“I got really weird,” festival organizer Arieh Samson admits, “booking innovative, left-field acts.”
This year’s All Go West lineup is characteristically eclectic, featuring three dozen locally based acts plus a few from as far away as New York City. Even if a music fan doesn’t recognize some of the names, a random selection gives a flavor for just how varied the musical choices are. To wit: 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra (funk-rock-jazz), Super Yamba Band (Afrobeat and psychedelic funk), self-described “sonic reductionists” Thee Open Sex and Young Bull (R&B, hip-hop).
Locals include Foul Mouth Jerk with Dr. Ock (hip-hop), RBTS WIN (neo-soul), The Space Cowboys & the Cosmic Girls (Jamiroquai tribute), Axxa/Abraxas (indie-rock), Jamar Woods Acoustic Band (led by The Fritz’s frontman) and dozens of others across multiple stages (indoor and outdoor) in West Asheville.
The sixth All Go West happens Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18, at multiple venues in West Asheville.
The original idea for All Go West came from then-business partners Samson and Jimmy Hunt. The latter had been running Music on the Mountaintop, a successful annual event in Boone. “Jimmy had experience with ‘site ops’ and the infrastructure of a festival, and I had the connections within the music industry in Asheville,” recalls Samson, who, today, is also the tour manager for Rising Appalachia.
“In 2010, there were a lot of events happening in Asheville,” Samson says, noting that most were centered around downtown. “But we looked at the west side as the place where we like to hang out as locals and decided to bring more life to that side of town.”
Samson hoped that All Go West would “present the weirder side of the music scene.” And, most notably, instead of being a tourist attraction, the festival would be local in both its lineup and appeal.
“It’s very important to present something that locals enjoy,” Samson says. “There is a lot going for tourism in Asheville, but there’s not as much happening that locals really celebrate, as far as a music festival.”
He sees All Go West as an opportunity to spotlight some of those qualities that make Asheville special: “I want to keep it weird enough to where locals embrace it,” he says with a laugh.
Though the festival took 2012 off, each successive iteration has been more successful than the last. The eclectic lineup of artists is a big part of its popularity. It helps that All Go West is, and has always been, free to attend, too. But another key to its success — and a quality that sets it apart from its Moogfest and Bele Chere forebears — is that All Go West has enthusiastic support within the local business and retail community.
Samson says that, from the beginning, he made a point to develop and maintain strong communication with all of the businesses in the footprint of the festival. And, while feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, when problems do come up, Samson says that those are addressed. “We don’t close the streets, and we don’t put tents in front of businesses,” he points out.
Acts worth seeing
When All Go West began, it was a one-day event. But Samson received complaints from many friends who work in the local service industries. “People often can’t get off work on Saturday, so they’d miss it,” he says. So, beginning this year, the festival expands to two days.
Yet none of all that would matter much if the event didn’t feature musical acts worth seeing. All Go West manages to feature something for most every musical taste. Samson says that the main outdoor stage presents a family-friendly experience: “Residents in West Asheville can walk up with their kids and have a full day of music there.”
“Then, in the Mothlight, I can book all the dark stuff,” Samson says with a sly grin. “And at Isis Music Hall, we can present another side of the scene.” He says that the festival offers an opportunity for locals who might not usually go to shows to “pop in and check stuff out.” Samson says he has received feedback from festivalgoers in the past telling him, “Wow, that was cool! I had never been in the Mothlight, and now I’m going all the time.”
All Go West will feature the debut of Josh Phillips‘ new acoustic project with local musicians (including Suzanna Baum, Billy Cardine, Simon George, Bryon McMurry and Nicky Sanders). Saying he’s “lucky as all get-out” to be playing the festival, Phillips describes All Go West as “a glimpse into the soul — or at very least, the record collection — of one of the hardest-working figures in the music scene.”
Phillips has been a fixture of the local and regional music scene for more than a decade. He performed with an early iteration of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band before fronting his own acoustic groove project, Josh Phillips Folk Festival, and releasing the well-received albums Wicker (2008) and Get Outside (2012). Between musical ventures, Phillips disappears for extended periods (his last sabbatical included many months of world travel). He admits that, for him, “the desire to play live music comes and goes.” He says that whenever he feels that his public persona — his identity as a musician — takes over who he is as a person, his “natural tendency is to push away and explore other realities.”
Luckily for local listeners, Phillips has returned to the stage. He’ll be performing twice at All Go West — with The Josh Phillips Big Band (a 10-piece outfit made up of members of the Booty Band, STRUT and other local favorites) and his latest collective. Describing the sound of the latter projects as “folk-Americana with a hint of reggae,” he promises a set list filled with “many of my songs, old and new, some of Billy Cardine’s tunes and a couple great covers.”
WHAT: All Go West Festival, allgowest.com
WHERE: West Asheville: outdoor stage, the Mothlight, Isis Music Hall, The Brew Pump, the Fortune Building
WHEN: Saturday, June 17, noon-2 a.m., and Sunday, June 18, noon-10 p.m. Free