The Sept. 1 installment of “Junk Journal” attempted to lavish praise on the “biting original rhymes” of Pens & Needles‘ master wordsmith The Mad Rabbi. However, “biting rhymes,” in its hip-hop “verb” form, amounts to the very uncool thievery of another rapper’s lyrics. Thus, some readers may have read the line as an unintentionally negative paradox. So, for the record, The Rabbi’s rhymes are about as far removed from unoriginality as I am from a Pulitzer in lingo-savvy, hip-hop journalism.
Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, downtown Asheville; Sunday, Sept. 5
Despite all the kind-veggie hoopla surrounding this year’s Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, the local-arts extravaganza still saw a spot of trouble. Early in the day, Asheville police questioned one costumed patron about his decorative long sword and additional side arms.
The gentleman in question, who — in apparent response to LAAFF coordinators’ requests that patrons wear costumes — came dressed to the hilt in full Middle Earth battle gear (complete with a puzzlingly unrelated, ghost-white, Brandon-Lee-in-The Crow makeup job), subsequently found himself stripped of his defenses. In the end, he looked less like Aragorn or Legolas than a playful young sprite or medieval clown.
Thankfully, this was one of the more serious disturbances at an otherwise passive to passive-aggressive display of our city’s eclectic local-arts scene. Pristine, late-summer mountain weather blessed the creative chaos, ushering in an impressive herd of locals and a healthy helping of tourists, most of them unencumbered by costumes or weapons of any kind.
One notable exception was the bicycle-jousting competitors, who provided substantial comic relief via the padded lancing of several would-be knights. And just down from that heated competition, the local-band stage featured a pleasant barrage of area-based music throughout the day.
All the acts I encountered on the south-end stage made the most of their limited time slots, without exception giving energetic, happy-to-be-there performances. The Labiators‘ Fugazi-esque, distortion-riddled sound proved the most appropriate soundtrack for the nearby jousting, while roots-reggae from The Zion Project kept a number of twirl-happy dancers in a blissfully dizzy place. The herb-healing practitioners of GFE fought through some poorly timed power outages in their otherwise funk-tabulous set, while Scrappy Hamilton closed things out with their swinging brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Up the street, a partisan-specific voter drive unfolded near the performing-arts stage, where newly registering voters were presented with their choice of a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker or pin after completing the necessary paperwork.
Team Nader and supporters of the incumbent president were noticeably absent, and this one-sided dynamic — especially in the midst of such an eclectic crowd — was the day’s only noticeable weak point: While the freak-in-Asheville set enjoyed a fruitful showing at this year’s LAAFF, other manifestations of local diversity were noticeably absent. Children (with young parents) were a common sight, but seniors, African-Americans and Latinos — all comprising substantial local demographics — remained few and far between.
Despite the mostly rice-flavored crowd, the performing-arts stage boasted a culturally diverse lineup, ranging from the African dance and drumming of the colorful and inspiring Ballet Warraba to the old-school break-dance shenanigans of Hunab Kru. The latter, defying gravity to the break-beats of DJ Brett Rock, expertly demonstrated their craft as a vastly underrated, retro art form — and one requiring a good bit more skill, muscle power and practice than even the most competitive bicycle jousting.
The evening wound up with the groovy-yet-saucy collaboration of Scrappy Hamilton (playing as The Pheremones) and The Rebelles Burlesque, performing excerpts from the latter’s latest production, A More Perfect Union. One particularly vivid segment came sandwiched in an instrumental treatment of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with an elaborate puppet/puppet-master scene unfolding between a pair of The Rebelles’ finest.
Scorecard: On the cartoon-couples scale, the third-annual LAAFF scores a Homer and Marge Simpson: Despite the blue hair, mild alcohol abuse and silly antics, they’re still a happy family in the end.
[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines, a contributing editor at An Honest Tune, can be reached at email@example.com.]