The first night of DIG festival looked to be a success, with eight downtown Asheville venues hosting music and a couple dozen bands performing. The way the ticketing works — full weekend passes, passes to all venues on one day, or passes to all bands at a single venue, meant that festival-goers could design their own experience. Bounce from show to show or stay put, watching the crowd and lineup change around you.
PAPER CROWNS, an on-and-offstage couple (and recent transplants to Asheville), played an early set at 5 Walnut. Spiro Nicolopoulos played electric guitar and banjo; his wife Nicole played acoustic guitar and harmonica and between them, they composed an entire rhythm section with foot-powered percussion (including a cymbal and tambourine). Their jangly folk, mostly upbeat, was underscored by palpable chemistry. They often locked eyes while playing, their voices well-matched and their songs both hooky and storied.
JEFF SANTIAGO Y LOS GATOS NEGROS played Tressa’s, filling the jazz and blues club with a distinctly ’90s-era, grunge-inspired sound. Santiago’s songs melded sweeping, angst-tinged melodies with driving percussion that managed to feel cooly retro (college radio of a by-gone era) and bracingly modern. Debrissa McKinney (who performs in four DIG Fest bands this weekend) added vocals and tambourine; Jarod Perkins kept the percussion crisp. Tressa’s itself added to the aesthetic, its martini bar glamour (velvet curtains, chandeliers, a disco ball slowly scattering improvised starlight against the ceiling) seemed at odds with Santiago’s Seattle-esque grit — and yet, together, the end result was cinematic and escapist in the best way.
WARM THE BELL took over the roof at The Social, a great place to be on a warm summer evening. The band split its set between the ’60s-inspired folk pop of its album, “You Are the Sun,” and the Americana/shoegaze of Nevada, the band in which co-songwriters Vickie Burrick and Sean Robbins previously played. Lots of reverb, vocal delays, two guitars and keyboard built the dark and dreamy sonic tapestry. Burrick’s lead vocal on a few songs also recalls the ’80s alt-rock of bands like Let’s Active and The dB’s.
JEFF THOMPSON also played at 5 Walnut with 3/5 of his band, The Outliers. While a full band would have easily overwhelmed the wine bar’s small space, the trio — which took its cues from a jazz combo even as it played rock offerings — was a good fit. Thompson’s songs, soulful and blues-tinged, showed off his range with upper-register vocalizations and plenty of humorous winks. Even as a skilled musician with a formidable backing band, Thompson doesn’t take himself too seriously. Still, just in case anyone questioned his commitment to craft, Thompson finished out his set with a cover of Otis Redding’s emotive “Tenderness” that melded into a scorching, take-no-prisoners rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
Find tonight’s DIG Fest lineup here.