Arts & Performance

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Ask any of the 50 artists invited into Asheville Art Museum’s “Appalachia Now!” exhibition and, to a person, they’ll tell you they were honored and elated. Many were motivated to stretch themselves artistically to create what they regard as their most ambitious works.

For good reason. “Appalachia Now!” is the flagship exhibition that reopened the Asheville Art Museum last November and few of the artists had ever experienced exposure on this level. The exhibition closes Feb. 3.

But here’s another truth: Even the museum director acknowledges the artists were largely paid with exposure. The museum raised $24 million for its renovation and only distributed stipends of $100 each to the “Appalachia Now!” artists, regardless of whether they simply loaned pieces out of their studios or created major new works at the request of the exhibition’s curator.

Grace Engel


If you’re a proud multitasker, you might want to make plans for the night of Jan. 22 to go to LT Laundry in West Asheville.

“We’ll be doing laundry. People can bring their laundry if they like,” said A. Eithne Hamilton, an Asheville dance and film artist behind an immersive performance called “Solidago.”

 

“Solidago” is among nearly three dozen shows wrapped into the Asheville Fringe Festival, home to this region’s most inventive, experimental and hard-to-define performers. Performances run Jan. 23-26.

courtesy of the artist


Shane Parish says he’s a self-taught musician, which isn’t a typical credential for someone earning a living as a guitar instructor.

“I’m not coming at it from this woo-woo perspective,” he said of his teaching practice. “We can get very specific and technical and advanced, theoretically, but I realized most of it is being present with that person in our time together. I look at it as a conversation about something we are mutually interested in.”

This is an evolved and expanded view for someone, while growing up in Tallahassee, Fla., who came to music as a lifeline.

Colby Caldwell


Molly Sawyer used to sculpt stylized horses and human figures from clay. That changed after her battle with breast cancer.

“The work became a response to my own direct experience with life, death,” she said. “I guess the issue of mortality has always been present in my deeper thought process.”

Today, Sawyer’s work is a mashup of found objects such as driftwood, stone and metal rods with braided or balled-up wool, twine, ash and fur. She usually works large, with some installations at once clumped on the floor, leaning against a wall and hanging from the ceiling.  

The dimensions and materials make this body of work difficult to place in galleries focused on sales, but Sawyer is riding a wave of exposure in area museums and art centers. She’s among the 50 artists invited into the Asheville Art Museum’s “Appalachia Now!” exhibition, and Sawyer is soon opening solo shows at Revolve in Asheville and at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Audrey Wash


Asheville’s Tongues of Fire are still a young band, but vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lowell Hobbs has already absorbed some time-worn lessons.

For instance, twice now, the band has invested many months, untold amounts of money and healthy doses of hope to perform at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Tex.

“We’ve never been accepted officially, but that has not stopped us,” Hobbs said. “It’s interesting being one of the bigger bands in Asheville, like our shows are usually packed, and then we’ll go down to SXSW and it’s like being thrown into this sea. I spent like six months working every contact I had and just begging people, and get like three showcases and maybe one of them is good. It’s definitely really frustrating and we’re very burned out, but we’re not gonna stop.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

In his debut collection, titled “Jesus in the Trailer,” Andrew Clark’s poetry reads like connected but fragmented short stories. Clark, who lives in Candler, sees this work as a sort of roadmap of hurt, turmoil and hope in the American Southeast.

“There’s some darker moments in the book. Addiction is a topic that comes up, violence comes up. I try to talk about race relations in the South,” Clark said. “I try to talk about the beauty of what we have as southerners but also try not to mask the ugliness in our history.”

Clark reads from “Jesus in the Trailer” 4 p.m. Jan. 12 at Malaprop’s in Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s just before noon on a Wednesday, and Bill Thompson is behind his desk inside an otherwise empty Satellite Gallery. He had just scrolled through the hundreds of comments and likes on his Facebook post from the day before, announcing he’s about to close his gallery after 13 years in downtown Asheville.

“The outpouring of love and support comes through when you close the doors, and you’re almost like, where was everybody when we were open?” Thompson said. “If you’re going to be supportive of the arts and the local community, itr doesn’t mean liking their stuff in social media. It means being supportive financially towards those artists who you say you love their work and to that gallery who you say you love what they’re doing.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

This isn’t another top-10 list. But in the spirit of looking back on 2019, we’ve cobbled together this sampler platter from among more than 60 stories Blue Ridge Public Radio produced in 2019 about regional artists and arts happenings.

Stephan Pruitt Photography


When Ashley Heath sings of trying her best, in her new song “I Remember,” she might as well be crooning about her career. Certainly nobody in the local music scene works harder than Heath at living and working full time as a musician. 

“I just did some intention journaling and, making small steps to get to the bigger picture,” she said. “It sucked a lot and still does sometimes, but I just decided I don’t want to just be in the bar playing for a hundred bucks, these three-hour solo shows in the BBQ joint, for forever.” 

