Asheville is a town of many dichotomies, not the least its residents’ simultaneous nostalgic yearnings and forward leanings. “This town was better 10 years ago” vs. “Why is there still no Ethiopian restaurant?” The SexPatriates at Vincent’s Ear vs. Beck at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. But past and present collide in the best way at this year’s All Go West Music Festival, set for Saturday, June 7 in West Asheville.
The free, daylong event features a lineup that aligns some of the area’s current favorite bands (jazz-exotica collective Hank West & the Smokin’ Hots, hip-hop act Free Radio and indie-rockers The Hermit Kings) with some of the most popular groups of the past decade.
A GFE performance, all too rare these days, is always fun: That band warms up the stage for headliner Cee Knowledge — a nationally known rap-rocker for whom the local band has been opening. Preceding GFE on the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall stage is Strut, who, like rockers tHE POLES, are actually reuniting for this festival. “It’s been about eight years since all five of us of have played in Asheville,” says bassist Elijah Cramer, who, with his brother Casey Cramer, Biko Casini, Agent Ishi and Patrick Thomas, comprise up Strut. “The timing just felt right, and everybody was able to do it.”
Not that the band’s members strayed too far: Casini has been playing percussion with Rising Appalachia and recently settled back in the area. Both Cramers played with Josh Phillips Folk Festival, and Ishi contributed to Dub Kartel. And there’s been an annual family reunion at The Farm, the commune in Tennessee where Strut’s musicians grew up together.
All Go West wasn’t even a gleam in its founder’s eyes during Strut’s local heyday. The festival was launched in 2010 by Arieh Samson and co-organizer Jimmy Hunt, who told Xpress at the time that West Asheville was “where I go out and have dinner and beer and walk my dog. But there was no big festival.” Hunt and Samson filled the void with bands like Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and River Whyless (then called Do It to Julia). The Archrivals launched an album as part of the festival and, when the rain started, the outdoor stage moved inside to the Rocket Club (now the site of The WALK) where Kovacs and the Polar Bear played as if their lives depended on it.
While Kovacs and Co. called it quits this spring, another local institution recently regrouped. tHE POLES resurfaced on Facebook late last year, quickly racking up Likes and show dates. The band recently posted a thank-you to “everyone who came out and got their faces melted at The Odditorium”: a tentative reunion this is not. Luckily, All Go West has a stage for that. “This year, I did want to change it up,” says Samson. “Having the Mothlight as a stage allowed me to get edgier.” That’s where tHE POLES will perform, along with bands such as Nest Egg (composed of former Soft Opening members), The Tills (who last played All Go West under the moniker The Critters) and rock outfit Delicious — another reunited act.
Since the venues are so close together, Samson says he hopes festivalgoers will split their time among the spaces. “It’s free, and it’s your opportunity to see something new,” he says. “I hope there’s some crossover — I encourage people to see stuff that’s different.” At last year’s festival, many listeners were introduced to math-rock duo Ahleuchatistas — a band that’s hard to explain but quick to win over would-be fans.
Equally hard to explain to newcomers: that less than half-a-decade ago, West Asheville was a bit of a wasteland when it came to live music. Both Isis and The Mothlight have opened since All Go West started, though it’s still the only live music festival on Asheville’s west side and still aims to please — hence a third stage in the Isis parking lot, which promises even more programming. There, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo kicks off the day with a set of kid-hop. Later, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel (psychedelic rockers from Los Angeles) and Brooklyn-based Elephant Wrecking Ball (which classifies its genre as “science”) share space with local R&B collective The Secret B-Sides and soulful singer-songwriter Josh Phillips. And, even though scheduled food event Savor the Westside, slated to be part of the festival, was canceled, “Isis will be doing a Southern-style barbecue outside on the lawn,” says Samson.
Stooges Brass Band from New Orleans closes the outdoor stage. “When Hurricane Katrina hit, that’s when you saw a lot of these bands that would never have to leave New Orleans [suddenly have to] get out of town to tour,” says Samson. The Stooges “have a little bit of a hip-hop element to their style. They have a young energy and, to me, the sousaphone is the funkiest instrument.”
He adds, “It’s the vibe I want to leave people with.”
All Go West, allgowest.com
Isis Restaurant & Music Hall and The Mothlight
Saturday, June 7, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Free