When Kelly Denson took over as the producer of Music Video Asheville seven years ago, every submitted video was shown on the night of the event.
Nowadays, the number of submissions has increased to such an extent that only about 25% of the videos appear on the big screen. This year, 82 videos were reportedly turned in, and the anonymous selection committee has been working hard to decide which ones will make the cut.
Such has been the evolution of Music Video Asheville, which Denson calls “a family reunion for the Asheville music scene.” The annual red carpet affair brings out Asheville’s most talented musicians and filmmakers in a freewheeling celebration of the city’s creative spirit “that’s more like the MTV Music Awards than the Grammys,” as Denson puts it. The 12th iteration of the event, presented by Prestige Subaru, will be held Wednesday, April 24, at Diana Wortham Theatre.
“This is my passion project,” says Denson, whose full-time job is executive producer for All-American Food Fights. “I love doing it because it’s a way to highlight the creative people in this area.”
The gist behind the event is simple: locally produced music videos of all genres — “everything from hip-hop to bluegrass,” as Denson puts it — are submitted and then whittled down to the best 90 minutes. That hour-and-a-half collection is played on the night of the event, and a panel of five judges picks a winner (known as the “Judges’ Choice”) with the prize being a day of free recording at Echo Mountain Recording.
This year’s judging panel consists of Brian Adam Smith (an independent musician and videographer), Alli Marshall (Xpress‘ arts and entertainment editor), Heather Anders (host on 98.1 The River), David Saich (director of Fiasco Pictures) and one person yet to be named.
Other awards include Founder’s Achievement, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Design, Best Soundtrack and People’s Choice. “It’s a curation of the arts,” Denson explains.
Stephanie Morgan of the band Pink Mercury is scheduled to perform, and Denson is building up Morgan’s appearance as a “visual feast.” Denson hinted that the audience may be in for a surprise, though she wasn’t willing to go into more detail.
This will be the “fourth or fifth year” that the event has been held at the Diana Wortham Theatre. In the past, it’s been hosted by The Fine Arts Theatre, as well as Cinnebarre, where it was “basically just one microphone and a podium,” Denson says. It’s progressed from a relatively low-key affair into a glitzy undertaking featuring a red carpet (which initially started as a joke), a small army of photographers and the city’s creative glitterati dressed to the nines — albeit it in oddball Asheville style.
“When you first walk in, you feel that vibrancy, and you realize you’re in the middle of something really exciting,” Denson says.
Jack Victor and his now-disbanded group, Midnight Snack, won the Judge’s Choice Award last year. The musicians had to take a long journey to accept it. “We didn’t know in advance that the winners would go onstage,” Victor recalls. “So we sat way up in the balcony, and when we got called, the whole band literally ran from where we were seated, down the staircase in the hallway, and jogged onto the stage.”
Their music video, a well-executed stop-motion papier-maché production for the song “Magic,” was a collaborative effort. Synthesizer and guitar player Mike Henry Johnson came up with the concept and wrote the storyline, and received help from bassist Peter Brownlee and guitar player Zack Kardon to build the set — essentially, a miniature world for a miniature papier-maché man.
It was a tedious undertaking that’s representative of the immense artistic talent present in Asheville.
“Mike filmed me and my partner, Coco, on his iPhone doing all of these motions in the backyard that he would later turn into hundreds of stills,” Victor says. Johnson then printed those out on paper, “cut out those tiny images of us, and then animated the images into a stop-motion.”
The band members have since amicably gone their separate ways “to diversify our musical lives a bit,” as Victor puts it, though they still occasionally collaborate. Victor says it was an honor to win the award, especially given the stiff competition he and his band were up against.
Denson bemoans the breakup of Midnight Snack — she was admittedly a huge fan — but knows the show must go on and that somewhere within this year’s submission pool is another video waiting to take home top honors.
“The creativity never ceases to amaze me,” she says. “This is something that I look forward to all year, every year.”
WHAT: Music Video Asheville
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave., dwtheatre.com
WHEN: Wednesday, April 24, 5-10 p.m., $20 advance/$25 day of event