Climb aboard the Fringe Festival

In clothing, fringe is a piece of fabric left deliberately to dangle and twist off the edge of clothing. Outside of fashion, it refers to that which is unconventional or absurd.

So, it makes some sense to be boarding a large purple bus, greeted by a zombie bunny-mouse sort of character; to climb inside past a British woman in white who, it seems, was just pulled away from a drunk nap — still clutching a bottle of dessert wine, singing along with a guy in a space suit who’s playing a theremin. Her name is Mistress MC Clarie. He’s “guy in a space suit,” and the creature who welcomed you is “Zombie Bunny Man.”

Once you’re all in your seats, you’re driven around the same block a few times as Zombie Bunny Man puts on a shadow puppet show titled The Swallow Artist, where his puppet swallows an assortment of shadowy objects — a penny, a ninja star, a peach pit with Richard Nixon’s face on it … that sort of thing.

You land at the Flood Gallery in the River Arts District, where you follow Mistress MC Clarie’s megaphone which, naturally, is playing a synthesized version of Bach’s “Fur Elise” on loop. You find a seat and ready for a show of some sort. What happens next may perhaps be described as the story of Bill Cosby’s sweater drawer, which mated with some bugs, broke into the nursery and tried to invent jazz. It goes on too long, but just long enough for you to cycle from being amused to confused, to bored, and back to amused again. Then, if you think you’ve entered some silly dream state (what was in that drink you had back on the bus?) three men dressed in black appear and tell you a horrifying story about a diseased scrotum. This one is thankfully concise, and you’re glad to be back on the bus when it’s over.

The bus circles the roundabout at the end of Clingman Street at least six times then drops you in a parking lot, where you are to stand in the 20-degree night and watch a film projected on a wall. There’s a lot of Martha Graham-style choreography going on in this film, a waterfall, a woman pulling a fortune cookie slip out of her mouth. Suddenly it’s over and Mistress MC Clarie’s megaphone is playing “Fur Elise” again. You follow her into the Lift Gallery, where you’re met by an acoustic singer-songwriter duo.

A woman dressed like Christmas sits on the couch and dances like a gothic fairy. You’re not sure whether or not she’s part of the show.
She may as well be.

They tell you to explore, but you should stop at the bar first. Zombie Bunny Man is serving wine for donations. You’ll need a glass for what you’re about to witness.

A troupe called Moving Women (or maybe, Women Moving?) is scattered throughout the place. One is wearing butter knives; another, spoons. Spoon lady seems to be a sort of spider character, behind a web. She’s not afraid to push you with her feet or grab at your ankles. Knife girl just kind of wanders ghostlike and sneaky, her knives clanging against each other. There are aerial dancers.

The music is chaotic, discomforting. You’re pleased to discover it’s being created by a live band in the basement — three vocalists, a couple of keyboards, a guy with a clarinet and a drum with the snare unhooked. All of this is violently distorted so it sounds more like a bevy of zombies eating the brains out of animated stereos and hacking them with chainsaws. The art on the wall looks like that music sounds. Strange haunting dream creatures in dark shades of bright colors, with faces like animals (a pig, a camel, a snake) and legs which look strangely like women.

This also maybe goes on a little too long, but just when you think you’ve had too much, “Fur Elise” walks through the room and you follow it back to the bus.

The show ends with a solo from the “guy in a space suit” as Mistress MC Clarie and Zombie Bunny Man waltz toward the front of the bus.
Was it all some strange dream? Or just a night at Asheville’s Fringe Festival?

Asheville’s FringeArts Festival — a weekend of unconventional art, music, theater, film, and dance — is celebrating its tenth year with shows aboard the LaZoom bus, as well as at the Bebe Theater on Commerce Street in downtown Asheville and Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center on Broadway. Tickets and more information are available at

[File photo courtesy Asheville Fringe Festival]

About Kim Ruehl
Kim Ruehl's work has appeared in Billboard, NPR Music, The Bluegrass Situation, Yes magazine, and elsewhere. She's formerly the editor-in-chief of No Depression, and her book, 'A Singing Army: The Life and Times of Zilphia Horton,' is forthcoming from University of Texas Press. Follow me @kimruehl

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