Letter: Losses in music scene demand action

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Asheville is a very special music community — and it needs to assess the damage done during this time of the pandemic. I personally know three musicians who have passed away since the summer. Mental health and overdose issues are taking their toll.

This is something so heartbreaking because truly amazing music is being made in our local scene. There is a large network of friends who play together, go out to see each other at the smaller music venues in the city — create garage rock, punk, indie, metal, surf — with a pureness of heart and raw beauty.

I am involved with Musicians for Overdose Prevention, and I help manage the “Holy Crap Records” podcast. We play the best underground songs of the week, every week, for the past 142 weeks, and we heavily rely on our local scene for that music. The local music is catchy, aggressive, heartbroken and, like the best blues or country or punk, it is true.

You need to hear Bad Molly or Shaken Nature and Thee Sidewalk Surfers, as well as so many other great local bands. Music is not a competition, but please listen because this is better than anything you will hear on a major radio station.

Thee Sidewalk Surfers’ “I am Broken” [avl.mx/8xj] is a song of heartbreaking beauty about losing faith and needing some sign to continue. Shaken Nature’s “Cowboy” [avl.mx/8xk] is the band’s quintessential concept song, as it combines Western mythology with psychedelic rock and a garage rock rawness. Bad Molly’s “I Don’t Care” [avl.mx/8xl] mixes country and blues and some of the grit of The Rolling Stones from their Exile on Main St. era.

These three bands have each lost an integral member. These are my friends, and my heart is breaking.

Musicians have always been in danger from overdose and mental health challenges. We know our history. This pandemic has increased anxiety and depression and disconnected us all. The pandemic has also shut down music venues — and closed or slowed many service industry jobs that musicians rely on — causing economic hardships. We are now witnessing the mental health fallout.

Within Western North Carolina, we wish to destigmatize these issues and face the tough conversations about mental health in our community. We want all musicians, all music venues, all recording studios, all record stores and music stores to carry naloxone. This will save lives. Naloxone is [an extremely] safe medication that blocks opioids in your system. Good Samaritan laws protect individuals from using naloxone to reverse an overdose. Bureaucracy and red tape slow and make naloxone distribution difficult, especially by mail. It needs to end now.

The music community is not shying away from these tough and stigma-fighting conversations. We are losing our friends. You are witnessing the start of a wave of activism to help people within the music scene to fight stigma, to use commonsense harm reduction and mental health support.

— John Kennedy
Black Mountain


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2 thoughts on “Letter: Losses in music scene demand action

  1. Bright

    Good ideas! Musicians world wide are suffering…yet music is listened to, and used for so many reasons, by almost everyone. What do musicians use for income? They can’t live on love alone.

  2. blueridgeguvnor

    It would be GREAT if one thing that came out of this whole mess was venues actually started paying Musicians a decent amount.

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