Arts & Performance

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Gavin Stewart and Vanessa Owen are rehearsing with two other dancers inside a studio at the Wortham Center for Performing Arts. Everyone is masked.  


“OK Janice, so can you lift your eyes when you do that?” Stewart asks one of the dancers while watching a sequence of movement. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s juicy.” 


They had such grand plans for their collaboration with Asheville storytelling poet Gina Cornejo. They would have seated the audience in the middle of the dance floor, as if inside the hole of a donut, and performed the piece around them.  


Instead, as they have done so often during the pandemic, Stewart and Owen have improvised. They had planned to perform a piece called “Dirty Laundry” in front of an audience. They’re now converting it into a video production that will stream online to ticket-holders, premiering Feb. 12 through the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Dozens of businesses in downtown Asheville boarded up their windows when protesters marched in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Those planks of wood became the canvases for painted murals that remained up through the summer of 2020 and beyond.


Matt Peiken | BPR News

John and Cinnamon Kennedy formed their first band before they knew how to play their instruments.

“One day, John and our neighbor were like ‘We’re making a band you’re going to be our drummer.’” Cinnamon said. “We started out as, like, terrible-terrible-terrible, and then we got increasingly less terrible, and by the time we were done, we were alright.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Heather Newton's mother has written nine novels for young adults. She’s also the first to read and critique whatever Newton thinks is ready to go out into the world. 


“More importantly than that, she demonstrated for me how writing can just be a part of your life and not something mysterious,” she said. “She had four kids but she would go into her office every day and write until about one o’clock, and she got nine novels written that way.” 

Peter Vann

The Asheville Symphony's new Alt ASO series fulfills something music director Darko Butorac has wanted since arriving in Asheville three seasons ago—taking the orchestra out of Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and into smaller venues around town.

The series calls on smaller configurations of the orchestra performing a broader array of music. Programs in the initial series feature songs from the likes of Lady Gaga, Guns n’ Roses, Queen and Nirvana, along with operatic works. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Evan Kafka spent this past Friday night mounting animal heads on a wall as people strolled by sipping cups of wine.

To be clear, Kafka’s “trophy series,” as he calls it, are photographic portraits of animals that are very much alive. You can find Kafka’s work locally in a couple small boutique galleries. But Kafka is among about 120 people renting space at the massive new art market called Marquee. He said the potential exposure and sales are too promising to pass up. 

“I didn’t want to miss out on being part of this market, which I think is really cool,” he said. “I think it’s a great fit for the scene here.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

With a soft-spoken prayer, a few dozen members of the Eastern Band Cherokee welcomed others to view what they have held sacred for centuries: handcrafted baskets.

“Weaving Across Time” is a new exhibition on view through April 22, 2022, at the Center for Craft in downtown Asheville. It examines the line between craft and art, showing off traditional forms and practices in a contemporary context.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

When something catches Tema Stauffer’s eye, it’s through the lens of a camera using expandable bellows and 4-by-5-inch film.

“I can spend quite a bit of time getting every corner of that image in focus, and to spend the 15 minutes to half-hour setting that shot up and get it really precise,” Stauffer said. “And as someone who is learning at a much later stage shooting 4-by-5, it was a high learning curve.”

For her latest series, Stauffer took long drives to the homes and hometowns of some of the South’s most legendary novelists. Writers long-deceased inspired the series, titled “Southern Fiction,” so Stauffer’s images there are devoid of people. That context and subtext is necessary to fully appreciate the blend of beauty and neglect captured in her images.

The exhibition is on view through Dec. 23 at Tracey Morgan Gallery in Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It was only a few minutes after noon on Saturday when Tricia Arcos made her first sale at her first Big Crafty


“Excitement comes up in lots of forms, which sometimes looks like anxiety,” she said with a laugh. Arcos sold intricately carved and painted wooden figurines, naming and endowing  each with traits and powers. 


“But yes, it’s kind of a big deal for all artists to show their stuff for the first time, and here I am," she said.