Erika Taylor


There are violinists who make music, and then there are artists such as Meg Mulhearn, who use the violin as sort of a paintbrush

“A lot of times when people find out I’m a violinist or a fiddler, they’ll ask if I play bluegrass or old-time or something like that and I have in the past,” Mulhearn said. “I think I wanted to do something more experimental or unexpected with the violin.”

Jeff Haffner

There are 18 short films on Kira Bursky’s YouTube channel, and after each title are short descriptions such as: “psychologically creepy short film,” “artistic teen depression short film” and “surreal and dreamy cult fantasy short film.”

“A common thread that’s in a lot of my work is diving into the mind—mental health, depression, perspective, fantasies,” Bursky said. “I have an obsession and a passion for diving deeper and deeper into the psyche and how we define and interact with reality.”

Bursky is just 23 years old, but the Asheville filmmaker is already on a trajectory to becoming one of America’s most incisive and distinctive auteurs.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Meagan Lucas came to writing just four years ago through her postpartum depression and the ready outlet of personal blogging. But when people actually began reading her writing, Lucas experienced a different kind of trauma. 

“When you write personal essays or creative nonfiction, it’s very naked,” Lucas said. “People end up knowing things about you personally that it was starting to make me uncomfortable. I wanted to try something different that would explore some of those same ideas, but protected people that I love.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Mission Health is a hospital, not a contemporary art center. But you wouldn’t know that from browsing the public areas—and, if circumstances bring you there, to the patient and waiting rooms—of Mission’s new North Tower.

There, you’ll find sculpture, etchings, woodcuts, photographs and one-of-a-kind paintings—some 659 artworks in all, from more than 150 Western North Carolina artists. All of it created on commission, and purchased, by Mission Health.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Saturday’s reopening of the Center for Craft felt far more like a festival than a ribbon-cutting. There were performances by the UNC-Asheville Afro Music and Dance Ensemble, a DJ, hands-on artmaking stations and performance-art installations.

 

Hundreds of people streamed through the doors Saturday afternoon and, wherever they strolled along the Center’s three floors, there were things to do, see, nibble on or experience.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


  “Come on in, welcome to the museum.”

And with that, at 11am Thursday morning, the Asheville Art Museum reopened to the general public. David and Olivia Franklin, in town from Atlanta on their honeymoon, stepped in from the cold to become the museum’s first general-admission patrons.

“We always make it a point to go to the art museum wherever we go, and we felt like we needed to be able to be a part of history,” David Franklin said. “It seemed like a wonderful little bit of serendipity.”

xmasjam.com

One of Asheville’s most popular holiday traditions is taking a one-year hiatus. The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam has raised $2.7 million over 20 years for the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but Haynes said Tuesday he and the Jam are skipping 2019.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

This is a monumental week for Asheville’s arts scene. The Asheville Art Museum reopens this Thursday and, two days later, the Center for Craft reopens. Both are emerging from major renovations.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Michael Yannette took over six years ago as director of choir and musical theater at Cherokee Central Schools. From the beginning, he faced a challenge he never encountered in his previous 25 years of teaching.

“I remember the first day I got here and I met the old choir director,” he recalled. “I remember going into the cabinets and seeing these little plastic elbow pipes, and he said, ‘Well, we use it so the kids can hear themselves sing.’ They hold one up to their mouth and the other to their ear, and I was like ‘okay.’”

Suffice to say, these students no longer need the elbow pipes. Over the past few years, as the Cherokee Chamber Singers—they've performed at the Smithsonian, Carnegie Hall and DisneyWorld, along with North Carolina’s capital and other locales in the state.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Kate Steinbeck’s eyes light up when she talks about the music that inspired her to play the flute.

“I’m raised on rock ‘n’ roll. You remember Heart? I saw them at the Asheville Civic Center in 1979. I loved Ann Wilson, she was playing on a black flute,” Steinbeck recalled “I mean, I played along with records. I love Traffic. I love Stevie Winwood. Marshall Tucker had a lot of flute.”

The market for rock ‘n’ roll flutists hasn’t been hot since, say, the 1980s. But Steinbeck has brought a rock ‘n’ roll defiance to her musical pursuits, steering away from the orchestral career path to blaze a trail in chamber music.

Mike White

Tyler Jackson shares a West Asheville home where, on a sunny and warm midday afternoon, every window is open and so is the front door, all without screens. Jackson tends to about eight houseplants in his bedroom and it’s all very chill.

The environment contrasts his musical alter ego, whom he calls Musashi Xero (pronounced moo-SAH-shee ZEE-row), and the lyrical content of his new record, titled “Self-Hate as a Viable Currency.” Jackson said the album comes from a place of personal desolation.

“It’s a literal time capsule of where I was this time last year,” he said.

This time a year ago, Jackson was grieving over a close friend who died a few months earlier from a fentanyl overdose. They were only two days apart in age, and Jackson, now 29, considered his friend a brother. The song “No Entry No Escape” speaks directly to his loss and grief.

