LAAFFing all the way to the weird

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.

BoBo Stage
• 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)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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17 thoughts on “LAAFFing all the way to the weird

  1. judgement

    Here we go again,
    It is that time of year when Asheville locals come out and celebrate our collective weirdness. Thanks to all those who have contributed to this event. It takes a ville age to raise a festival. I do have one question in regards to the way the selection process works with the musical acts. Originally when laff was formed the artist and musical acts were chosen by a commitee after all the submissions were in. I pose this because two of the acts this year are bands that commitee members are in. This seems slightly unfair to all those other bands who do not have “friends” who decide who gets to play at the festival. I hope in the future that the selection process will be transparent and not reflect favoritism.

  2. slowlocal

    Good point, Judgement, I was not aware of this. I want to support LAFF, but it does concern me that the board that selects the bands would be staffed with bands who were selected. Not okay! LAFF board, please explain?

  3. Erin Scholze/ LAAFF

    LAAFF Bands: Hi Folks! We just wanted to clarify that yes, there is still a committee in place to select the bands. Some of the same people that sit and advise to this committee have been around since the beginning. We accept applications throughout the year, attend to the social networks, and field inquiries to perform at the festival. Often times members of this committee help many bands to network within the community.

    The way the selection process works: If someone is ever mentioned to, or applies to perform at LAAFF, they stay on a master list that compiles through the years. There are people that are performing this year that have applied in the past years, and never got a chance to perform. There are also people that are amazing musicians, friends, staff, and strangers alike, that have applied this year or in the past that we were unable to book for this year. They will stay on the list for the future as well as other events. We aim to rotate through many of the amazing talented acts that Asheville offers as the years go on.

    It is extremely difficult to select the acts each year, and the committee strives to select performers that represent a wide variety of music in Asheville. Because we do this, there are always great acts that are left out who may end up playing in the future. We have received many compliments on this year’s, as well as past year’s line ups. If you have anyone to suggest performing in the future, feel free to contact us through the festival website: http://www.lexfestasheville.com.

    As far as a committee people involved with LAAFF performing: Yes, this year that happened to be the case. They had applied to perform years ago, long before they ever got involved with the committee. These people have done A LOT in their free time to help serve many musicians in the Asheville area. They help other artists promote and organize themselves, sit on various committees and are proactive in their community. We are extremely grateful for their help not only with LAAFF, but other Arts 2 People projects throughout the year. They were not selected because they help out, they were selected because they are very talented, staple performers in the Asheville Music Scene. They were in fact requested and suggested to the committee by many people within the Asheville Community. These bands would have been selected whether they were on the committee or not.

    We are not here to turn talented musicians away because they also help out with the festival; when in fact, getting good quality volunteers and staff to make LAAFF happen each year can be a difficult thing to do. We are actively seeking people to help us out in planning and many other aspects and are always open to suggestions. Just know that the committee people are part of this community, we listen, we care, we go out and see new music all the time, we love Asheville, and we are very open to suggestions and help.

    Also to let you know the regulations on music at LAAFF: 1.) We rotate out each year through different musicians. No one plays consecutive years on the electric stage, 2.) We ask that performers are not traveling over 8 hours to make their set time, 3.) You must have at least one or more members from the Asheville area, 4.) We try to select a variety of talent for each stage that represents the many different aspects of the Asheville Music Scene.

    We hope that you come out Sunday and check out the 172 performers in 41 acts (not including the courtyards), the 60 art vendors, the many street performers, the multiple options of beer from local brewers and more.

    We appreciate all of our sponsors, volunteers, staff, performers, artists and everyone that puts their energy into making LAAFF what it is. It takes a lot of hard work from a ton of people in the community to put on this local, grassroots event each year. We do it because we love our unique and beautiful community.

  4. ??questions........

    The same old smoke and mirrors…a sort of answer non answer from Ms.Scholze.They claim community but i have witnessed a strictly elitist process..one that continually ignores very valid musical genres…such as noise,experimentation,and punk….I know artists personally who have been told repeatedly by organizers of this LOCAL festival,that they could perform,…and every year since it’s inception have been ignored in the actual booking process.These musicians are local,and every year it is the same old thing…”Hey how come you aren’t playing”…JUST NOT GENUINE…YOU KNOW WHY…and one more thing in regards to the line up..BLUE RAGS SHOULD DEFINITELY BE HEAD LINING!!! WATCH THE CROWD DISPERSE….