If you’re an artist or craftsperson in Western North Carolina, the winter Big Crafty is typically one of the year’s pivotal events. It’s positioned for Christmas sales, drawing several thousand people over two days to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Its cancellation in 2020 cut deep into artists’ potential revenue, but on Saturday, artists said they also missed the sense of community during a year marked by isolation. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Paul Edelman remembers being four or five years old and hearing Bob Dylan on the family stereo.

“I’m sitting on the couch by myself and “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” is on,” Edelman recalls before rattling off a strand of the lyrics by memory. 

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child's balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying.

“It just codified my fascination and passion for music,” he said.

It’s a Monday afternoon, some five decades later, and Edelman is sitting inside a recording studio just off the main highway going into Marshall. He did some construction work here to offset recording costs of his last two records, the newest titled “Telecoaster.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

If the arts in Asheville were a representative democracy, it might look a lot like a new coalition built by the Asheville Area Arts Council

The coalition is designed as a collective voice for the arts community in setting city and county budgets and the shaping of public policies and priorities.

“What’s happened with our arts sector is it’s become extremely siloed, and so a lot of people have had to fend for themselves,” said Katie Cornell, the arts council’s executive director and architect of the coalition. “There’s no way for us to support the entire sector without building a network, so this arts coalition was the way that we’re building this network.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Julyan Davis has evolved into a novelist in part through stubbornness but, as he sees it, also by necessity. Davis is far from blind, but degenerating eyesight has prompted visits over the past decade to ophthalmologists.

“An ophthalmologist some years ago, I guess he skipped the semester on diplomacy, but he said ‘What do you do for a living?’ I said I’m an artist, and he said ‘Oh that’s a shame.’” Davis recalled. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘Just down the road, it might be a problem with your eyes.’ So that kind of inspired me to focus on the writing, sort of as a backup career.”

Davis has earned his living and public profile over nearly 30 years in Asheville as a painter. His first published novel is titled “A History of Saints.” Davis is reading from his book Dec. 1 at Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, where he has presented his paintings for many years.

Matt Peiken | BPR

On a recent Friday night, the avant garde musical duo Okapi performed for a handful of people at Revolve in Asheville. The only illumination came from two table lamps and a few candles behind them and a string of tiny footlights along the cement floor.

Three years ago, Scott Gorski and Lindsey Miller struggled to get gigs. Today, the bass and cello duo might be Asheville’s busiest touring outfit.

BPR News graphic

In the early 2010s, anyone following the author Wiley Cash on Facebook would find what they’d likely expect. There were posts about Cash’s upcoming books and readings, raves about other authors and some photos of Cash’s wife and the birth of their first child. But toward the middle of the decade, Cash began sprinkling in posts of a more political nature.

“I am no journalist, but somebody who engages publicly with ideas and doesn’t only launch my ideas out in a book every three to four years or whenever I can get around to publishing them,” Cash said. “I saw whatever tiny mouthpiece I have in my corner of the Internet or book tour as a valuable place to share the ideas that I have.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Decades before he retired from the ministry, Fred Northup devoted himself to a more creative calling.

“I wrote this play, actually, 40 years ago,” Northup recalled. “And we did it, but I’ll just say, I failed, let’s put it that way.” 

But since that regrettable premiere, Northup never gave up on remounting what he titled “David: The Faces of Love.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Alicia Armstrong can’t count how many times she has turned down Jeremy Russell.

“When he would come to me with the ideas, I would say ‘Dude, that is f***d up,” Armstrong said. “‘I don’t have time for that.’”

There was the time Russell wanted partners to go in on a bowling alley or perhaps an abandoned Kmart and turn it into an “art experience.” For years, he hit up friends to join him in buying a warehouse and renting studios to other artists.

“Jeremy comes in hot and I’m used to it because I’ve known him for a long time,” Armstrong said. “And he does get disgruntled that I am not as exuberant about his ideas.”

Russell nodded in agreement.

“Alicia’s not. My wife’s not. Nobody is,” he said.

But earlier this year, as Russell put it, he caught Armstrong on a “weird day” with the idea of moving both their studios and showrooms into a vacant gallery in the heart of downtown Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Whether on stage or on the page, Gina Cornejo has always brought a focus and fluidity to her identity. For now, she uses the pronouns she/her and they/them. 

