When Asheville guitarist/singer Zuzu Welsh looks around, he sees an uncertain future for many local music festivals. LAAFF and Goombay are back in 2015, but Moogfest is heading to Durham, All Go West was postponed this year and Bele Chere ended its 3 1/2-decade run in 2013.
In an effort to help support and raise awareness for the professional scene of which he’s an active member, Welsh has organized the inaugural Valley Music & Cook House Blues Festival on Saturday, Aug. 29. Impressed with the music events put on by Debra Zandstra-Baker and Marty Baker since buying the former Beer City Tavern in late 2014, Welsh was drawn to the Swannanoa venue’s central location between Asheville and Black Mountain. The outdoor stage sealed the deal — there’s a flat, grassy area on the banks of the Swannanoa River, picnic tables, a large fire pit nearby and room for more than 200 people with blankets and lawn chairs.
Though Welsh has successfully pulled off benefit concerts for MANNA FoodBank and Homeward Bound, where all-star local talent covered the music of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, those events involved performers donating their time and efforts. In planning his first festival, Welsh counted on the additional costs of advertising and band compensation, but has been surprised at the difficulty to stir up interest in regional music, which he deems equally worthy of aid.
“People will jump in with both feet to help the homeless [and] hungry, help animals and any number of other great causes — it’s one of the things I love about this community. But it seems harder to get people involved when it’s an event that’s just to showcase some good bands and earn them a few bucks,” Welsh says. “I guess you could say this is a benefit for local music.”
While not all of the acts on the bill are traditional blues groups, Welsh primarily selected artists who adhere to that style. He has some sort of connection to each, even if just a tenuous one. Miranda Clark (“A wonderful voice,” Welsh says) opens the show at 2 p.m. and will be followed by fellow local artists The Lowdown (“A young, energetic, up-and-coming group”), Hurricane Bob (“A good draw at this venue all the time”) and the maestro’s own Zuzu Welsh Band. Of the festival’s penultimate act, Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats — whose annual Barnaroo Music & Arts Festival is simpatico with his mission — Welsh says, “Their music is powerful. [Scotchie] pours his soul into his music, and I love that. So having them involved with their tremendous local visibility is just awesome.”
Upstate South Carolina band Stolen Hearts, featuring Pam Taylor and Robert Johnson Jr. (no relation to the blues legend, though Welsh says the name recognition doesn’t hurt) have the night’s last slot. They’ll be followed by a grand finale jam of a blues standard — likely “Sweet Home Chicago” or “Before You Accuse Me” — in which all of the performers are set to play together. “The stage is 40 feet wide, so there’s plenty of room for guitar slingers to step up and show off a bit,” Welsh says.
The Valley Music & Cook House will sell beer and wine starting at noon while Avery’s Hot Dogs offers its namesake food along with burgers, barbecue and vegan options. And in keeping with Welsh’s commitment to local nonprofits, several charitable groups will have informational booths set up and proceeds from posters signed by the performers are earmarked for the WNC Advocacy League.
WHAT: The Valley Music & Cook House Blues Festival
WHERE: The Valley Music & Cook House, 2574 Hwy. 70, Swannanoa
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 29, noon-10 p.m. $15 advance / $20 day of show. avl.mx/1ft