  5. Rebecca Sulock

    This seems like a pretty thorough answer.

    LAAFF is privately-funded. Its organizers raise money each year to put on a free community street fair. They’re not bound to transparency; they are not required to tell anyone how they decide who plays the festival. Neither is LEAF, Flat Rock, French Broad River Festival or any other private festival. The city could be required to explain how it books Bele Chere, because it’s a publicly-supported endeavor.

    A group that puts on a festival is welcome to book whichever bands it likes. The board could book *only* their friends’ bands, if it so chose. The organizers of the recent DIG festival had their own bands play. And why not? It’s their festival.

  6. Piffy!

    Aren’t there always a few who are never included who always scream ‘elitist’ from the sidelines when a group of dedicated people have put in years of work?

  7. Sexy Lexy

    I would think its strange if you are on a commitee putting together a festival and did NOT include your own band on the bill.
    Anyway, I can’t wait for the festival! Its always a blast.
    My only question is why aren’t The Blue Rage headlining the Greenlife stage?

  8. LAAFF goer

    Elitist? The LAAFF staff? You clearly don’t know who or what you are talking about. Nobody anywhere close to LAAFF is anywhere near the definition of Elitist. Sounds like a case of sour grapes.

    Perhaps instead of attacking the people that throw the one massive tribute to Asheville arts and funkiness, you should look at other reasons why those groups may not have been invited to participate.

  9. The Truth Speaker

    Dear Mr. ??questions,

    Perhaps your band just isn’t good. If that’s the case, I’m sorry to hear that. There’s always an excess of guitar players in Asheville anyways.

    Tip: I saw a position open at the local grocery store for cashier (it might help).

  10. this again?

    When you consider how many bands are playing and have played at LAAFF that aren’t on committees,your theories don’t hold up.

    LAAFF isn’t a free-for-all stage, the festival has an atmosphere and a reputation to uphold. The idea that it’s because of some conspiracy of elitists is nothing more than a feeble attempt to soothe the feathers of those groups that weren’t selected – and a poor argument.

  11. less more

    well it seems ms.sullock is trying to defend something she knows little about. For several years now the LAAFF festival has been run by those who are clearly involved in promotion and management of local acts. A question I have is how many top quality bands and performers have given up on trying to get in the LAAFF festival. How is it that Jen and the juice is the supposed headliner when clearly the Blue Rags are a more accomplished group of musicians with a larger draw in the area.
    Are we talking about volunteers or are the folks in question getting paid to work for LAAFF. Because I am pretty sure that the bands do not get paid to play. I realize that this event is supposed to represent a community of cooperative artist, I wish the selection process would mirror that and not pay off commitee members with favors, and maybe it is time to bring in some new blood to the LAAFF organization.

  12. Piffy!

    Why does this one (less more, ??) person seem to think that a privately controlled festival is somehow a ‘democracy’?

    Dude, i dont wanna see your experimental noise band.

    If you want that to happen, you should spend years promoting your own festival, and then you can exclude all those elitists who play music more than 10 people are interested in hearing.

  13. Any group not composed entirely of the subset “humanity” or “human beings” is, by definition, elitist.

    That subset is a superset of another set (or perhaps a sub-subset) of “rational beings” but not necessarily “rational and logical beings” and this does not also imply that any subset not included in any other subset “musician” or “committee members” is included in the subset “bands playing at said music festival” or “cheese eaters.”

    That said, none of this applies to the subset of “humanity” known as “not coming to the Festival” or “whatever.”

    I do enjoy experimental noise bands. I also enjoy quiet acoustic bands. My boys enjoy the Refused Party Programme.

  14. Piffy!

    I’m waiting for the guy to claim his “Freedom of speech” is being violated.

  15. hauntedheadnc

    Personally, I’m holding out for someone to say that because his or her band didn’t get booked, Asheville obviously isn’t as cool and funky as it says it is.

  16. The Rocket Club

    Hey, lovers of noise.

    Did you see Lulo on the Bobo Stage?

    Frenetic drumming, cymbals falling and guitar playing that involved as much pedal tweeking as string plucking.

    It was noise, and it was good.

    Do some research before you type.

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