LEAF Downtown returns

BACK AT IT: Following last year's pandemic-related pause, LEAF Downtown returns to Asheville for its sixth annual gathering. Photo courtesy of LEAF Global Arts

A defining feature of Asheville’s modern history is its festivals. From late July through September, the city has been host to a dazzling array of outdoor gatherings celebrating music, arts and community. Some, such as Bele Chere, have come and gone. Yet many remain, including LEAF Downtown, which returns Friday-Saturday, Aug. 27-28, after a year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Launched in 2015, the gathering builds upon the successful foundation of the semiannual LEAF Global Arts Festival at Lake Eden in Black Mountain. Like the original, the Asheville-based edition celebrates the tapestry of cultural traditions that enliven music and the arts. But unlike the Black Mountain occasions, LEAF Downtown is free to attend, embracing even more fully the community component that both happenings promote.

Musical highlights for this year’s two-day event include Newcleus and Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers. Meanwhile, Billy JonasRoy Harris, Free Planet Radio, West Sound, Kayla Lynn and The Secret Agency with Agent 23 Skidoo & Friends are among the local performers.

“Concrete love” is the theme for the 2021 celebration, notes Otto Vazquez, the event’s performing arts coordinator. “We come from our other festivals and retreats at Lake Eden’s natural settings, and now we’re bringing it back to the city of Asheville, to the concrete park,” he says. “And after what we all experienced last year, we want to bring love — a sense of togetherness and community, love you can build on — back to Asheville.”

Strategic planning

Even beyond the festival, LEAF Global Arts, which puts on the annual event, has long displayed a commitment to bringing those qualities to the city. The pandemic forced the temporary closure of the nonprofit’s new brick-and-mortar center on the corner of Eagle and Market streets shortly after its February 2020 launch. Vazquez says “a lot of strategic planning” went into maintaining the space during the shutdown.

The organization’s executive director, Jennifer Pickering, Vazquez emphasizes, “made some really smart decisions to prolong the life of the organization. We’re still being cautious, but we’re thriving again.”

That caution makes sense, continues Vazquez, as the pandemic isn’t over. With the latest mask mandate in place across Buncombe County, LEAF is requiring all attendees to mask up. Food vendors will also be spread out rather than concentrated at a single location; social distancing is encouraged for festivalgoers, as well. Additionally, there will be sanitation stations and multiple free vaccination sites available at the gathering.

“We want people to feel safe, have a good time and continue to enjoy live music,” says Vazquez.

Going in a circle

Acclaimed Asheville storyteller Roy Harris will preside over the festival’s opening ceremony, and his Story Time event on Friday afternoon will be a highlight of the gathering. Harris says that his goal at LEAF Downtown, as well as in his role as a board member of the Black Storytellers Association, is “to open storytelling up to the next generation.”

His credo emphasizes the universality of storytelling and the oral tradition: “My story is your story, your story is their story, and their story is our story,” he says. “We’re going in a circle.”

Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Kayla Lynn will be performing with her band The Change as part of Saturday’s entertainment lineup. Lynn has been involved with LEAF since 2016, when she was still in high school. “I was invited to play the festival, and I never left,” she quips.

Today she’s a LEAF resident teaching artist. “I hope people come to LEAF Downtown and get exposed to new music, art and ideas,” she says. “I hope it opens their minds and hearts to other people and other cultures.”

“Music, dance and entertainment have a healing aspect,” adds Vazquez. “That’s what this event — and all our events — are going to do. They’re going to heal the community, put people back into a state of mind that says, ‘We’re going to get through this. We’re going to have fun, and we’re going to be safe.’”

To learn more, visit avl.mx/8eb


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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10 thoughts on “LEAF Downtown returns

  1. Taxpayer

    Yes, let’s encourage tons of people from everywhere to gather closely together. Great idea. I heard Mission is already full. True?

  2. Annie Long

    I get the fallback to sarcasm by ‘Taxpayer.’ It’s frustrating. Am I missing something? The Delta variant is stronger and just as deadly as the original version of COVID. Why do the organizers think masking will make people safe in these conditions? Are they so naive as to believe safe social distancing is achievable? Realistically 6 feet is too close for safety from a robust and vibrant virus that spreads itself via airborne particles. I just don’t see a strong position in this article on how to gather in a large crowd. I am dismayed by this trend–so many people are ignoring or else hardly acknowledging the challenges of COVID-Delta to our public health. I will be waiting longer before I go to a festival or any kind of large gathering. We’ll see what next year brings.

  3. LowerCrust

    “Music, dance and entertainment have a healing aspect,” adds Vazquez. “That’s what this event — and all our events — are going to do. They’re going to heal the community…”

    This just sounds like the hipper mirror image of the COVID denialism of Madison Cawthorn and his ilk. Oh yes, by all means, lets “heal the community” through the good vibrations of mass gatherings for music and dance. Will they also be paying the medical bills of those who get sick?

    It’s unfortunate, because under normal circumstances, this is a nice event. But the timing could not be worse, and for the REAL good of the community they just need to swallow hard and cancel. And if they won’t do it, the County or City authorities should.

    • Annie Long

      It just makes me sad. All of it. Our small businesses and musicians, and artists will die without our support and engagement. and some of us will die from COVID. I can see how music and dancing are needed for our souls and overall well-being, but yikes, what a trade-off. I see no good choices from where I sit, lonely secluded, quarantined on the side of a mountain. At least I have a job. My boss pointed out the supply chain problems we are having could be due to mass deaths in the blue-collar sector.

  4. NFB

    “With the latest mask mandate in place across Buncombe County, LEAF is requiring all attendees to mask up. Food vendors will also be spread out rather than concentrated at a single location”

    People will be required to “mask up,” but there will be food vendors?

  5. bsummers

    If you think this is stupid and embarrassing, you’re right. If you know an anti-masker or anti-vaxxer, thank them for this hell.

  6. Who,me?

    Read the room, for heavens sake. COVID and the Delta variant are increasing. Even the vaccinated are vulnerable. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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