What Rolling Stone missed about Asheville’s music scene

Alli Marshall / Photo by Thomas Calder


Asheville’s music and art scene, thankfully, is far more interesting than Rolling Stone portrayed in its March 21 issue. And it’s also a good deal less shiny.

The magazine first took note of Asheville’s uniqueness in 2000 when it called our city the new freak capital of the U.S. In fairness, Ukiah Morrison had run for City Council on a pro-marijuana platform, dressed only in a thong and body paint. But the story was nonetheless a work of pigeonholing: Few of the city’s other 72,000 residents traipsed regularly through downtown in near-naked glory. Still, there was something charming (if inaccurate) about being labeled “freaks,” enough so that, in the aftermath, “Keep Asheville Weird” bumper stickers grew in popularity.

Nearly two decades later, Rolling Stone has swept back through to pen “Why Asheville, North Carolina, Is the New Must-Visit Music City.” While the story is complimentary, it paints an inaccurate outsider picture of Asheville’s music scene.

Though most of the artists named in the story have garnered national attention, many other similarly talented artists perform without such accolades. The cost of living here is high, and wages are low: Those seeking success in creative pursuits — or even just regular gigs and enthusiastic fans — often cobble together multiple jobs to support themselves while playing small stages far from the national spotlight.

Many of the bands Rolling Stone spotlighted are not from Western North Carolina. The only quotes in the story are from white men. Only two women-led bands are mentioned (Rising Appalachia and River Whyless) and Fantastic Negrito (who is not a local) is the only person of color referenced. Most of the venues mentioned are located downtown; few of the businesses named are owned by women and none by people of color. So, ultimately, this article serves as an advertisement for a very narrow scope of music and a slim swath of enterprise.

This is not to diminish the inherent worth of those local musical acts and businesses spotlighted, but it does detract from the multidimensionality of both entities. “Rock, world, hip-hop and electronic are readily discoverable,” the article states, without explaining how or where, “but it’s Americana and bluegrass that reign as the predominant sound.” Those genres are perhaps most visible, but not predominant. (On a recent busy Friday night, Americana, roots and country offerings made up only about one-fourth of listings in Xpress’ music calendar.)

Imagine if Asheville’s music scene really was populated overwhelmingly by Americana acts: Those bands would not have developed their unique sounds by rubbing elbows with jazz, funk, blues, metal, punk, experimental and other genres that call Asheville home. The city would not contain, in its DNA, a proclivity toward the inventive mashups and risk-taking that gave us the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival or All Go West; acts like Spaceman Jones and the Motherships, Lizz Wright, Natural Born Leaders or Coconut Cake; and eclectic venues like Static Age, Sly Grog Lounge, The BLOCK off Biltmore, The Odditorium and The Black Cloud, among others.

Furthermore, the businesses listed in the Rolling Stone story are ultimately devalued by not being represented in their full scope of offerings. Echo Mountain, for instance, is name-checked for recording the albums of eight rock, Americana and country acts led by white male artists. But what about the works of brown, black, queer and women artists? Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, Sylvan Esso, Rachael Kilgour, The Broadcast, Alex Krug and others have all tracked projects at the famed studio.

Asheville’s music scene is richer, deeper and more nuanced than the glossy and curated image drawn by Rolling Stone. It extends beyond the beaten path and the mainstream. It’s queer, multiethnic, fringe and gritty. To allow a national publication to brand Asheville as anything else is to hand over the reins of this city’s collective and evolving vision. It also sets a precedent for would-be tourists to come looking for the predominantly white, male, Americana music scene they’ve been promised and (like the Rolling Stone writer) stop short of plumbing the depths to discover the true Asheville experience — thus further pushing those lesser-known but equally deserving artists and stages to the fringes.

Alli Marshall is the Arts & Entertainment editor for Xpress.



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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She 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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24 thoughts on “What Rolling Stone missed about Asheville’s music scene

  1. C-Law

    Great observations Alli!

    Who actually reads Rolling Stone for guidance about anything these days!?

    Don’t stop short Alli, we ought to demand quotas for all the marginalized helpless victim groups you mentioned. Better yet, quotas and taxpayer funded stipends since Asheville is expensive and fringe victim group status “artists” make very little actual money. Even better yet Alli, quotas, stipends for the artists and reparations for all…except heterosexual white male or those that identify as heterosexual white males…bonus points–hetero white males are absolutely not allowed to identify as any group or victim fringe sub-group.

    I think we got this solved! :)

    • Lulz

      Problem is Alli and other white women are more privileged than anyone else in the nation.

  2. Tommy Green

    This story is written with the same hubris as the Rolling Stone article. Seems like venues/bands are mentioned here just to give them a shout out, without any kind of investigative reporting into their authenticity at all! The Rolling Stone article, though inaccurate in many ways, does an adequate job of painting a picture of the Asheville music scene.

