Shortage of local reggae hints at lack of diversity

After six months in and around Asheville, it did not take the recent article on diversity [“Hidden in Plain View,” April 30, Xpress] to know that there is a lack of it. The lack of reggae music was my clue. An incredible amount of posters and listings for  shows, clubs/venues indicates there is a consistently large music scene, yet sadly virtually no real reggae.

Very recently on a Friday night at Pisgah Brewery there was a rare show by Reggae Infinity, a band from S.C.; the low attendance of 15 people, half of whom were family of the band members, maybe indicated there is not a population interested in hearing reggae. They had a good sound and message. I wished that they had played the next day at the crowded birthday fest Pisgah hosted.

There was a so-called local “reggae” band who played the first set of the day, but if that is reggae, I am a tall person (I am not). I can appreciate the prevalence of traditional local music, but the amount of garage-style rock gets pretty old.  I would rather listen to silence than most of the bands that play here.

To me, the Pisgah party was noise, but then again, I don’t drink. Not that anyone cares, but if anything keeps me from sticking  around, it would  be the lack of  reggae music, gospel and African American voices.  I also miss being in a gospel choir. (Thanks to Isis for the recent Afropop show.)

Asheville certainly is quite white, with beer a sacred potion, “foodies” a major self-descriptive  complimentary term, and reggae non-existent. [I know this is poorly written, but it’s from a device that’s hard to rewrite on.] As Pablo Moses sings, “music is my desire, it’s what I require.” Black Mountain and Marshall feature wonderful open mics and shows of non-reggae, and they are good, but Asheville’s scene, for its size, is so undiverse.

Wave Krohn



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14 thoughts on “Shortage of local reggae hints at lack of diversity

  1. boatrocker

    Interesting take on local music you have, Mr. Krohn.

    Not enough reggae around here? Wow, I’m not sure how often you get out of the house being a proud tee totaller, but saying Asheville doesn’t have enough reggae, gospel and African American type music sounds almost as silly as claiming there aren’t enough mopey indie hipster bands or female singer songwriters around here.

    After Asheville’s last Bele Chere, a similar LTE was published accusing the City of Asheville for not booking enough groups with women in them. It was an easy task to look up all the bands’ lineups to discover that females were more than adequately represented (including the headliner- a woman).

    Sorry to break it to you, but a lack of your favorite or preferred style of music does make make a town lack diversity. Economics, history, demographics etc make an area what it is in terms of people who live here and what they listen to.

    Nice job on trash talking whatever band opened for Reggae Infinity too. I’m sure both they and Pisgah Brewery really appreciated that.

    My point is this: if I can randomly duck into a dive bar in Black Mountain for a beer on an off night featuring a guy playing an open mic with a Chapman Stick while playing a harmonica on one of those Bob Dylan racks, I think if you bothered to do a little homework beforehand, you might be able to find some local reggae around town. Though the Internet is chock full of useless stuff sometimes, but it can help you narrow down a search of your favorite music.

    Don’t expect that simply buying a ticket entitles you or anyone to demand which bands or what style of music is featured. Trust me, club owners will open a can of supply-side economics whup arse on you claiming they’re just giving audiences what sells. What sells around here is, well, you know, consult the local listings. The Mountian X is arguably a good source for that as they haven’t fired their music editor yet along with most of the staff for standing up for worker rights.

    In a brief cursory search for reggae acts in Asheville, I found results ranging from the Goombay Festival, Bele Chere, the French Broad River Festival, The Orange Peel, etc that all have featured reggae bands during their history.

    I’m not denigrating reggae as a form of music by any means, as I’m sure you’re not the first suburban raised, college educated middle class listener who enjoys it around here, but expecting instant gratification in terms of finding it every night at every club simply isn’t realistic. I’ve been looking for some decent North Korean polka-metal bands around here for years, but to no avail. Yet still I persevere.

    • thatreggaewoman

      As their booking agent, I want to clarify that ReggaeInfinity did NOT have an opening band when they performed at Pisgah Friday, April 25.
      If you read closely, you will see that Wave Krohn is referring to the birthday party and performer(s) at the Saturday, April 26 show at Pisgah.

      I thank Mr. Krohn for his kind words about ReggaeInfinity. They have performed at some of the festivals you mentioned but not for a few years as many venues are now preferring to bring in local Reggae bands.

      And though the attendance was low for our show this time (Moogfest was the same weekend), we have drawn between 70 – 100 at previous shows.

  2. Timothy Cross

    Asheville was the S.E. hub for reggae for 5-7 years. This was largely due to there being a couple promoters in town who were willing to take risks that clubs would not dare take. Clubs are NOT willing to put up the (say) $3000+ for a reggae show, while also being responsible for booking 7-10 hotel rooms, renting a stage full of equipment for the band, arranging for a catered backstage, and so on. However, for a period of time — between 2004 and 2010 — there were a couple local, independent promoters in this town who were willing to do so — one of whom was me.