“This is me in my own transition of, not only in this time of coming into my own voice within my work, but coming to my own very gentle identifying as queer, identifying as a queer female, even Latina,” Cornejo said. “I’m very much coming to terms with all these identifiers. I just want to keep it open and available.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

“Searching For Jimmy Page” isn’t merely the title of Christy Hallberg’s debut novel. It was an obsession that once compelled Hallberg to  hatch a wild plan to meet the Led Zeppelin guitarist. 

In 2005, Hallberg learned that Page and Brian May of Queen were to judge a guitar competition in London. Hallberg flew there and worked her way backstage at the Hammersmith Palais, armed with an envelope that included a personal letter, a photo she hoped he would autograph and part of the book she had started as her Master’s Degree writing thesis. 

“All I could do was chase him and I stopped him at the top of the stairway and just screamed the only thing that came to mind: ‘Jimmy, I came all the way from America just to meet you,’” she recalled. “It’s not my most dignified moment, but there you go.”

Over the subsequent years, Hallberg crafted that quest into the spine of what became her book. Her central character takes the same flight to the same competition in “Searching For Jimmy Page.”  

The Orange Peel

Live music venues in and around Asheville are back to hosting shows, but it’s anything but business as usual.

Amid evolving Covid-19 restrictions, venues have adopted their own safety protocols on top of local requirements and those required by the artists, affecting audiences, backstage crew and event staff. Still, behind the scenes, venue managers are sweating it out.

“Our biggest lesson learned here is being mask police with 2,000 people in a big, open crowd is really, really hard,” said Chris Corl, general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Center. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

A little after noon Sunday in Asheville’s Pack Square, the first sounds indicating a turning point for the Asheville Symphony Orchestra came from Alicia Chapman, an oboe player testing out a series of reeds for optimal outdoor performance.

“There is a pilot light, a flame that’s inside when I play music,” Chapman said. “I was a little afraid, ‘oh my gosh, it’s dimming,’ but when you have a chance to actually, like today, be around your colleagues and your loved friends and make music together, that pilot light just flames up again and you realize ‘ahh, there I am.’”

Anthony Mulcahy

In one sense, Christopher Paul Stelling is always ready to tour. He drives a Ford Transit van with a lofted bed in the back, and bins of albums, shirts and buttons beneath, along with a makeshift lounge behind the front seats. 

“I got that with 25,000 miles on it, it’s got 155,000, I got it in 2017 and I didn’t tour last year,” he said. “You kinda use vehicles like Kleenex.” 

On this day, he’s pulled the van into the parking lot of Summit Coffee in the River Arts District and walked to a nearby picnic table to talk about the path to his newest record, “Forgiving it All.” Stelling launches the album Sept. 25 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville. 

Don Pedi holds a dulcimer and is seen outside, wearing a plaid shirt and brown hat.
Courtesy Don Pedi.

Musician and educator Don Pedi has hosted music programs on BPR since 1985, starting as a fill-in host and eventually developing “Close to Home” which brings listeners traditional, old-time and classic folk, often curated around themes, every Saturday from 8:00 to 10:00 PM.  

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Tom Godleski’s newest play sounds far different than when he first brought it to Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre


“He presented me with a very rough script. It was not written in a play format at all,” recalled Artistic Director Katie Jones. “But he had a pretty decent story and then some beautiful songs.” 


“They said ‘We are going to do your play, but it’s not ready,’ and I was like ‘what?’” Godleski said. “I thought it was okay. I was satisfied with it and I was happy with it.”

“I cannot tell you how many plays I read that have great dialog and nothing happens,” Jones said. “But in this, it was like, something’s happening. We just need to help him hone in on the characters’ voices and the dialog.”


The finished play, as it will premiere on Magnetic’s stage, is a bluegrass musical called “The Sparrow and the Whippoorwill,” and it tells the entwined stories of a war veteran and a nurse who cares for him. It premieres Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 25 at the Magnetic.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Taurus Lenoir remembers journaling as a 10-year-old. As an adult rapper, she rarely writes anything down before she hears a beat. Lenoir said the music inspires her words.

