Globe trotters

Dancing and dragons

In addition to offering its trademark surfeit of stimuli for all six senses, this season’s Lake Eden Arts Festival kicks off on a particularly lucky day — Friday the 13th.

That’s right: lucky.

“The combination of the full moon and Friday the 13th is a perfect beginning,” believes LEAF producer Jennifer Pickering.

Expanding the mind, body and soul is a big part of what makes LEAF LEAF. The 50 healing-arts workshops scheduled over the three-day weekend — situated in areas appropriately tagged “Earth” and “Sky” — will enable one to become proficient in everything from “Joyful Child Parenting” to “Karma and Reincarnation from Bhagavad-Gita.

“A lot of people come for what they know is happening on the main stages, then they find out about this whole other world that’s happening here in the healing arts,” explains Pickering, adding that workshop leaders hail from as far off as California.

Not that Asheville suffers from any shortage of healing-arts practitioners. Celebrating the Chinese Year of the Dragon, Mark Small, who heads the local Mountain Dragon Taiji/Gung Fu School, will bring the mind/body discipline of tai chi chuan (taijiquan) to LEAF.

Small translates tai chi chuan as “grand ultimate fist,” explaining, “You turn your whole body into an instrument; you become the fist.”

He first became intrigued with tai chi as a young boy in the 1950s. At LEAF, Small will demonstrate push-hand tai chi and chi kung in workshops on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Describing the former branch of the discipline, he notes, “You use the principles of tai chi chuan … [which] entail relaxing and listening to your partner. [You] respond rather than react to another person. It’s extending your own energy beyond yourself.”

To Small, this discipline is much more than mere exercise; he teaches tai chi chuan as “a life sport, an absolute philosophy of life.”

The culmination of tai chi chuan is the Lion Dance, which Small’s Mountain Dragon Troupe will demonstrate Saturday, starting at 3:30 p.m.

“It’s the expression of tai chi taken to an athletic level,” says Small. “It becomes very expressive, very dynamic and very athletic. What you have is the full expression of Chinese culture … a pearl of Chinese culture. That’s what you’ll see in the Lion Dance.”

An active participant in LEAF since its inauguration, Small muses, “[It] has grown considerably. It began with a quiet focus, and it’s grown over the years. So now there are two or three tai chi stylists. … It’s come full circle.” (And speaking of karma: If you bike to LEAF on Sunday this year instead of gassing up the truck or Volvo, you’ll receive a $5 discount at the gate.)

Poetry, puppets, arts-and-crafts vendors, outdoor sports and a plethora of kids’ activities (including pony rides) will further enhance the festival. And then there’s the music.

Lone star

Just as the cooling mountain breezes formally announce the new season, the distinct tenor of world music supplies the melodic backbone of LEAF. Flowing through Black Mountain’s Camp Rockmont will be the Celtic sounds of The Sevens; the country-swing of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown; the soulful fire of Woodstock (and Bele Chere 2000) veteran Richie Havens; the sultry zydeco of Rosie Ledet, and the legendary rumba rhythms of Cuba’s Los Munequitos de Matanzas — not to mention more than 40 other acts appearing on four stages.

Upon hearing Gatemouth Brown’s latest CD, American Music, Texas Style (Blue Thumb Records, 2000), this reporter admits to having kicked off his shoes and cut the rug on the spot. You can’t help but move when this mythic 78-year-old music-maker is laying it down. Some call his style the blues, but you won’t hear that word coming from Brown — or rather, you won’t hear it unattended by a few choice comments:

“I hate a downer,” he declared in a recent interview, his voice rough with the low-country gravel of a thousand traveled roads. “That Delta stuff, I don’t go for that no kinda way.” And though the New York Times, in a recent review of American Music, commented, “Brown may be the quintessential Gulf Coast musician,” the anti-bluesman insists: “That New Orleans-style music, I don’t like that either — I only play the music that I enjoy playing, let’s put it that way.”

Born in 1924 in Vinton, La., and brought up in Orange, Texas, Brown was influenced early by his multi-instrumentalist father’s love of country music, and started playing when he was only 5. (He was paid 15 cents for his first gig, after the road manager absconded with the rest of the money.)

Looking back over his 53 years of performing, Gatemouth laments the current state of the music industry.

“A lot of it is plenty much worse,” he says — getting plenty fired up as he thinks about it. “Oh yeah, man. It did a circle, but you forgot to come back to the point. It stopped becoming music, man. They’re using a set of drums and jumping all over the place like a chicken with their head cut off. It’s nothing. It’s hard to describe — ’cause there’s nothing to describe. It’s not music.”

Nonetheless, Brown’s own vibe is upbeat.

“I’m trying to keep people more positive than negative.” He pauses, then chuckles, “That’s right. … I play my music to reach all people listening.”

Arts are us

Sprinkled among the national and international acts performing this weekend is an eclectic assembly of local entertainment. Be sure to tune into:

• Asheville Suzuki Group (youth chorus)

• Chuck Beattie (swing/blues)

• Chuck Brodsky (folk)

• Sherri Lynn Clark w/Deltabilly Boys (country, bluegrass)

• Common Ground (African dance and percussion)

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