Asher Leigh was sitting in her bedroom in her parents’ house in Fairmont, W.Va. She’d just taken the board exam to become a physical therapist and was prepared to begin a career in that field. But as she readied to start down that path, it didn’t feel right.
That’s when something unusual happened.
“I started feeling all this energy in my left hand, and it inspired me to start making guitar chords,” she says. “It was so strange because music was practically nowhere in my life at the time. I didn’t play guitar, I wasn’t friends with any musicians. It felt like insanity.”
Leigh knows that story sounds absurdly mystical. Yet that moment, which occurred over a decade ago, changed the course of her life and sent her down a road that led her to become what she is today: a working musician in Asheville. Leigh will perform with Laura Boswell at Isis Music Hall on Wednesday, May 29.
The show comes on the heels of Leigh’s debut album, Roots Alive, which was recorded in four days at Chris Rosser’s Hollow Reed Studio in Asheville. It was a moving experience for Leigh, who admitted that she “never knew if or when I would ever get to record an album.”
Perhaps she had reason to feel that way. Five years ago, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a record. It fizzled out, however, partially because she wasn’t “emotionally ready,” as she puts it. That was a disappointment, she admits, yet the setback laid the foundation for her growth as an artist — on both a personal level and within the local music scene.
In the five years since then, she’s been putting herself out there more frequently and connecting with people in the community. Roots Alive is more than just a record: It’s a comeback story.
“The biggest difference over the past year has been that I’ve had the confidence to say, ‘My music is good enough’ — not just for myself, but for other people to hear,” she says. “I was getting positive feedback, and my confidence was growing. Recording an album felt like a natural next step.”
The record’s title speaks to the style of music Leigh creates — or, perhaps more accurately, channels. Leigh also works as a certified life coach, through which she helps people discover their innate creativity and artistic potential. She often stresses the importance of living from a “soul-inspired place,” and Roots Alive is, indeed, deeply soulful. And, like her heartfelt live shows, the album is as much about entertainment as it is about connection — with herself, with others and with the divine.
“Performances can become church,” she says. “A lot of younger generations find those mystical, spiritual moments through music. They’re looking to musicians to provide that because that’s who speaks to them.”
Leigh began playing guitar and singing relatively late in her life. She was in her mid-20s when that epiphany occurred in her parents’ house. Before that, she’d never pursued music in any serious capacity. The move to Asheville came because she knew that, to thrive, she needed to surround herself with creative types.
That leap of faith — her relocation to Asheville and eventually her departure from physical therapy — has worked out, though it’s hasn’t been a seamless journey. Leigh admits that a sense of “not-good-enoughness,” as she calls it, has waxed and waned through the years. But she doesn’t allow it to debilitate her because she feels more grounded now.
“When everything else burns away, music is what’s left,” she says. “I’ve come to realize that it’s part of my essence. Part of maturing as an artist is surrendering to you who you really are. And since I’ve done that, I’m provided with more strength and security when those moments of weakness come.”
About overcoming those moments of self-doubt, Leigh still recalls how she was racked with anxiety before her first live show, a 20- or 30-minute set at Creatures Cafe. She vividly remembers “going into the bathroom and bawling my eyes out … because I was so afraid of what people would think.”
But she still played. “I just pulled it together and did it,” she says.
That performance was recorded on video, and Leigh was ashamed of it for many years because when she watched it, all she saw was her nervousness. But now she shows that video to her students to illustrate that anxiety is a natural part of performing — indeed, a natural part of life — and that it shouldn’t hold anyone back.
“I like to help people connect with the creative source inside of them,” she says. “Because, deep down, I believe that’s what everybody on Earth wants.”
WHO: An Evening with Asher Leigh and Laura Boswell
WHERE: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Wednesday, May 29, 7 p.m., $10 advance/$12 day of show