Arts & Performance

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Around 9:30 this past Friday night, Asheville’s Pack Square sounded eerily familiar. There were no protestors or counter-protesters surrounding the Vance Monument, no police on bikes or in riot gear. A busker serenaded people—almost all of them white—waiting in a tightly packed line outside French Broad Chocolate.

If it weren’t for the relatively few wearing masks, you’d swear this was so 2019.

But if you rounded the corner onto Broadway and looked up at the facade of the Asheville Art Museum, you saw beautifully rendered drawings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop and, yes, George Floyd, dissolving into text quotes from the novelist James Baldwin and the activist Cece McDonald, along with the call to “Defend Black Lives.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Everything we think about high-risk activities has shifted in the time of the Coronavirus. If you heed the warnings of leading epidemiologists, just about the last artform to emerge from the pandemic is live choral music.

Think about it. Dozens of vocalists stand shoulder-to-shoulder on risers, singing with gusto and, in the process, launching microdroplets all over an enclosed airspace. It’s enough to drive infectious disease experts crazy, and it has choral directors all over the country scrambling for ideas to keep their choirs and the very artform alive.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


You could consider 12:32pm Thursday as an official time of death for The Mothlight, an anchor of Asheville’s live music scene since it opened seven years ago. Within minutes of the announced closure on the club’s Facebook page, fans and musicians flooded owners Jon and Amanda Hency with notes of shock, grief and gratitude.

Mike Martinez, vocalist-guitarist of the Asheville band Natural Born Leaders, speaks in this video chat with BPR arts producer Matt Peiken about participating in the protests in and around Pack Square and channeling his anger into his songwriting.


Musical artists looking for some magic catapult out of obscurity can hardly find a more alluring vehicle than NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. Judges in 2018 spotlighted the Asheville band Natural Born Leaders, who found themselves with new listeners from around the world. 

Nearly 50 bands and solo artists from this region entered videos into the 2020 competition.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


On Tuesday night, officers in full riot gear were video recorded destroying a makeshift medic station for protestors along Asheville’s Patton Avenue. About a hundred yards away, the following afternoon, Ian Wilkinson, an established muralist in Asheville, immortalized the scene on a boarded up storefront along Lexington Avenue.

“This is our job,” Wilkinson said in between applying bursts of spray paint on a board beneath the awning of Asheville Hemp Farms.

“We’re used to kinda creating this magic and it’s our duty to be part of this movement and give a voice to people that are not being heard,” he said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville Music Hall has seen four times the number of people turn out for its weekly virtual trivia nights than those who actually came to the club to play trivia before the pandemic. Still, it’s a thin silver lining. Matteo LaMuraglia, the club’s talent buyer, says Asheville Music Hall will go out of business within a year without the return of live, general admission concerts.

“We’d be in danger with a year of no shows,” LaMuraglia said. “We can work around it for the time being, as seated comedy, as seated live music shows, but the space is built to be a GA standing-room only (space).”

While many local musicians have taken to virtual performances to bring in some money and maintain their profiles, venues built on live music face far greater challenges while dark.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Malaprop’s Books reopened Tuesday under North Carolina’s social-distancing guidelines, but any enthusiasm to return to business life as normal was muted. Only two customers had registered in advance for reopening-day appointments to shop inside the downtown Asheville store.

“There is naturally going to be an amount of nervousness because we haven’t done things like this before,” said Justin Souther, the manager at Malaprop’s.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Like every other gallery and arts center, Revolve in Asheville has been closed to the public throughout the quarantine. And like many artists in these times, Molly Sawyer has holed up in her River Arts District studio, thinking, creating, creating without thinking.

A couple weeks ago, Sawyer asked Revolve director Colby Caldwell if she could use his space for a little while.

“My studio is very small and dark and, really, I was just moving things in here to photograph and work things out and finish things,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer ended up with an unplanned pop-up exhibition, the region’s first since everything shut down for the pandemic. It runs for a week and is open to the public—just three mask-wearing people at a time, by appointment, over limited gallery hours.

Asheville Symphony Orchestra


NOTE: This is the second in our two-part look at the outlook of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra during and after the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

Since the order to shelter in place, Darko Butorac has stayed at his Asheville home, trying to remain creative during the pandemic while pondering the future of classical music after it—not just for the Asheville Symphony but for large orchestras everywhere.

“The experience will change. This is too big to simply ignore and say we’re going back to live (concert) situations,” Butorac said. “So I think the changes might be in terms of how we approach concerts and how we communicate with audiences.”

Butorac is in his second season as music director in Asheville. He said his third season and almost certainly his fourth will be programmatically and, perhaps, even functionally shaped by the pandemic. The orchestra is planning and printing a brochure for its 2021 season at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, which it hopes to launch next February.

