The great outdoors: New Mountain opens its amphitheater

PUPPY LOVE: Brooklyn-based instrumental-fusion collective Snarky Puppy returns to Asheville to help christen New Mountain's amphitheater. Other headliners for the weekendlong event are electronic artist RJD2 and garage-punk act Black Lips. Photo by Stella K

Along with craft beer, the drum circle and a nun on a tall bike, outdoor event spaces are primed to become one of Asheville’s defining factors. Highland and Pisgah breweries have already found success with outdoor stages, and the open-air space of Salvage Station is anxiously awaited. But unlike those venues located on the outskirts of the city, New Mountain plans to implement an outdoor stage within the walkable area of downtown Asheville.

“Our amphitheater is the backside of our bar,” says New Mountain owner and operator Adrian Zelski. “We’ll have 30 big-production shows a year, but for the other 150 days of the summer, it’s going to be a space for food trucks, picnic tables and cornhole, and a hangout area for kids and dogs.” The amphitheater — featuring a rented stage and audio and lighting by Stewart Sound — will be properly introduced to the Asheville community with a grand opening party that spans Friday-Sunday, April 24-26. Headliners include garage-rockers Black Lips, electronica artist RJD2 and jazz-funk collective Snarky Puppy.

It’s a party that’s been a while in the making. Zelski says he moved back to Asheville from San Francisco because he fell in love with the urban acre where New Mountain sits. “The amphitheater idea came because I’m a music person. [The space] is kind of in a valley,” he says. City officials expressed interest in the beautification of French Broad Avenue, according to Zelski, and even though the initial plans of the New Mountain team (such as B Corporation status, building modifications and creation of green space) were based on big dreams, those ideas were met with support.

There’s also been some trial and error, hence the rented stage while the venue fine-tunes its amphitheater setup. “Our goal is to build our own permanent stage and have an enclosed space that’s sound-proofed,” Zelski says. In preparation for the inaugural season, New Mountain held two prototype events, including a concert headlined by flatpicker Larry Keel. One issue addressed with those trial runs was sound bleed into Echo Mountain Studios. Careful scheduling will solve some of those challenges, as will an ACI Smartwall: sustainable ceramic-based soundproofing.

With the logistics squared away, the next task was booking. “I wanted to represent high levels of quality in different genres,” says Zelski. “The reputation of a place can be defined quickly if it’s all jam bands or it’s all electronic.” For New Mountain, it was important not to be pigeonholed. The talent buyers wanted to excite garage rock fans as much as electronic music aficionados, and all three headlining acts for the weekendlong launch were passion picks: “I basically booked acts that I just really wanted to see,” Zelski says.

TESTING, ONE, TWO: Before this week's launch of the New Mountain amphitheater, the venue held two protype events. " “Our goal is to build our own permanent stage and have an enclosed space that’s sound-proofed,” says owner Adrian Zelski. Photo courtesy of New Mountain
TESTING, ONE, TWO: Before this week’s launch of New Mountain’s amphitheater, the venue held two prototype events. “Our goal is to build our own permanent stage and have an enclosed space that’s soundproofed,” says owner Adrian Zelski. Photo courtesy of New Mountain

For good reason: Since bursting out of the Atlanta suburbs 15 years ago, Black Lips built a strong reputation for legendarily bad behavior — though those on- and offstage antics no longer really represent the band. The most recent album, Underneath the Rainbow, recorded with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys and Thomas Brenneck of Dap-Tone Records, offers up the group’s cleanest and hookiest tracks to date.

RJ Krohn, aka RJD2, is no stranger to Asheville. Having played multiple Moogfests and, most recently, headlined New Year’s Eve at The Orange Peel, he could probably put down roots here — were he not so busy touring, producing and pushing the boundaries of electronic music.

And Grammy-winners Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based instrumental fusion group, claims dozens of musicians within its ranks. The lineup fluctuates to suit the situation (past situations entailed performances with Erykah Badu, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg, to name a few).

Add to that lineup about a dozen supporting acts — including many favorite local bands — and it’s shaping up to be a memorable weekend. That’s exactly what New Mountain is hoping for. “We really want to be part of the rising tide,” Zelski says of Asheville’s growing live music industry. “I’m excited about everyone’s success, and I’m doing what I can with my piece of real estate.”

The venue owner is forward-thinking, but he’s quick to note historical markers in Asheville’s music history, too: The White Stripes at Vincent’s Ear, The Smashing Pumpkins’ residency at The Orange Peel, Burning Spear’s transcendent appearance at Bele Chere, Fleet Foxes’ stunning opening set at The Grey Eagle. “My biggest reason for doing this,” Zelski says, “is because I want to create those moments that go down in time.”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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