Arts & Performance

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.

cityofgreer.org


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.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

  


 

Terry Roberts is like many who are certain they have a novel somewhere inside them. He’d go to work every day and carve time in the early mornings or quiet of twilight to writing he now regards as dreadful. 

“It was dreadful in the sense that I was struggling to find a voice, to teach myself how to write fiction,” Roberts said. “And while I think I had a lot of imagination, I didn’t have any training and I didn’t quite know yet how to tell a story.”

He continued writing into his mid-40s before beginning what became his debut novel. He was 55 when a publisher printed that book and now, at 65, Roberts’ fourth novel is out, titled “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black.” Roberts reads selections from the book Aug. 18 at Malaprop’s Books in Asheville and Sept. 14 at the Hot Springs Library

Matt Peiken | BPR News

  


 

The loading dock behind the former post office in downtown Sylva was never intended as a theatrical stage. 

 

But beyond the location, Ashlee Wasmund has created something rarely seen in rural Western North Carolina—a theater company focused on new, original, locally produced work.

 

“I think that has always been on my bucket list,” Wasmund said.

 

She and her husband moved to Sylva from Chicago six years ago when she became the program director of musical theater and dance at Western Carolina University. Her new company, Calliope Stage, premieres on this loading dock over the next two weekends with a program of 10 original theatrical shorts. The vignettes jump from drama to comedy, music and dance—all created by people in the far west of this state, all inspired by an event, person or place from the region.

 

Six performances run through Aug. 5-14 on what Calliope is calling the Loading Dock Stage.

  

The Asheville Symphony is performing a free concert Sept. 19 in Pack Square Park to launch a new season. It will be the orchestra’s first full program since February 2020, just before the start of the pandemic.

 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

 


 

Tarah Singh grew up in Hendersonville, attended private school and had a supportive family of artists and entertainers with a lineage of achievement. Her mother’s stepfather was Ronald Isley, the founding lead vocalist of the Isley Brothers.  

 

“I was around all kinds of creative people that were very successful,” Singh said. “A lot of people joke around with me about the starving artist thing, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I never saw that.’” 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


The three women of the Smoky Mountain Sirens all had other things happening in music when they came together in 2019. They started like a lot of bands, covering other artists’ songs in local bars. 

  

“It was, like, ‘oh god,' it just felt like selling our souls for a while,” said guitarist and vocalist Aimee Jacob Oliver. 

 

But with the pandemic, Oliver, bassist Ashli Rose and drummer Eliza Hill committed to writing and moving forward with their own songs. The Sirens haven’t released any recorded music publicly but, with the return of live shows, they're still one of Asheville’s most talked-about newer bands.

courtesy of the artist


Anya Hinkle is known largely for her time in the Americana bands Tellico and Dehlia Low. She made moves about two years ago to leave the safety of a band and embark on her own. With the pandemic, those moves grew into a calling.

 

“I really had an opportunity to perform online and work up all these solo shows because I had to,” she said. “I just had that space and that pause button to naturally grow into becoming a singer-songwriter. That pause button gave me the confidence in those songs, in those lyrics, in the vocals, feeling like that’s enough, without a whole band behind you backing you up.”

A pianist, flutist and harpist perform in front of a lake and trees at Brevard Music Center
Photo Credit Chuck Gilmore, Courtesy of Brevard Music Center

BPR is pleased to announce SummerStages, a six-week long series from our friends at WDAV that brings listeners a collection of past performances at the Brevard Music Center Summer Festival and An Appalachian Summer Festival in Boone. Grab your picnic basket, blanket and your radio or smartphone and enjoy your lunch or dinner while listening to classical music’s great performers and conductors. Tune in on BPR Classic July 19th-August 25th, Mondays 7-9 PM and Wednesdays 12-2 PM.   

Matt Peiken | BPR News

When Marjorie Dial first walked the rustic 30 acres north of Marshall that once housed East Fork Pottery, she noticed what almost everyone would—the natural beauty. But Dial is a ceramic artist who was also in a position to see something beyond beauty. She saw potential.

