Music Video Asheville puts local talent on the big screen

VIDEO OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN: Spotlighting artists from a wide array of sounds and styles, this year's Music Video Asheville awards ceremony recognizes works by the likes of R&B vocalist Leeda "Lyric" Jones, left, and hip-hop emcee Marcus "Mook" Cunningham, pictured at last year's ceremony. Photo by Scott Duncan

The annual Music Video Asheville event has grown from humble beginnings to its current status as a high-profile event attracting top talent. But even as the competition earns more recognition for the filmmakers and musical artists who take part, organizers make a point of maintaining that which makes it special: developing connections among local artists. The 11th annual Music Video Asheville showcase takes place Wednesday, April 25, at Diana Wortham Theatre.

More than a decade into its celebratory chronicling of the local music scene, MVA is still evolving. One specific and ongoing goal is to make the competition as inclusive as possible. “We make a concerted effort to reach out to communities, people and musical styles that haven’t been [fully] represented,” says MVA event organizer Kelly Denson. “And I realize it’s not just something that’s gonna land in my lap. I have to do it with intention.”

As she prepares for the upcoming awards ceremony — this year, 85 submissions were culled to a top 27 that will be screened during the April 25 show — Denson reflects on the defining characteristics of the event. “Music Video Asheville is about trusting the artists around you,” she says. “I’m an event planner. I’m not the traditional creative. But I love to work with creatives, and I’m inspired by them. And to watch them exceed my expectations — repeatedly, every single year — is so exciting.”

Denson mentions filmmaker Kira Bursky as an exemplar of the kind of talent spotlighted at MVA. Bursky’s video for Ian Ridenhour‘s song “Dancing Children” tied for first place in the 2017 competition, and her film for local shoegaze band VIA’s “We Are the People” took home the Best Visual Design award that year. Bursky has won top prizes in at least five other national-level competitions as well.

“All films are collaborative,” Bursky says. “Every perspective, every hand and eye and ear that graces the creative process leaves its mark.” This year, she entered two videos in the competition, including one for Ridenhour’s “You Help Me Fall Asleep.”

“Music Video Asheville is fueling the growth of artistic collaborations and partnerships,” Bursky says.

“Occasionally I hear people say, ‘Music videos are dead,’” Denson says. “No. Music videos are alive and well, and stronger than they’ve ever been.” Stressing that creativity and storytelling are the key ingredients to success, she says, “Never underestimate the power of a music video.”

Also, never underestimate a yearly party spotlighting that particular art form. Music Video Asheville was launched in 2008 by Jenny Fares as a way to encourage local artists to pursue their creativity. (The popular Brown Bag Songwriting Competition was another of Fares’ initiatives.) But, after five years running MVA, Fares was ready for new challenges. The logistics involved with the event were “becoming a little overwhelming,” suggests Denson. “I think she was feeling that it was time to pass the baton.”

Denson attended the fifth MVA in 2012, when she met and became friends with Fares. “I kind of had this moment of, ‘I’ll do it!’” she recalls with a laugh. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

In the intervening years, many technological changes have taken place. Denson notes that access to high-quality audiovisual equipment is much more affordable now. “So the overall quality of submissions has increased exponentially,” she says.

Other upgrades to the annual event have been more lighthearted. Working with Jason Guadagnino, aka JasonG, Denson endeavored to expand MVA. She says that after one more year hosting the event at Cinnebarre in the space then known as Biltmore Square Mall, “we quickly outgrew that.” They moved the awards ceremony downtown to the Fine Arts Theatre. “And then Jason had this idea: ‘We should add a red carpet!’”

That idea was originally a playful, silly one, Denson admits. “But it became something that we’ve polished, and we were even featured in USA Today last year.” She and Guadagnino worked to improve all areas of the competition and ceremony and, Denson proudly notes, “Music Video Asheville is starting to make some waves in the music and film scene.”

Denson sees MVA’s biggest success in the connections that creatives make with one another. “Music Video Asheville is a spotlight place where other people can see what these artists are about and who they are,” she says. “I think that for both filmmakers and musicians, it’s a great platform.”

Plus, the event exposes audiences to the work of more than two dozen musical artists. “Where else can you do that in three hours?” Denson asks.

WHAT: Music Video Asheville,
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave.
WHEN: Wednesday, April 25. Lobby pre-party at 5 p.m., curtain at 7 p.m. $20 general admission/$40 VIP


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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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