The Big Secret Family Festival debuts at Salvage Station

SECRET'S OUT: The inaugural Big Secret Family Festival will feature a number of acts, including Secret Agency, pictured. Photo courtesy of Cactus (AKA Secret Agent 23 Skidoo)

by Morgan Bost 

For many musicians, contributing their talents to a good cause is part of the gig. But in the wake of COVID-19, which left touring acts locked out of venues and unable to earn a living for an extended period of time, the opportunities to give back are now more challenging than ever.

“Artists in general, always kind of get that ask of like, ‘Oh it’s a benefit, can you do it for free?’” says Grammy-winning musician and Asheville local Cactus (AKA Secret Agent 23 Skidoo). “And out of the goodness of their hearts, a lot of times artists do that. But I mean, let’s be fair — artists aren’t rich.”

With that in mind, Cactus set out to create a unique music gathering — The Big Secret Family Festival — that not only brought people together but also gave back, both to a local nonprofit and to the artists participating in the event.

To do so, he says he had to get creative. Instead of relying on ticket sales to pay talent, he financed that portion of the event with community dollars raised through a combination of traditional sponsorships and digital collaborations.

Taking place Sunday, July 17, at 2 p.m. at Salvage Station, the inaugural lineup features The Secret Agency with Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Empire Strikes Brass, Snake Oil Medicine Show with Caroline Pond and Eastern Band Cherokee storyteller and cultural ambassador John John Grant Jr. There will also be face painting, circus acts, puppetry by Toybox and magic by Criswell the traveling magician. Along with live music and entertainment, Root Down and Baba Nahm will be serving Southern cuisine and Middle Eastern street food, respectively.

“I’m making sure that artists get paid what they deserve,” Cactus says. “I think everybody, not just the artists but the community of people that go and see music, has really felt the loss of [live music] over the past couple of years and really now understand what it is to go out to a show and be with people and celebrate life together like this.”

Turning 10

After securing the finances for the festival’s performers, Cactus began asking around for input on which local nonprofit the gathering should support.

“Everybody in the community pointed directly at Keynon [Lake],” says Cactus.

Lake, a graduate of Asheville High School, launched My Daddy Taught Me That in 2012. July 1, he notes, marked the organization’s 10-year anniversary.

“So, this was awesome that Cactus reached out and wanted to have this event because it’s also a way that we can celebrate [the milestone],” Lake says.

MDTMT offers a variety of services for young men, including mentorship programs, career training, academic enrichment and supplying participants with basic needs. In 2018, former program members interested in staying involved with the nonprofit helped launch an ambassador program. “Any young man who’s been in the program for five-plus years [can] become an ambassador,” Lake explains.

It’s this mentorship structure that really struck a chord with Cactus. “I think it’s super powerful, and I think that the family aspect of this festival is just so much enriched and made more deep by that idea,” he says.

All profits from ticket sales will go directly to MDTMT.

Community and collaboration

At its core, notes Cactus, the inaugural Big Secret Family Festival is about coming together.

Like so many, he says, the pandemic has given him a greater appreciation for community. “I really missed connecting with people,” he says. “Having festivals, being onstage — I never took it for granted, but you never know what parts you’ll miss until you miss it.”

The festival is also a celebration of collaboration, which Cactus adds, will manifest onstage.

“You’re not just going to have Snake Oil Medicine Show and Empire Strikes Brass, but you’re going to have a collaboration set called Snakes and Brass. And each act is going to do that, and then finally we’re all going to [perform] together,” he says.

“That models the type of community collaboration that we’re talking about — not everybody staying in their own zone … but instead representing what happens when everybody gets together and collaborates,” Cactus continues. “We’re trying to show that onstage in a way that the kids will understand.”

WHAT: The Big Secret Family Festival
WHERE: Salvage Station, 468 Riverside Drive,
WHEN: Sunday, July 17, 2 p.m. $23 general/free for children 3 and younger


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