Garret K. Woodward

Noted banjo picker and Western North Carolina native Raymond Fairchild has died, following a heart attack.  He was 80. Fairchild performed at the Grand Ole’ Opry on numerous occasions and was inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2015.  Last month, Fairchild appeared in BPR’s “Exploring Southern Appalachia” series.   

Fairchild’s final arrangements haven’t yet been announced.  In addition to his storied banjo career, he and his wife Shirley ran the Maggie Valley Opry for more than 30  years.                                                      

courtesy of the artist


Judy Calabrese’s upbringing would make for a riveting memoir. There’s a cheating father and a mother who disowned her, fundamentalist Catholicism and the wherewithal as an 18-year-old to pay for and put herself into therapy.

But beyond her own journals, Calabrese found the notion of making art from her own history foreign and terrifying. She went to college to become an actress.

“I wanted to be a fiction writer, and I was terrified when people said my writing was dramatic,” she said. “People would say ‘Is this based on your life?’ and I’d say ‘Absolutely not—these are characters.’ I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on with me.”

courtesy of the artist


The rock singer and Hendersonville native Raphael Morales only recently changed his name to Beaui Roca.

He said never identified with his birth name or easily navigated what he called the minefield of gender expression that came with it. Roca articulates other points of angst in his lyrics for the local rock band Strange Avenues.

“I’m very angry about a lot of things right now,” Roca said. “The first record was very personal and a lot of that content was about me, specifically. I was writing about addiction, depression, kind of like co-dependence and fear of yourself and alcoholism.”

Courtesy of Katey Schultz


Katey Schultz went to college to study philosophy and become a memoirist. Then one day, out of nowhere, one short sentence popped into her mind.

Jet was bull tired, hound dog tired.

And that sent her down a rabbit hole, one sentence, one story at a time, into the world of fiction.

“Nonfiction is always there for me. It’s how I make sense of the world, through journaling or writing personal essays that might never leave my own desk,” Schultz said. “But fiction was enthralling because I could ask questions and imagine answers with precision and heart, so sort of combine my imagination with research, and then find the middle ground of realist literary fiction where, in some ways, the truths I was writing in fiction were truer than real life.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

The Asheville Art Museum has finally set a reopening date — Nov. 14.

The museum has been closed for three years while completing its $24 million renovation and expansion, with a number of construction and permitting hiccups along the way pushing back the project timeline.

 

The museum will reopen with 54,000 square feet — up from 12,000. It will feature a new rooftop sculpture terrace and cafe, atrium, public art installations, an all-ages play space and 10 new galleries showcasing the permanent collection.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Aaron Lipsky is a 16-year-old junior at Asheville’s A.C. Reynolds High School. But by many measures, Lipsky is far beyond his years.

Lipsky is a clarinetist, rehearsing here with another clarinetist and a pianist for a concert he put together. Lipsky estimates his business, called Clarinet and Friends, drums up eight or nine performances every month at churches, house concerts and retirement communities throughout Western North Carolina.

“It’s kinda based on this idea the clarinet can play so many different styles of music that I just wanted to play as many concerts as possible,” Lipsky said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Julyan Davis is a British native who moved to the American southeast 30 years ago on a hunch, that he would find the paintings he wanted to make in the people of these hills and hollers.

“Where I grew up, it’s very manicured. I was always sort of drawn to a more gritty landscape, and the South particularly interested me,” Davis said. “The south has a great tradition of photography, but in painting, there wasn’t really that, so I felt my work filled a niche. It was sort of discovering the beauty and melancholy of places that were generally falling down. It was the vanishing South, really.”

Sandra Stambaugh

Until now, renting the 500-seat Diana Wortham Theater was impractical and unaffordable for smaller-budgeted arts organizations. But a renovation and rebranding has opened two smaller, black box spaces at the renamed Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, and the Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective is the center’s first formally recognized resident company.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


From his warehouse in West Asheville, Brian Boggs designs and builds wooden chairs with tools and machines you just can’t find at a Home Depot.

Every carving tool that fits in your hand and every machine to cut and shape boards, Boggs built them himself.

“The way it saws makes a huge difference in how you work the material,” Boggs said. “It gives us an edge that most woodworkers just don’t have.”

Up close, the contraptions look like high school shop class projects. But they’re at the center of an operation employing seven people, plus Boggs’ wife, and preparing for the Dubai Hotel Show, in the United Arab Emirates.

courtesy of the artist


The members of the Asheville band Secret Shame never really address the roots of their name. But when guitarist Nikki Gish talks about the music on the band’s new album, “Dark Synthetics,” Gish reveals a personal secret that could have broken up the band.

“I have a major mental illness and I think that played a part in a lot of what shaped that album,” Gish said, citing a bipolar disorder that causes simultaneous mania and depression.

 

“During that time being untreated and then having this mental illness play out in the practice space, (the band) were very much a part of my paranoia and psychosis and delusion I was experiencing at the time,” Gish said. “I think that shapes the music—that’s literally what they were feeling—and chicken wire and duct tape were the only things that held it together.”

Secret Shame’s album-release show for “Dark Synthetics” is Sept. 16 at the Mothlight in West Asheville.

Pages