Faces in the crowd: WNC crowdfunding initiatives

HEAR ME OUT: The artists in Asheville's Poetry Cabaret combine multiple disciplines into one politically charged show, which they hope to present in the nation's capital this summer.
HEAR ME OUT: The artists in Asheville's Poetry Cabaret combine multiple disciplines into one politically charged show, which they hope to present in the nation's capital this summer. Image from Poetry Cabaret's crowdfunding page

Crowdfunding platforms make it possible for individuals and organizations of any size to harness social networks and raise start-up capital for projects that might otherwise fail due to lack of funding. Each week, Xpress highlights notable Western North Carolina crowdsourcing initiatives that may inspire readers to become new faces in the crowd.

Poetry Cabaret

“Asheville’s Poetry Cabaret collective has been invited to perform at Capital Fringe this July,” says Caleb Beissert, the interdisciplinary group’s artistic director. He describe’s the troupe’s performances — which include a combination of original poetry, live music, magic, burlesque acts and fire eating — as “entertaining, fearlessly thought-provoking and everything in between, challenging cultural norms and political double-speak.” Not only does the group’s time on the road represent the exporting of local talent, he adds, but the slot at Capital Fringe in Washington, D.C., is an opportunity to “take our message directly to the steps of the Capital.” The Poetry Cabaret aims to raise $1,850 by Tuesday, June 13, to pay for production and travel expenses associated with sending the artists “and their middle fingers” to Washington, D.C.

Eda Rhyne Distillery

In Asheville, where booze sits among other art forms, Eda Rhyne Distillery fits right in. “We source local heirloom grains and organic botanicals — some grown on owner and distiller Rett Murphy’s own Aardvark Farm — to create exceptional small batch spirits,” reads the company’s crowdfunding page. The distillery prides itself on capturing the flavors of Western North Carolina in products like Botanical Rye, Forest Floor Amaro and Appalachian Fernet, which contains more than 50 medicinal herbs and plants. While Murphy brings sustainable farming practices to the business, his partner Chris Bower (who also co-owns The Double Crown and Lazy Diamond) comes from a lineage of moonshiners and what he calls “matter of fact herbalists.” Additional partners Pierce Harmon and Andrew Bertone also descend from Prohibition-era rum runners. The group of business men have, so far, obtained a federal permit and some equipment for the distillery. Now, they aim to raise $56,000 by Friday, June 9, to pay for additional gear, ingredients, the tasting room’s build out and other expenses.

Ben Phan’s crowdfunding success

In December 2016, local musician Ben Phan told Mountain Xpress he felt apprehensive about launching a crowdfunding campaign — like he was “testing the fan base” by asking for $11,440 toward his latest album Fear Is the Teacher. But 238 supporters nudged him a few hundred dollars beyond that goal, enabling Phan to record at The Eagle Room with his backing band the Soul Symphony.

“The most challenging thing about the campaign was the launch moment,” he recalls. “I had done so much work in preparation, and I was incredibly anxious, because I had no idea if it would succeed or not. I remember sitting there in front of the computer, gathering up the courage to hit the ‘launch now’ button.”

Nevertheless, Phan raised more than $2,000 within 24 hours of the fateful click, and he says the experience that followed was surprisingly affirming, both in terms of general support for independent music and fans’ assistance with his particular project. “I gained a lot of self confidence in the process, because so many people showed up to support me, both through pledges and through words of encouragement.”

Phan attributes much of his success to two years of hard work prior to the campaign, including practicing about four hours per day plus additional time spent on booking and promoting his music. “A crowdfunding campaign can’t come out of nowhere,” he says. “There has to be a crowd first, and I knew I would have to work hard to create the opportunity. Two years later, it seemed like the right time, and I’m happy to say, it was.”

For those considering their own crowdsourcing initiative, Phan advises setting clear, long-term goals first and planning ample time for the pre-campaign legwork. He adds: “Always, always stay true and focused on honing your craft; Everything manifests from the practice room.”

Ben Phan and the Soul Symphony will perform a release show for Fear Is the Teacher at Isis Music Hall on Saturday, June 10, at 9 p.m. Tickets ($10/$12) are available at isisasheville.com.

Album cover courtesy of the artist
Album cover courtesy of the artist

Send your crowdsourcing campaign news to kmcreynolds@mountainx.com. A limited number of campaigns will be highlighted each week, at Xpress’ discretion. Campaigns must be locally based and should represent a current project with an achievable goal. Conditions are subject to change. Read about more Western North Carolina projects here.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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