Who knows what the weather will be like by the time you're reading this, but right now there's a chill in the air. September is here and summer's on the wane. One way to know for sure? This Friday, Sept. 18, is the last Downtown After Five of the season, so you best get your butt down to the bottom of Lexington Avenue and get ready to shake it. This one's got a big, funky lineup: Asheville's notorious Vertigo Jazz Project kicks things off at 5:15 p.m., building their own groovy vibe around a solid jazz foundation. Come 6:20 p.m., southern-rock outfit The Bridge takes the stage (they were a hit at the Mountain Sports Festival back at the beginning of the summer — remember way back when?).
The kicker is Big Sam's Funky Nation, led by (who else?) Big Sam, formerly the trombonist for Dirty Dozen Brass Band. This guy wails. He'll bring his band and its big New Orleans sound, guaranteed to get the crowds dancing. Big Sam takes the stage at 7:45 p.m. The fun's all over by 9 p.m., so get there early; it's your last chance this year. Free. Info at www.ashevilledowntown.org.
Speaking of free (and also of a certain type of bright-flame-burnt-out freedom), the Chapel Hill-based Gram Parsons' tribute band Sleepless Nights plays for free at Firestorm Cafe on Thursday, Sept. 17. The band recreates Parsons' songs, featuring pedal-steel guitar, fiddle, honky-tonk piano and haunting female harmony a la Emmylou. While Parsons used the term "cosmic American music" to define his pioneering style, he gets a lot of credit for helping build the country-rock genre (a term he didn't really care for, it turns out).
Despite that, the guy isn't included in the Country Music Hall of Fame. So Sleepless Nights takes off after the Firestorm show for Nashville, where The 5 Spot is holding the 2nd Annual Gram Parsons Tribute Night two nights later (on Saturday, Sept. 19). A slew of bands play the event, designed to build support for the gramparsonspetition.com and get Parsons into the hall of fame. Good luck and Godspeed.
And speaking of things going on in Tennessee that folks in Asheville might be interested in, here's a dispatch from veteran correspondent Whitney Shroyer:
"This Sunday, Sept. 20, at the New French Bar, Asheville will have its second chance to see the new Don Howland project, A Burning Bus (formerly Burning Bush). The boys in the Bus are billed with two bands on the premier, pack-leading rock 'n roll label, In the Red: France's poppy, trashy Velvet Underground-cum-Shangri La's, the Sonic Chicken 4, and the quirky dark fuzz & noise pop of Pacific Northwest band the Intelligence. All three bands are preparing to play the sweaty, body-packed Gonerfest 6 in Memphis the next week, and this is a great chance for those not making the drive to Memphis to see what all the noise is about up close and personal.
Gonerfest has become a premier event for cutting-edge and up-and-coming rock 'n roll and punk bands from all over the world, thanks to label and store Goner Records. This year's Fest, the sixth, held September 24-26, has a terrific and surprisingly diversified lineup: power pop, straight punk and damaged downer rock from all over America and France, Denmark and Puerto Rico, featuring performances by Ohio legends the Cheater Slicks and a reunion gig by Ashevillian Greg Cartwright and Jack Oblivian's 'other' other band, the Compulsive Gamblers.
But having bands in the lineup isn't the only connection Asheville has to Gonerfest. A quick scan of this year's roster shows that well over a dozen bands on the bill have played Asheville within the last couple of years, largely at either Static Age or the New French Bar, in large part thanks to the efforts of Joel Hutcheson and Static Age Records. In fact, synth-punkers Digital Leather, whose last release (on Goner) was mastered by Jay Reatard, will be playing the New French Bar Friday, Sept. 25, on their way to Gonerfest.
'I am interested in all genres of bands I think could become Asheville fan favorites,' Hutcheson says. 'We've had everything from straight-up string quartet classical music to techno, local noise and touring knob tweakers. I am interested in bringing in things that Asheville would like, even if they don't know it yet. But I am a rocker, and if I am guilty of booking one thing, it's rock 'n roll.'
The New French Bar has become the de facto outlet for bands on the touring circuit that are too big to play Static Age, but not big enough for venues like Grey Eagle or Orange Peel. But that's not the only reason Hutcheson likes booking rock acts there.
'They let you go pretty wild — some bands booked there have almost torn the place down,' Hutcheson says. 'They're willing to let people get loose.'"