Archive for September, 2004

by Stuart Gaines in Vol. 11 / Iss. 7 on 09/15/2004

Mountain Xpress, http://www.mountainx.com/

Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, downtown Asheville; Sunday, Sept. 5

Despite all the kind-veggie hoopla surrounding this year’s Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, the local-arts extravaganza still saw a spot of trouble. Early in the day, Asheville police questioned one costumed patron about his decorative long sword and additional side arms.

The gentleman in question, who — in apparent response to LAAFF coordinators’ requests that patrons wear costumes — came dressed to the hilt in full Middle Earth battle gear (complete with a puzzlingly unrelated, ghost-white, Brandon-Lee-in-The Crow makeup job), subsequently found himself stripped of his defenses. In the end, he looked less like Aragorn or Legolas than a playful young sprite or medieval clown.

Thankfully, this was one of the more serious disturbances at an otherwise passive to passive-aggressive display of our city’s eclectic local-arts scene. Pristine, late-summer mountain weather blessed the creative chaos, ushering in an impressive herd of locals and a healthy helping of tourists, most of them unencumbered by costumes or weapons of any kind.

One notable exception was the bicycle-jousting competitors, who provided substantial comic relief via the padded lancing of several would-be knights. And just down from that heated competition, the local-band stage featured a pleasant barrage of area-based music throughout the day.

All the acts I encountered on the south-end stage made the most of their limited time slots, without exception giving energetic, happy-to-be-there performances. The Labiators‘ Fugazi-esque, distortion-riddled sound proved the most appropriate soundtrack for the nearby jousting, while roots-reggae from The Zion Project kept a number of twirl-happy dancers in a blissfully dizzy place. The herb-healing practitioners of GFE fought through some poorly timed power outages in their otherwise funk-tabulous set, while Scrappy Hamilton closed things out with their swinging brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

Up the street, a partisan-specific voter drive unfolded near the performing-arts stage, where newly registering voters were presented with their choice of a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker or pin after completing the necessary paperwork.

Team Nader and supporters of the incumbent president were noticeably absent, and this one-sided dynamic — especially in the midst of such an eclectic crowd — was the day’s only noticeable weak point: While the freak-in-Asheville set enjoyed a fruitful showing at this year’s LAAFF, other manifestations of local diversity were noticeably absent. Children (with young parents) were a common sight, but seniors, African-Americans and Latinos — all comprising substantial local demographics — remained few and far between.

Despite the mostly rice-flavored crowd, the performing-arts stage boasted a culturally diverse lineup, ranging from the African dance and drumming of the colorful and inspiring Ballet Warraba to the old-school break-dance shenanigans of Hunab Kru. The latter, defying gravity to the break-beats of DJ Brett Rock, expertly demonstrated their craft as a vastly underrated, retro art form — and one requiring a good bit more skill, muscle power and practice than even the most competitive bicycle jousting.

The evening wound up with the groovy-yet-saucy collaboration of Scrappy Hamilton (playing as The Pheremones) and The Rebelles Burlesque, performing excerpts from the latter’s latest production, A More Perfect Union. One particularly vivid segment came sandwiched in an instrumental treatment of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with an elaborate puppet/puppet-master scene unfolding between a pair of The Rebelles’ finest.

Scorecard: On the cartoon-couples scale, the third-annual LAAFF scores a Homer and Marge Simpson: Despite the blue hair, mild alcohol abuse and silly antics, they’re still a happy family in the end.