    Between 2005-2010 Asheville CONSTANTLY had artists like Anthony B, Capleton, Midnite, Culture, Groundation, Everton Blender, The Itals, The Meditations, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Dub Is A Weapon, SOJA, Bambu Station, I Grade Recrods, Luciano, etc. passing through town playing at The Grey Eagle. Asheville was often an anchor for most east coast reggae tours. And, to be honest (at the time) Asheville had a MUCH better live reggae scene than Atlanta, Charlotte, and any number of other S.E. cities …

    So, what changed?

    For one, the recession that began in 2008 made breaking-even (for the promoters) much more difficult. People had less money, but the booking agents didn’t seem to care about that and they continued to ask for more money (especially for the Jamaican artists), while the promoters were stuck with fewer and fewer people spending money on things like reggae shows. Secondly, there was a lot of controversy about dancehall lyrics and that reflected poorly on all of reggae. I believe that took its toll and made reggae artists — particularly in a rather progressive city like Asheville — appear less positive and progressive, and more backwards and bigoted. Thirdly, tastes change and we found that we were struggling to compete with electronica shows. When we were going up against them, we were loosing a portion of our crowd to them — a portion of our crowd we could not afford to lose. And so we got burned out — especially in that it was not our full-time work. There’s only so many times you can pick up a $500-$1000 bill for the people of Asheville. And, no one has been willing to pick it up since.

    Asheville is not a very racially or ethnically diverse city. You’re correct. But, we once did have the best reggae scene in the S.E. We DO NOT have so few reggae shows because Asheville is racist, or too closed-minded. We DO have so few reggae shows because there are no promoters, these days, putting in work on behalf of Asheville as such.

    • OnePeople

      Give thanks for the thoughtful analysis on why there is a lack of Reggae Music in Asheville. The shift in the economy most likely is the reason why there are not as many reggae shows. But going back to the top of the page with the letter from Krohn. I agree with him that their is a lack of authentic feel coming from many of the local reggae acts. My theory on this reason is aligned with Mr. Krohn: Lack of Diversity. Perhaps there just wasn’t enough West Indies immigrants that moved to the area. Coastal or big city towns have these Jamaican or West Indian transplants that bring along many aspects of their culture a big one being the reggae music feel. They often teach or mentor existing local talented musicians. That being said… to me… Its a fact that you don’t have to be of African Decent to play reggae and to play it well with the proper feel. Reggae music is beautiful because it transcends race, age and all nationalities. A lot of times having a larger African American population helps with the support of a reggae scene because the great thing about a reggae show is looking around at the audience and seeing that unity and diverse group of people. Give it some time and I think things will shift forward to seeing more roots reggae in Asheville.

  3. vortextess

    I feel that the lack of reggae bands in Asheville represents the growth in social maturity and a fair move away from antiquated misogynistic ideals. This city has grown to be a very well adjusted community of culture and acceptance in woman’s empowerment, LGBT strength and safety, and an art community that is starting to represent those of the major player cities. The reggae scene represents a philosophy of rastafarianism which stands behind misogyny, patriarchal lead traditional gender rolls and and outright statement of being homophobic and gender blending/transitional hatred. It was once stated by someone famous that it is safer to come out of the closet in a cave in Afghanistan then to hint at it in Kingston. So it stands to “reason” that the dwindling reggae scene to represent a more open and progressive trend Asheville culture.

    So jah I rastan eye ball…

    • vortextess

      Ok this is to Timothy Cross and a followup to my other prime comment.
      Yes you are right about in 2008 era there being a lot of reggae action here. What happened? The promoters that brought all these so called “guru” grade rasta acts were themselves outed for being either shady, bigots or both. If the acts themselves represented rastafarian purist/elitist propaganda and brought their queer hating woman oppressing patriarchal views, the live in resident promoters really burnt ugly casting on the surrounding community which had been securing a strong reputation for southern diversity and progressiveness. Many of them were very militant or belligerent about their views while hosting these events or in general around a small community. Many bar and venue owners felt put out by this because it brought a bad view to their establishments, disrespected the service industry employees, and offended the local cliental. So what happens, they are not invited back, and slowly expire due to entropy. So the force of nature that is making the world better by letting the old outdated ideals of a less civilized culture wither into oblivion may be observed in this smaller sample size analytic…

      “Were all Batty for Jah”

  4. boatrocker

    3:45pm, Sunday, May 18, 20014 A.D.

    Oooh, I’m probably going to catch mucho online s@#t for this one, but my curious nature overwhelms me- I must pose the question:

    Is the true worth of any city the forms of music performed and how it relates to LBGT issues? (if this is too long a letter to read, the answer is a resounding no)

    I’m a fan of many forms of music, and have no problem with songs that espouse killing, robbing, beatdowns, insulting, trouble with the po-lice, and other various “you done me wrong, I hope it comes back to bite you in the arse” themes. Does that make me a bad person? No. It does not.