“My sister encouraged freestyling off instrumentals, not even writing a song, just freestyling on that beat, going off the top of your head. So we would just do that for fun,” Lenoir recalled. “She knew what she wanted to do. Me, I was just flowing with the wind. I don’t think she was like ‘Pursue this rap career,’ but I think she was just like ‘You got talent right here.’”


Lenoir goes by the stage name Suruat—it’s her first name spelled backwards—and she works in a form of rap music called trap. That often combines minimalist beats with graphic lyrics. She’s performing her music as part of a comedy lineup Sept. 2 at the Orange Peel and over Labor Day weekend as part of the Goombay Festival in downtown Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Oxalis is a weed-like ground cover that can quickly take over a lawn. Travis Lowe saw “Oxalis” as an apt metaphor and appropriate title for his latest stage play, about one woman’s experience with bipolar disorder.  


“It can have pretty flowers and it’s very hard to kill,” Lowe said. “So it can look like it’s completely dead for long periods of time and then seemingly come back to life.”  


“Oxalis” is premiering through Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective and it’s Lowe’s fifth play produced locally. Performances of “Oxalis” are Sept. 2-5 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Brittany Jackson and two friends launched a film festival five years ago to showcase work they made, along with short films and music videos from friends. Today, the Cat Fly Film Festival largely serves the same purpose, though that group of friends has widened, thanks in part to the festival.  


“When we first had the idea, we were like, ‘We’re gonna screen to empty rooms,’ like this is gonna be the band that nobody comes to their show for,” Jackson said with a laugh. “But everybody turned out and loved it, and so we were like, ‘Well, we’ve probably gotta do it again, right?’” 

courtesy of the artist

Even when he dropped out of high school at 16, hopped trains and hitchhiked his way out of Southern Indiana, the man known to friends and fans today as Cactus believed he was on a mission. 


“I didn’t run away, I ran to,” Cactus said. “I always knew there was more out there and I wanted to find it as quickly as possible.” 


Cactus is the founding ringmaster of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, an amorphous, horn-based funk hip-hop band with music written for families with young kids. Skidoo won a Grammy Award in 2016 for Best Children's Album. 


The band just released its second album in collaboration with the Asheville Symphony. And Cactus has a new audiobook, his first, designed for young people, to teach personal and cultural storytelling through songcraft. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo performs on the second night of the LEAF Downtown Festival in Asheville, Aug. 28. 

Charlie Boss

Indigo De Souza could be a spokeswoman for the DIY ethos. Of the more than dozen tattoos along her legs, arms and hands, several came from her own hand. 


“I stick and poke a lot of them, just with a needle and ink. I did this one, this one and this one,” she said, pointing around her legs. “Like this one is a drawing I did when I was little. And this is an image of the church, this church.” 


This church-turned-residence, in Madison County, is where De Souza has lived since January. Friends come over to chill in the wide-open former worship hall downstairs. Crammed into a small, quiet space upstairs, there are guitars, keyboards and a couple of weather-beaten drums. This is where De Souza’s DIY musical expressions begin taking shape.

Twenty-eight years ago, Glenis Redmond was a clinical counselor for the state of South Carolina and the mother of twin toddler girls when she learned her excruciating condition had a name, Fibromyalgia. 

After absorbing the ramifications of her diagnosis, she recalls thinking of a prescient line of verse from the poet Lucille Clifton. 

“‘Everyday something has tried to kill me and it’s failed,’ and it was an awakening of sorts,” Redmond recalled. “That poem made me think, ‘Well, if you’re going to be sick, if you’re going to not feel well, what’s going to make you want to get up in the morning?’” 

Robert Johnson, one of this region's most exhibited and collected artists, has died.

Johnson first came to public attention 30 years ago when Asheville entrpreneur John Cram gave him his first solo show at Blue Spiral Gallery. Johnson brought an impressionist's eye to his depictions of forests and fauna, and his paintings were popular with a thread of collectors around the world.