“Artists are asked to do so much to make their work, explain their work, promote their work, sell their work,” she said. “This idea started to germinate in me of creating a place where artists felt supported and valued and a sense of affection around making work and going deeply into it.”

East Fork Pottery moved to Biltmore Village, but left the clay studios and kilns on the old grounds. Dial has refurbished the main home and added a trio of living suites and a community kitchen and rebranded the compound as a retreat for artists called Township 10.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


People associate the sound of a lone wooden flute as traditionally Native American. And while this sound accompanies the centerpiece video on the Visit Cherokee website promoting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the video’s text and visuals urge viewers to see the museum as contemporary.

“One of the things we’re most excited about pursuing is looking into what a retelling of our story is going to look like,” Shana Bushyhead Condill, who started in May as the museum’s new executive director, said in an interview. Even tribal members, she added, can too often view themselves through the lens of history rather than as living, evolving people. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a Saturday night at the Asheville Beauty Academy—that’s a nightclub, not a salon—and host Marlene Thompson has warmed up a full house as a standup comedy duo from Chattanooga called Good Cop, Rad Cop takes the stage.

Normally, a DJ would spin records here and, indeed, there will be once the evening’s comedy is over. But the reason there’s comedy here at all is a woman toward the back of the room made it happen.

Melissa Hahn isn’t a comedian but, without a dedicated comedy club in Western North Carolina, nobody is more responsible than Hahn for the current landscape for local standup.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville’s River Arts District commemorated Juneteenth through the first weekend of Black art and culture called GrindFest. Here's an audio glimpse from opening night.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville’s Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance is a small, professional company that only operates in the summer. So in losing 2020 to the pandemic, founding director Heather Maloy hadn’t rehearsed her dancers in two years.

 

“For a lot of them, this is the first time they’ve been—and myself too—in a room with a group of people and no mask on and dancing,” she said during a break from rehearsal inside her dance academy. “Like, it’s a normal day.”

Scott Friedlander

When you think of musicians made for Asheville, Min Xiao-Fen doesn’t quite fit the stereotype. Min grew up in a musical family in Nanjing, China, became a virtuoso of the pipa and performed as a soloist for over a decade with traditional Chinese orchestras.

“I feel lost a little bit in China. Everything’s controlled, China’s system. Even when you play music, you have to play exactly as master taught you how to play. You have to be very controlled, disciplined,” Min said. “I just feel I want a change. I wanted to go to other countries to see if maybe I could change my career. I don’t really know what I want. I just thought maybe I could find something for myself.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Ten years ago, Natalie Portman won the Academy and Golden Globe best actress awards for her starring turn in “Black Swan.” There was, however, at least one critic of the film.

“It’s just a horror flick. It has nothing to do with ballet,” said Gavin Larsen, whose career in ballet has been far more quiet, far less dramatic. Today, in her late 40s, she teaches at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville.

“Part of my mission is to dispel the myths about what it means to be a ballet dancer, and to propagate the truth about how beautiful a life in ballet is,” she said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Here’s how tight Nikki Lee’s family is: She convinced her mother and three adult children to move last fall from a lifetime in Cincinnati to the unknown of Asheville.

“One of my clients years ago had always told me that I’d connect well in Asheville because I seemed like the hippie type, and I am,” Lee recalled. “We just visited and we fell in love with the mountains.”

Like many who move to this area, Lee arrived without much of a plan. What she did have was her faith—her unwavering compass throughout her life. Around 2012, that compass pointed her to sell her thriving hair salon and devote herself to writing.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

A 10-minute walk and a half-century of histories separate Asheville’s YMI Cultural Center from the First Congregational UCC Church.

“This church is very white,” said Mandy Kjellstrom, a church member and an organizer for social justice art exhibits at the church’s Oak Street Gallery. “I’d say we only have three or four people in our congregation who are black (out of) 150, 175.”

The Young Men’s Institute, on the other hand, has been a center of Black culture since the early 20th century. Now, leaders with the church and center are calling each other “sisters in reciprocity” over a commitment to share visual art exhibitions organized by and highlighting local Black artists and issues affecting the Black community.

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