    While I don’t actively support those same activities in my daily life or befriend anyone who does, I enjoy music that explores such themes.
    I think they call that art.

    For the record, I don’t care who one kisses goodnight or marries, as that is a personal choice. Please remember the previous sentence when responding.

    I do roll my eyes at those who would ask only to have rose colored glasses type music to be available to us pedestrian mouth breathing general listening plebes. Is anyone pointing a gun at our heads forcing us to listen to any music we don’t care for? If so, then that Katy Perry CD I found in my car was obviously forcibly inserted into my music collection via the Music Police.

    Just something to think about:

    -If one has ever owned/listened to punk music, please don’t ask for us all to get along. That won’t happen, unless you’re (gag) Green Day.
    -If one has ever heard a traditional music song about killing someone for ‘stepping out’ aka cheating, please don’t ask us all to get along. This applies to not only those oppressive male (and female) performed string band tunes from here, but also from all around the world (they sing about the same thing around the world, just not in the “American” language),
    -If one has ever listened to a song about revenge, hurling insults, berating them that are richer, more influential or more popular, please don’t ask us all to get along. See “High School Lunch Table Etiquette” for reference.
    -If one listens to music performed by (gasp) males, please don’t call me a sexist pig. There is a 49% percent chance that any song will be performed by a male, as world population figures will confirm my assertion. The other 51% of the world’s population has the potential of singing about non PC themes too.
    -If one listens to music outside of one’s comfort zone, can one still be considered ‘progressive’?
    -If one listens to music from (older and different therefore bad- black -cough cough) ‘less civilized cultures’, can one really sit in the ‘nice people’ section of a club, or should they sit with their “Privileged/ College Educated/ First World/ Can Eat 2 Times a Day/ White Womyn’s Burden” section?
    -Blaming under-thought out ideas on auto-correct does not help anyone’s cause. if i cnt rd it, i dnt cnt take 1s ideaz srsly.

    Just saying.

    Gimme that evil music that will get you tossed out of a Universalist church (church=cult) any day. Last I checked, songs about drugs don’t make me or any normal person shoot up, songs about ‘get back in the kitchen b@#$h’ don’t make me hit women, and songs about ‘maybe we don’t all get along’ still get me hot and bothered for being considered art and for having a wonderful backbeat.

    • freequonox

      Your reply couldn’t be more trite to the statements you are commenting on. I have worked in bars for the past 15 years here, and the statement about reggae culture is accurate. The coy marginilization of topic to be free and just lyrics is a joke. The promotors, performers, and general audience to these rasta events bring themselves an arrogant biggoted attitude to the bar/club and it is misserable to all in proximity. They stand outside and are venomous to patrons of adjacent establishments, mean to passersby and display a serious antiquated view. And yes, the lgbt community is so large here that all asheville buisneses suffer from hatespeach. Rastarfianism is a biggot/hate group

  5. boatrocker

    Trite statements I commented on? Would that imply that my observations are shared by others and thus often expressed?

    I’ve seen a few reggae shows in town and never had a problem. What am I doing wrong?

    Seriously though, I still pose the as of yet unanswered question: Is the true worth of any city the forms of music performed and how they relate to LBGT issues or any other group of folks who strive for equality?

    Last I checked, the boycott is still one of them most effective methods of affecting positive social change. Bars/clubs/festivals/promoters etc don’t give a poop about anything except the bottom line- the ka-ching. Hit them where it hurts and they won’t tolerate any hatey stuff.

    Vortextess’ labeling of other cultures as ‘less civilized’ than say attending a K.D. Lang show still smacks of sanctimonious BS bordering on bigoted. Please see “White Man/Woman’s Burden” for a definition of how it is “our” responsibility to “civilize” these poor people.

    Last I checked the Rastafarian movement was derived from one of the most tolerant and oldest forms of religious practice in the world- The Coptic Church established in the 5th century. For a set of beliefs that rejects materialism and oppression of any sort, I’m a bit confused.

    Is the fact that Rasta beliefs stress a male god and savior the problem? Last I checked there are plenty or female or non gender centered beliefs to choose from.

    Is it a matter of these bands/followers beating people up outside of a club? Screaming epithets at passerbys? I’m not hearing of any verifiable specific examples in any letters. If so, don’t hire those bands again. But if its a sideways look or a smirk, I can’t get behind you in calling out an entire form of music to be labelled as evil.

    Again with the lists- I know, I know:

    -I don’t believe in a master race for enjoying Wagner’s Wedding March
    – I don’t advocate burning and looting for listening to a Jimmy Cliff song
    – I don’t kill a woman and hide her body for liking the song “Knoxville Gal”
    – I don’t advocate women killing men for hearing “Frankie and Johnny”

    Oh, never mind- what I’m trying to say is separate the individual jerk or jerks from an entire form of music if you have a problem with it.

    Music about peace, love and understanding is nice in theory, but sometimes the presentation is awful in a Peter, Paul and Mary kind of way.

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