some leave (or take a year off), new ones — such as this weekend’s Carolina Cultural Exchange Music Festival (CCX) — set the stage to feature local and regional talent.

CCX was envisioned by festival director Adam McMillan, who grew up in Columbia, S.C. “Charleston wasn’t far away and Asheville wasn’t far away,” he explains. “And Columbia is actually a great music town.” Four years ago, he decided to make Asheville his base (and the locale of his promotional marketing company, QC Productions). Soon the idea came to him to create a festival that served both as entertainment and also as a resource for musicians in the two states he calls home.

For its first year, CCX takes place only in Asheville, but its lineup (split between Emerald Lounge and The Lexington Avenue Brewery) draws from both N.C. and S.C. From the north: Durham’s Bombadil and local acts Kovacs and the Polar Bear, Doc Aquatic, The Moon and You and Mountain Feist. From the south: The Restoration, Marshall Brown & the Rare Birds, The Mobros, The Black Iron Gathering and The Dubber. A free, downloadable festival music sampler is available at

“A lot of people are coming here to play music,” McMillan says of Asheville. “It’s one of those towns that everyone flocks to. But a lot of the good stuff can get lost in the muddle.” Part of the mission of QC Productions is to provide more structure to the music scene and that starts, as McMillan sees it, with a festival that flaunts talented musical acts and also introduces them to new audiences. He says that the S.C.-based fans of, say, roots revivalists The Restoration (who also appeared at this year’s Bele Chere), will travel to Asheville for the festival. During CCX, they’ll discover, say, local psychedelic/indie outfit Doc Aquatic. Then, when the Asheville band books a show in Columbia, the Revivalists’ followers will already be familiar with Doc Aquatic. It’s a potential answer for the age-old question of how to break into a new market.

McMillan says the festival intends to "foster an open and supportive music community in order to create and enhance opportunities for great musical artists to share their passion with the world."  With that in mind, 100 percent of the profits of CCX go to the participating artists.

“We’re trying to be more a part of the music community and help musicians break through,” the festival director says.

McMillan hopes that, along with becoming an annual event, CCX might migrate from year to year. Columbia and Charleston are both possibilities for future festival sites. And there are talks of incorporating visual and performing arts. But first, McMillan wants to focus on a notable start. “This is a celebration of great music,” he says. “Ten bands is a small number, but we wanted a good variety and to be a good showcase of what Asheville has to offer.”

In curating the lineup, McMillan and his associates looked for musicians who were “pushing themselves and challenging themselves.” He says there’s more to being an impressive band than just putting out a stellar record. “It’s about putting on a good performance, too.” So, CCX planners scouted for a year and a half and went to several shows by each of the groups on the final roster.

At the end of the day, though, all of the thought and work that went into planning the inaugural festival only counts if the people who buy tickets have a good time. McMillan is ready: “People are excited about good, innovative music,” he says.

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

what: Carolina Cultural Exchange Music Festival
where: Emerald Lounge and The LAB
when: Saturday, Sept. 14. (7 p.m.-1 a.m., $8 in advance/$10 at the door.

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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