Asheville Symphony Orchestra


NOTE: This is the first in our two-part look at the outlook of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra during and after the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

Darko Butorac is known as a musician and conductor. People didn’t know him as a poet or video editor until a few weeks ago, when he produced what the orchestra called a “Musical Love Letter to Asheville.”

The video features a number of Asheville Symphony Orchestra musicians, from their separate homes, performing “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar. Board member Bill Gettys gives voice to Butorac’s poem.

“The idea behind the video was to go beyond just having a musical performance, but really being a love letter to all of Asheville,” Butorac said. “Not just the classical music lovers, but to all of our community.”

Brevard Music Center


While the Coronavirus has infected every artist and arts organization, none appeared more potentially devastated—at least on the calendar—than the Brevard Music Center.

Its entire existence is geared toward a summer concert season and a summer music camp considered the best of its kind in the southeast. The center had also planned to cut the ribbon on a new 400-seat, indoor performance space designed to house concerts year-round.

But when the center's board unanimously voted to cancel all public programs for 2020, president and CEO Mark Weinstein said it was a moral decision.


The Asheville Symphony Orchestra is holding onto its executive director, after all.

David Whitehill, who held his role with the orchestra since 2012, had announced in March that he would leave this summer for a similar position with the Louisiana Philharmonic in New Orleans. But on

Tuesday, Whitehill said his sense of responsibility led him to remain in Asheville—with the blessing of the orchestra’s board—to see the orchestra through and beyond the Coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It was March 14 at Asheville’s Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. The Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre of Miami was in the middle of a weeklong residency and three-show run when the Coronavirus pandemic ground everything to a halt.

“They did two performances at reduced capacity and by the third performance, we had to close,” recalled Rae Geoffrey, the center’s executive director.

“I don’t think anyone expected it would be this long of a shutdown,” she said. “So we were kind of scrambling to see what we could to reschedule everything for a week, a month, which turned into two months, which turned into three months, which turns into indefinite right now.”


Four live music venues in Asheville have joined a new national effort to lobby Congress for more financial help while they remain closed because of the Coronavirus.

The National Independent Venue Association is a coalition of more than 800 clubs around the country, including the Orange Peel, the Odditorium, the Grey Eagle and Asheville Music Hall. 

Kira Bursky


Kira Bursky certainly didn’t ask for a disruption like the Coronavirus. But as she talks about her latest video project, she sounds almost giddy about the effect of self-isolation.

Bursky said she’s mapping digital projections onto her drawings and turning these hybrids into short YouTube videos. And these represent just some of the new art people in this region say they wouldn’t otherwise be making if not for the time afforded by pandemic.

“One of the coolest things is finally having this freedom to experiment,” the Asheville filmmaker said. “I’ve had time to try new techniques out. And so because of what’s going on right now, it was a very natural thing to finally try it.”

Roberto Ricciuti / WireImage

Before the Coronavirus sent everyone home, Angel Olsen estimates spending about nine months every year on the road, away from Asheville, performing her music all over the world.

It makes the Coronavirus-caused cancellation all the more disappointing of her April 17 concert at Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville—part of an entire U.S. headlining tour wiped out by the pandemic. It would have been Olsen's largest home show to date.

 

“I’ve been up until now pretty protective of overplaying Asheville,” she said. “I live here and I want this to still be a place I come home to.”

courtesy of the artist


Cynthia McDermott is tall, tattooed and muscular, and that visual is all the more more striking when you see her on stage with a tiny mandolin, singing her custom mashup of early jazz, hip-hop and contemporary R&B.

“I wanted to find a way to make older jazz and swing more relevant to a wider audience and also to myself,” she said.

McDermott’s band is the Pimps of Pompe and, before the Coronavirus wiped out every public function, they had a March 31 show planned to celebrate their self-titled debut album. The songs jump from Beyonce and Salt ‘n’ Pepa to Django Reinhardt and a couple originals.

Cheyenne Dancy

Two weekends ago, when music and theatrical performances everywhere began to topple like dominoes, Katie Jones, the artistic director of Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre, spoke with the cast and crew about to premiere the play “Traitor.”

“It was late Thursday night, and this particular group had been through their dress rehearsal,” Jones said. “They’ve done a whole production’s worth of work and I thought ‘OK, if we don’t do this production now, we’re never gonna get to do it.’”

Opening night was nearly a sellout. The next night, only half the people who purchased tickets in advance showed up. On Sunday morning, Jones canceled the two remaining weekends of “Traitor.”

Now, while artists everywhere are considering their options for presenting work and earning money online, those who produce staged theater face unique, daunting challenges.

 

Evoke Emotion Photography


Melissa Hyman is a cellist and Ryan Furstenberg a guitarist, who write and record music as The Moon and You from their home in West Asheville. For the married couple and countless musicians here and everywhere, March 13 was their Black Friday.