[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines, a contributing editor at An Honest Tune, can be reached at // ‘;l[1]=’a’;l[2]=’/’;l[3]=”;l[30]=’\”‘;l[31]=’ 109′;l[32]=’ 111′;l[33]=’ 99′;l[34]=’ 46′;l[35]=’ 111′;l[36]=’ 111′;l[37]=’ 104′;l[38]=’ 97′;l[39]=’ 121′;l[40]=’ 64′;l[41]=’ 121′;l[42]=’ 116′;l[43]=’ 105′;l[44]=’ 99′;l[45]=’ 115′;l[46]=’ 105′;l[47]=’ 104′;l[48]=’ 116′;l[49]=’ 119′;l[50]=’ 111′;l[51]=’ 110′;l[52]=’ 107′;l[53]=’ 117′;l[54]=’ 111′;l[55]=’ 121′;l[56]=’:’;l[57]=’o’;l[58]=’t’;l[59]=’l’;l[60]=’i’;l[61]=’a’;l[62]=’m’;l[63]=’\”‘;l[64]=’=’;l[65]=’f’;l[66]=’e’;l[67]=’r’;l[68]=’h’;l[69]=’a ‘;l[70]=’= 0; i=i-1){
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by Alli Marshall in Vol. 11 / Iss. 5 on 09/01/2004

Mountain Xpress, http://www.mountainx.com/

“The loonies are in Asheville now,” declares Kitty Love. “We need to give them a reason to stay.”

Putting it in slightly more eloquent terms, the co-founder of the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival notes that the annual event “will help to stimulate and propagate the kind of culture we would enjoy living in.”

Now in its third year, LAAFF has grown from an experimental gathering of local artists and businesses to what verges on being a block party, spanning North Lexington Avenue up to its intersection with College Street.

“This festival is all about everything local,” insists fellow LAAFF co-founder Michael Mooney. (Like Love, he’s prone to delivering headline-worthy soundbites.)

“It’s what the locals are doing for the locals!” he continues.

The hype is backed up by fact. All artists scheduled to show at LAAFF live in Western North Carolina, while two festival stages will boast strictly local bands, and six Asheville restaurants will dish up culinary treats.

Not to mention that all LAAFF organizers and sponsors are from here, too, Mooney adds.

“Even the beer — French Broad and Green Man — is from local breweries.”

The freaks’ arts council

The push to keep LAAFF local hints at a political agenda that’s quickly becoming as integral to the event as meat-on-a-stick is to Bele Chere.

With most other major festivals, vendors parachute into Asheville from other cities and then depart for home with the cash they earned. But LAAFF vendors live — and buy — right here.

“All the money made in the festival stays in the community, including the money Arts2People makes,” explains Love.

LAAFF’s grassroots parent organization Arts2People offers arts classes and other related opportunities to those who might otherwise be unable to afford them. In the coming year, festival proceeds may even go to a joint project with Helpmate, a local nonprofit devoted to domestic-violence prevention.

Still, charitable effort alone does not a great arts event ensure.

Scheduling their street party in the thick of the late-summer festival glut — Labor Day weekend this year also brings Haywood County’s Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, Henderson County’s Apple Festival, and Asheville’s Sistahs on Stage women’s-music fest — means LAAFF had better have something pretty eye-opening to offer.

That part of the Lexington Avenue event’s mission is well taken care of.

Sure, a few tourist-friendly crafters will be “allowed” to show at LAAFF — but the more off-the-wall creative impulses also won’t be buried under a heap of hand-woven baskets.

“We consider ourselves to be the freaks’ arts council,” Love maintains. “We want to be sure that as Asheville grows, the economy based in the arts stays fresh and sincere.”

Arts2People is devoted to emerging artists, she adds. “We focus on supporting the grassroots movement.”

Which means that LAAFF will feature everything from the healing arts to an art-car contest, from Japanese Butoh dance to canvas dance, from food booths to edible art.

Even Love doesn’t know exactly what all to expect of the one-day event.

“Organizing has been an experience … ” she begins.

“Like herding cats,” Mooney finishes for her.

“Yes, but the flip side is, you get these amazing surprises,” Love persists.

The LAAFF kids’ area, for example, will likely not be dominated by such routine-festival staples as face painters and balloon-animal makers. “Their supply list includes shaving cream and pipe cleaners,” Love says with a shrug.

After all, the event is avant-garde.

Which brings up another good cause central to the festival: allowing people to express themselves unfettered.

Still, Mooney’s on board to make that sure no one takes themselves too seriously.

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