  3. Sally Sparks

    Let’s take it a few more steps, too. The amazing chamber music let by women like Kate Steinbeck and Gail Schroeder, or the synth scene at Local 604 Bottle Shop, and the amazing house concert scene showcasing a wide area of local and touring artists.

  4. JonDub

    Rolling Stone is correct. The music scene is mad lame… haha. The majority of local bands are just lamer versions of the Lumineers. The town is not diverse; which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the way an isolated place taken over by wealthy people who used to vacation here would turn out; it’s only logical. We used to have more interesting electronic and Hip-Hop artist come through a few years back, but now these same artist might visit once a year if that. He’res to Asheville becoming a Disney World for lames to come visit on the weekend from lamer adjacent cities to drink “boring” beer and screw up the already extinct culture of the original city. Cheers!!

    • Bright

      Man…you got it all correct! Here’s to Assville becoming a Dizzy World for lames to come visit on the weekend from lamer adjacent cities to drink boring beer…just no quotes around the boring beer!

  5. Jasmine Green

    This is a very strong opinion piece. It’s nice that a Xpress writer wants to critique an “outsider” columnist, but this (presumably local?) piece did nothing to improve the artists’ lives. The rolling stone article promotes Asheville as a place where music is created and celebrated. It may bring more people in to hear All asheville’s Music. Won’t that help our fellow músicans pay those mounting bills? Many of the artists mentioned whether from Asheville or not promote justice and celebrate diversity through their art. Maybe that is what Rolling Stone missed

  6. Nate Hall

    You talking about “missing”……. Amazing. My band was in rolling stone Germany more than 10 years ago, for an article about the history of space rock and on an attached compilation cd. I’ve toured the world and now I work at a grocery store. I’ve been on at least 20 records and you’ve never even mentioned me or my band. You have no right to criticize any media for missing the mark here.

    • Bright

      You got it Nate! The columnists re music scene in Aville have zero taste in music. That’s why the scene doesn’t draw anything but zero, and the place keeps trying to increase the “take” by bring in the same. 0=0

  7. Juan Holladay

    Haters gonna hate, but, I thought this was a valuable addition to the discussion. I’m not even mad at Rolling Stone either. But, Alli did one up them—which is good for everyone.

  8. Jason W

    Asheville was more enjoyable when Rolling Stone did the first article.
    We had one job, to keep Asheville weird, and we have failed.

      • Jason W

        True, but at least it wasn’t all “Beer tourism” like it seem today. Back in the early to mid ’00s, people seemed more curious and supportive of Asheville’s cultural arts scene.

        • Bright

          Bad beer tourism…breweries try too hard to be unique, and they can’t even make a decent lager!

  9. Randy

    She’s right about how deep the music scene is. My favorite bands and bars are rarely mentioned. Hard Rocket, Dirty Badgers, Egg Eaters, Styrofoam Turtles, Tongues of Fire, April B. and the Cool, and Dirty Soul Revival to name a few I became aware of through Asheville Rock Collective (on FB). These are the typical bands who work multiple jobs at the same time creating great original rock music. Ambrose West, Guitar Bar, ISIS, The Artisan of Flatrock, and Triskelion are great for live music and locals. I just want to see our local talent like my favorites succeed who actually personify what makes Asheville unique. I would appreciate more news on local blues bands

  10. Big Al

    Such a sad reflection on this town’s ingratitude that when it gets good national press, the local response is “But they didn’t talk enough about diversity and weirdness!”

  11. The Ego Has Landed

    If Asheville has such a great local music scene, why in the MX’s own best of supplement did the following categories not have enough winners??….
    Hip Hop
    None of these (and a few more) could even fill the 3 winner slots in their respective category. Maybe MX is not doing enough to cover local music/musicians?? Maybe give some of these folks the same free adverting you give to breweries and restaurants every week?

    And FWIW.. it’s my humble opinion that the local music scene was much better in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.

  12. Oh come on

    If this publication is going to complain that Rolling Stone only mentioned one Carolina-based band of color, maybe you should take a look at the biased demographics of your town itself — a town that is 80% white, in which few artists of color are supported. The Rolling Stone article is clearer than you think, and if you don’t like it, perhaps the magazine isn’t wholly to blame. Perhaps your community could look inward.

    • Lulz

      LOL so true. But they’re all about virtue signaling AKA the writer of this garbage. For them to personally make a sacrifice in order to further their SJW BS, why they won’t. But to force others by decree, well that’s just fine. Asheville is more segregated than ever before. And it’s because whites are moving here pushing out the LESS AFFLUENT. And that isn’t impacting just blacks.

    • OzarksRazor

      I’ma let you finish…
      (MXPress is but one shining example of the whiteness this city is suffers from)

  13. landon

    we need to know what happened to the statue guy. the fact that BOTH officers FIRED in the hickman incident along with abby the spoon lady had him arrested and the city stopped his performance yet all charges were dropped. asheville is a joke. hiding it’s truths and glorifying the area. ask the statue if you want the truth about this city

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