“I was realizing we were gonna need to cancel everything,” Hyman said.

courtesy of the artist


Blake Ellege is a musician and vocalist in Brevard who counts nine bands he performs in. He remembers getting a call last Thursday warning the Coronavirus could threaten some upcoming shows.

“I kid you not, literally, five minutes later, the same colleague notified me that two of my gigs that week had been canceled,” Ellege said.

Five hours later, another call—more canceled shows. An hour after that, one of Ellege’s side hustles—spending two months every spring as an Easter Bunny mascot at the Asheville Mall—was also gone.

“It was a matter of four days that I lost all of my income for March and April,” he said. “It’s amazing just to see so many musicians that I look up to who are losing work just like me, and I thought something needs to be done, something has to be done.”

Ellege dreamed up what he’s calling the Quarantine Concert Series. He has partnered with the video outlet I Am AVL and the Orange Peel to produce nightly concerts from local artists. These performances, hosted in the Orange Peel’s Pulp Lounge, are livestreamed through I AM AVL’s website and Facebook page, where audiences are encouraged to tip artists.

 

UPDATED: 4pm March 16

While the Coronavirus outbreak has compelled many artists, venues and arts organizations to postpone and cancel events, a handful are continuing—for now—with events as planned.

 

Here's a roundup of cancellations, followed by events moving forward. This is an ongoing and developing story, and BPR will update and revise this information as needed:

Asheville Symphony Orchestra

The COVID-19 outbreak has compelled the Asheville Symphony to cancel three public events over the coming weeks for the season.

The orchestra won’t reschedule a March 17 charity event an Asheville wine bar and concerts March 21 and April 4 at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Masterworks Series concerts April 18 and 19 are still on the orchestra’s calendar.

Asheville’s Connect Beyond festival has been canceled, becoming the first major event in this city to succumb to the Covid-19 virus.

The third annual festival, which had been scheduled for the first weekend of April, brings together music, film and social consciousness into three days of performances, screenings and panel discussions. In a statement, festival founder Jessica Tomasin cited ongoing developments with COVID-19.

 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s a Monday afternoon, and John West is rehearsing a wind and brass ensemble at Western Carolina University. West had already been teaching here about 15 years when most of these students were born.

“Clarinet section, can you give me more on those 16th notes there?” he asks his students. “Just a little early on that last leg. Deee-dahh, da-da-deee-dahhh. Wait for that, alright?”

On the eve of his retirement, after 35 years at the university, West said his job has evolved beyond teaching and conducting. West takes the podium a final time March 28 in a concert in the university’s Coulter Building.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


If you’re not a fan of the current U.S. president and are looking for a little cathartic relief, you might want to stop by George Terry’s studio in Asheville’s Ramp building.

There, hanging or leaning against walls or stacked against one another are large, bright, cartoonish paintings of President Trump pictured in one humiliating scene after another. Here he is getting rebuffed by an elegant Meryl Streep. And there he is getting sandwich-tackled by a couple of NFL players. In one series, Uncle Sam grasps Trump by an ankle and dangles him over a waterfall.

“It’s very important that I’m in these paintings,” Terry said. “Rather than just take potshots at negative things, I need to have my personal convictions be involved.”


Andrew Fletcher earned his credibility as a musician by doubling as a piano mover.

“I’ve never claimed to be the best piano player in town, but I will claim to be the hardest working,” he said. “And when people watch you unload a piano from a truck and wheel it into a venue, they’ll believe that claim.”


Ten local musicians are performing at the Grey Eagle in a talent competition called Hidden Voices, organized by the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative. Their common thread: All live below the federal poverty line, which is about $30,000 a year.

Leadership is changing with the annual Asheville Fringe Festival.

Longtime Asheville theater artists and married couple Jim Julien and Jocelyn Reese say they’re moving this summer to Philadelphia, and they’ve already groomed their replacements as festival co-directors.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


As you roll up to the five acres Leanna Sain and her husband, Randy, have in Zirconia, you pass a sign at the foot of the long gravel driveway up to the house reading Miracle Hill Farm.

“Because I think it’s a miracle we got the house back,” Sain said of the name. The couple were able to buy back the house at auction six years after first selling it.

“And if you look at the little arrow. There’s a cross in the middle, because we’re Christians,” Sain explained. “The arrow comes back to us. Anyway, I designed that sign.”

Sain regards it another miracle of sorts that, out of the blue, while in her early 40s, she became a writer of romantic suspense novels. Her seventh book, titled “Hush,” was published late last year. Sain is reading and signing her books March 5 at the Clyde Rotary Club and March 10 at the Hendersonville Rotary Club.

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