Photos by Jonathan Welch
The beat of a different drum
From the traditional to the alt, the myriad music of LAAFF
If LAAFF is a free pass to dress and act as our most wildly creative selves (keeping it PG, of course: The festival is for the kids, too), it's also an opportunity for local musicians to get experimental.
Photo courtesy LAAFF
That's the case for The Swayback Sisters, which features singer/songwriters Nikki Talley, Laura Blackley and Lyndsay Wojcik. All three of these ladies have viable careers on their own. They also all have very different styles. Talley's brand of indie rock is acoustic-instrument fueled — sometimes it's driving, sometimes it's mellow — and serves as the perfect backdrop for her dusky, comfortable vocals. Blackley's bands over the years have run the gamut from folk-rock to country blues, but no matter the genre, Blackley's rich and swampy vocals color the music. Her songs are a blend of folklore, family-inspired tales and love songs. Wojcik has a breezy-pretty presence, a relaxed banter with her audience and a penchant for roots and soul-tinged sounds. One thing to be said about this trio: There's not a diva in the bunch. Just solid performers who know how to shine individually and blend their styles — and their voices — for something utterly fresh.
Of course, being experimental doesn't have to mean a break from form. Alt-country band The Hillbillyonaire$, who claim to have started as a "three piece autoharp and dulcimer orchestra that catered to playin' for the Ladies Auxillary," puts its own unhinged and bass-heavy spin on chestnuts like the gospel tune "Ain't No Grave." Pilgrim shares little with the Hillbillyonaire$ beyond being a trio. Fronted by poet/musician Jaye Bartell, the slow-core band crafts atmospheric notes and haunting imagery. Themes of birds, nature and loneliness are palpable in these quiet songs.
And then there are the traditionalists (though it could be argued that, amidst the alt-ness of LAAFF, orthodoxy is new heterodoxy). Celtic band Ceol Leinn, from Hickory, plays traditional Scottish and Irish music. In kilts. With highland bagpipes, penny whistles and a marching snare. And, perhaps every bit as exciting (and immemorial) as a double dose of bagpipes is classic rock. Think: The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" and AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds." That's what Hendersonville-based BlackJack brings to the stage. The departure for these rock purists is that the entire group is middle school-aged.
What's happening when at LAAFF
All events take place Sunday, Sept. 6.
Greenlife Electric Stage (bottom of Lexington Avenue)
• The Swayback Sisters (singer/songwriter trio with Nikki Talley, Laura Blackley and Lyndsay Wojcik), 11-11:45 a.m.
• Eymarel (keyboard & drum duo), 12:05-12:50 p.m.
• Roberto Hess (spoken word), 12:55-1:05 p.m.
• U-N-I-Verse (reggae), 1:10-1:55 p.m.
• Hunab Kru (break dance), 2-2:10 p.m.
• The Poles (rock) 2:15-3 p.m.
• Hunab Kru (break dance), 3:05-3:15 p.m.
• Dehlia Low (bluegrass), 3:20-4:25 p.m.
• Parade (begins at Bobo Gallery, ends at stage), 4:15 p.m.
• Zabumba! (Carnival rhythms), 4:25-4:40 p.m.
• Mad Tea Party (vintage rock), 4:45-5:50 p.m.
• Melmacpink/Asheville Hoops (hula-hooping), 5:55 – 6:05 p.m.
• The Blue Rags (blues-ragtime boogie), 6:15-7:15 p.m.
• Jen and the Juice (folk rock), 7:45-9 p.m.
Mountain Xpress Walnut Stage
• Ceol Leinn (traditional Celtic), 11-11:50 a.m.
• Blackjack (kid rockers), 12:10-12:45 p.m.
• Asheville Dance Revolution (kids' dance group), 1-1:30 p.m.
• Now You See Them (folk-pop), 1:40-2:15 p.m.
• Runaway Circus and Loose Caboose (comedy, music & sideshow act), 2:25-2:55 p.m.
• Galen Kipar Project (folk blues), 3:10- 3:50 p.m.
• Taylor Martin (singer/songwriter), 4:15-5 p.m.
• The Chx (female drummers), 5:15-5:50 p.m.
• Velvet Truck Stop (rock), 6-6:35 p.m.
• Brushfire Stankgrass (psychedelic bluegrass), 6:50-7:30 p.m.
• Baraka Mundi the Bandit Queens of Bellydance, 7:45-8:15 p.m.
