Local Music

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Even through their masks, you could sense the smiles across the faces of John and Judy Nelson, of Asheville, as they waited to get into Friday night’s concert at Isis Music Hall.

“I am ready to sit back, have some good food and listen to some good music,” John Nelson said. “It’s gonna be a great night.”

And it’s the kind of night few in this region have been able to experience over the past 13 months—live music inside a club. But as North Carolina has relaxed some conditions for indoor gatherings, local venues have started booking indoor shows—with capacity restrictions and masking protocols in place.

Ash Devine


 

Ash Devine was giving an online ukulele lesson to a 10-year-old boy Wednesday afternoon when news about the turmoil at the nation’s capitol scrolled on her Facebook newsfeed. Devine finished the lesson and immediately went on Facebook Live herself.

“I was seeing so much stress and fear and panic in people’s posts and knew I had something to offer to redirect that into a more unified, positive direction,” she said. “I thought, let’s do an intervention with song, that we can get through this together.”

courtesy of the artist


Carly Taich didn’t post anything on social media, light a candle in mourning or plan a post-pandemic farewell tour.

She had devoted her young adult life to her own fearless folk pop, as she calls it. She had made two full albums over the previous eight years, And sometime in the middle of 2018, at age 27, she’d prepared herself to say goodbye to music altogether.

‘I was very uncomfortable with the industry of music. It just got to be a toxic relationship,” Taich said. “The toxicity comes from not enjoying performing anymore, not wanting to write, comparing myself to everyone, like not even being able to enjoy other people’s music because it was always a contest.”

exploreasheville.com

Live concerts with live audiences seem so long ago—no masks, no social distancing and, also, no concern for volume.

But for the first time in 20 years, Asheville officials want to update the city’s vague noise ordinance to reflect concerns and complaints from a growing residential population. And that has raised alarms in a music community nearly muted by the pandemic. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Rabbit Motel in Asheville’s South Slope drew touring black musicians to the four tiny rooms out back and the soul food restaurant facing McDowell Street. On Saturday, the motel launched its new life as SoundSpace, with the four motel rooms converted to rehearsal studios for bands to rent by the hour or month, with plans to refurbish and reopen the soul food restaurant in about a year.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Eighty-one years ago, when Asheville had two daily newspapers, the new art deco building that housed them across from the Grove Arcade featured tall ceilings, glass block windows, frosted light sconces and vast, marble floors with custom inlays. On the third story, long ago hidden beneath asbestos tiling, there was another unique floor. 

“And you see all these pock marks?” Gar Ragland said, pointing down. “These are cello stands, these are mic stands, I mean, who knows?”

When Ragland learned this was also the one-time home of WWNC-AM Radio, he knew he’d found the home for his own dream—of resurrecting an artifact from a bygone musical era while giving Asheville something altogether new: A vinyl records pressing plant.

Kristen Marie Greene of KMG*Photography


Eleanor Underhill’s new record is called “Land of the Living,” and listening straight through can be a little dizzying.

Her songs skip from ‘90s alt-rock (“Strange Chemistry”) and synth pop (“Run with the Wolves”) to banjo-inflected techno (“Middle of Life”), straight-up R&B (“Easier Than This”) and the rootsy Americana at the foundation of Underhill’s musical history. And then there’s the intimate storytelling, some of it from a third-person distance, some from first-person vulnerability.

Jern Watson


Earlier this year, just as Covid-19 shut down the nation, Jared MacEachern moved with his girlfriend into the home he just bought in the mountains of Santa Cruz, Calif. As the wildfires there forced them to evacuate just a few days ago, MacEachern sounded surprisingly calm as he spoke from a friend’s house in San Francisco.

“The air at the house, there are times when it’s clear and we can’t even tell, and there are other times it’s really smoky, it stinks, my throat gets really scratchy,” MacEachern said. “But luckily, the flames have stayed a good distance away, so we’re thankful for that.”

His outlook in the face of potential disaster perhaps stems from a greater life perspective.

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

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.


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. 

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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 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.

Photos courtesy of Ryan Anderson


At the time, five years ago, it seemed like another forgettable gig. Todd Weakley’s band shared a bill at the The Odditorium in West Asheville with a duo -- Ryan Anderson and his brother. Weakley remembers Anderson approaching and introducing himself.

“And my initial impression was like ‘Oh no, it’s gonna one of those shows,’” Weakley recalled. “But when he played, I was absolutely transfixed and I felt compelled to know more about this person.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

If you go back far enough in Asheville to remember Biltmore Lanes and the Skateland Rollerdome and local R&B bands such as Bite Chew Spit and the Innersouls, then walking into the front gallery of the Orange Peel will feel like a nostalgia trip.

A new permanent exhibition of photos, newspaper clippings and other artifacts traces the history of the building, from its groundbreaking in 1946 and its varied incarnations over the subsequent decades until its branding in 1974 as the Orange Peel, primarily a home for R&B and soul club and a bridge to its renovation in 2002 into the club people know today.

Sandin Gaither


Amanda Anne Platt and her band produced their first two albums on their own and were preparing a third without drawing interest from a record label.

“It was hard. I think every time you experience any kind of rejection in the arts, it makes you question your validity as an artist, which doesn’t make sense,” Platt said. “The music business is not music. If you’re not having monetary success, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist. I still have to remind myself of that. Every day it’s hard.”

Lauren Van Epps


A couple Saturday afternoons ago, Melissa Hyman lugged two Hefty bags down Asheville’s Lexington Avenue to the trunk of her car. They were filled with blankets.

“I don’t know if we’re gonna put anyone to sleep, but I kinda want to,” Hyman said. “I want to have a set up in front of the stage of just lots of pillows and blankets and see if anyone falls asleep there.”

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