With the frigid onslaught of another Asheville winter opens the latest chapter of a rather depressing local-business trend.
In recent memory, at least, our icy winters inevitably freeze out a few arts-minded establishments in their wake.
Barring Almost Blue, a mainstay with locals for many years, the casualties this time around were mostly pitched at the local tourist game — a decidedly three-season affair with heavy inclinations toward winter hibernation.
This year’s closings included a trio of local music hubs: Pyper’s Place in Montford, Thibodaux Jones’ Creole Kitchen on Biltmore and Almost Blue Records on the corner of Patton and Coxe. (At press time, we had also just learned about the sad, imminent demise of Vincent’s Ear. More about that in a future issue.)
Upscale Pyper’s held the somewhat incongruous distinction of being Asheville’s mountain-music hub, Thibodaux stayed Big Easy with their weekly “Blues Lounge” series and Almost Blue long mirrored our area’s rich musical offerings with their thick CD and LP selection.
The details regarding these closings vary — rumors of financial difficulties dog Pyper’s and Thibodaux Jones. But Almost Blue founders Susan and Brian Haynes are, reportedly, simply retiring to the country after many years of hard work.
Collectively, the closings serve as reminder of the often-fickle nature of Asheville. New faces are an everyday thing here — a dime a dozen, really — while old school anything (in residents or businesses) is sometimes harder to find. This latest batch of shuttered store windows starkly recalls that Asheville’s not as easy to maneuver in as the travel magazines would have you believe.
Meanwhile, a different tragic tale unfolded Nov. 14 at yet another local record store.
In this case, California’s jazz/jam/rock guitar virtuoso Steve Kimock told the friendly bunch assembled at Good Music for his anti-climactic in-store gig how he had lost “Steve’s stash” after North Carolina police boarded his vehicle en route to Asheville. (In fact, Kimock whined and ran his mouth about his bad luck and superior taste in music more than anything else — he never actually played a whole song.) This makes Kimock two-for-two this year with the N.C. authorities: His road manager was busted for a similar offense at last summer’s arrest-happy Smilefest in Union Grove, N.C.
At Smilefest, the cerebral guitarist saw fit to mouth off about the officers involved in the arrest — on stage, no less. We’ll just say Steve wasn’t making a lot of new cop friends with the verbiage in that particular rant. This time around, though, the officers jokingly told Kimock afterward (or so he said at Good Music): “Don’t worry. There’s plenty of pot where you’re going.”
David Via & Corn Tornado with Curtis Burch, Emerald Lounge; Saturday, Nov. 13.
Emerald Lounge boasts a fruitful symbiotic relationship with the impressive cache of Virginia-based bluegrass pickers who frequent our bluish mountain town. Chief among these Lounge friends is the ever-present Larry Keel and his many worthy picking buddies — including the Dali of Dobro, Mr. Curtis Burch, and banjo all-star Billy Constable — both of whom joined the outstanding Virginia grass weaving of David Via & Corn Tornado for a Saturday Lounge engagement.
Via (rhymes with “sky”) has garnered three songwriting awards at the sprawling MerleFest for his fine-tuned work on mandolin and deep-seated, Southern voice. Via’s old-school expertise forms the distinguished yin balancing the younger, animated yang of Corn Tornado’s other members. Young guitarist David Knicely was especially on point at The Lounge, ripping acoustic guitar licks that stand up and run just fine next to Keel’s own decorated flat-picking.
The gray-bearded Burch, a onetime member of the vastly influential New Grass Revival, collaborates frequently with Keel and Corn Tornado. His beyond-accomplished delivery on Dobro comes off effortless, and his on-stage interaction with Via and the Tornado boys solidified the two-set outing as a welcome investment of both time and capital.
The second set found nimble banjoist Constable joining the fray, and overall, they showcased the rowdy ‘n’ refined, grass-ass pickin’ this fancy-figured bunch wears like a badge.
Score: On the name-brand-cereals scale, this week’s news and views could only rate a Lucky Charms: Emerald Lounge had plenty, but some local store owners, and especially Steve Kimock, could have used more of it in their morning bowls.