• Modo (jazz rock), 8:25-9 p.m.
• Dip-N-Flip (DJs) 11:10 -11:45 a.m.
• Lulo (free jazz), noon-12:45 p.m.
• The E.Normus Trio (jazz), 1-1:45 p.m.
• Pierce Edens (gritty rock), 2-2:45 p.m.
• The Poetix Vanguard (spoken word), 3-3:45 p.m.
• Arundas (world) 4-4:45 p.m.
• The Secret B-Sides (soul) 5-5:45 p.m.
• Pilgrim (indie-folk) 6-6:45 p.m.
• Angi West (singer/songwriter), 7-7:45 p.m.
• Dip-N-Flip (DJs), 8-9 p.m.
LaZoom Tour Bus
• LEAF in Schools and Streets: Youth at Jazz (kids show), 2-2:45 p.m.
• Ash Devine (singer/songwriter), 3-3:45 p.m.
• Hillbillyonaire$ (alt-country), 4-4:45 p.m.
• Oso Rey (acoustic folk), 6-6:45 p.m.
• La Feral Zoom: Rollin' Barks of Laughter (adults only), 7-7:45 p.m.
• Unitard: hilarious one-woman show from Kelly Barrow (adults only). 8-8:45 p.m.
If memory serves, my eighth birthday involved a swimming party in our backyard pond and carob cupcakes that none of my friends would eat (but decades later still laugh about). For the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival's eighth, the day-long celebration promises costumes, a parade, a couple dozen performers, jam sessions, DJs, visual art, costumed revelers, bicycle jousting, local food and beer and spontaneous creative expression (and heck, maybe a carob cupcake, too). LAAFF knows how to throw a party.
So, as downtown Asheville's most unique shopping district gears up for its most unique festival, what sort of tricks does LAAFF have up its sleeve? For starters, a new director. In July, Frank Bloom stepped into that leadership role, and really, who better? Bloom brings a wealth of experience (he's managed food and beverage outlets for a NASCAR track, booked shows for Emerald Lounge, run sound for both Donna The Buffalo and Acoustic Syndicate, worked as drum tech for Mickey Hart's Global Drum Project and performs with Asheville's Thunderdrums).
Next on the roster of important deets: Beer. LAAFF has, since the beginning, taken a local-brews-only stand. This time around, better than a selection from a single local brewery, Asheville Brewers Alliance (comprised of eight beer crafters) is involved. Wash the suds down with an array of snacks from Crepes of Wrath, Rosetta's Kitchen, Blue Daisy Cafe, Mela Indian Restaurant and more. You'll need the sustenance — this is a marathon day of fun.
Speaking of fun, the best way to get into the spirit of LAAFF is to come in costume. Yeah, Asheville is pretty open to all manner of dress. Jeans and flip-flops are de rigeur, dresses are paired with boots, dudes wear skirts, wings and horns are perfectly acceptable accessories. Even so, why pass up a chance to spend a day in full festive regalia? Dress as your favorite alter ego and then cut loose with the newly added Big Wheels for Big Kids activity or saddle up for a round of bike jousting. (What not to look for this year: Daredevil Michael Mooney won't go for a third attempt at a Guinness World Record for the three-story tall bike ride. Mooney — as "Medieval Knieval" — will lead the foam armor- and banana-seat bicycle jousts.)
Don't have a costume? Never fear: Honeypot hosts Sew Your Own Art Clothes.
OK, LAAFF is a whole lot of activity, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of chances to cool your heals and just be entertained. Sit back and take in a (mobile) show on the LaZoom bus (LEAF in Schools and Streets' Youth at Jazz and singer/songwriters Oso Rey and Ash Devine with Quetzal perform on the 40-minute tour loops. Tickets are $2 for kids and $3 for adults. Sketch comedy troupe The Feral Chihuahuas put on an adults-only show). Beat the heat in one of Lexington Ave's shady courtyards where Celtic, bluegrass, old-time and DJ sessions take place.
Gracie May is adorable, but please leave dogs at home!
There's more, of course. LAAFF tends to morph the way organic, homegrown things do. Most of it's mapped out (check the festival Web site for more info), but the street performers, musicians, artists and attendees who show up have a way of adding their own personal, unique and perfectly wacky touches.
who: Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival
what: All-local music and arts celebration
where: Lexington Ave. between the I-240 overpass and College St.
when: Sunday, Sept. 6 (11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free. www.lexfestasheville.com)