“Looks For Less” Blogger Fashion Challenge: Some Romper Saved My Life Tonight

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Photos by Lydia Vilt

My mission, and of course I chose to accept it, was to create an outfit from any combination of stores at the Asheville Outlets for $100 or less and then shake my blog thing about it. Oh hello, some kinda dream come true. Let’s jam.

I knew immediately what kind of look I would go for: a sassy concert ensemble (duh!) with enough versatility to adjust to the impending weather changes. What I didn’t realize when narrowing my focus was that I was perhaps up against an even greater challenge; I had cornered myself into a relatively small market at the outlets, that of chic nighttime attire for a woman about town. But I remained optimistic because with so many fresh shows coming up this fall, there really is no other type of gear on my mind right now. I basically work, play, eat, and sleep in band t-shirts, so I’m all set on other fashion fronts.

Now, there are a few things I take into serious consideration when shopping for concert wear: a striking aesthetic presence as well as comfort. This is key. There’s nothing worse than being at, say, an electronic show and cursing the shoes you’re stuck in or constantly adjusting a skirt that rides up. It ain’t attractive and you’ll miss a good show! Furthermore, I tend toward classic styles and try to tune out most trends, as I know by now what shapes and materials flatter my body and what nonsense simply does not.

I started in Express. An instinctive animal mind takes over when I enter a boutique; I am suddenly on the hunt. Instead of just seeing the displays, I’m feeling them, sniffing out what I may not know I’m even after. After 20 minutes or so of fondling racks of bedazzled tanks, peplum tops and pencil skirts, their small section of clubwear found me. And there it was: a chiffon romper in classic black, 30% off.

The crazy thing about this moment is that I have honestly never owned a romper or jumpsuit before. It is a rare one-piece that fits both halves of my body, but this was my rare gem: a strapless top with grip lining and side zipper to keep me squeezed in, shorts that fall to just the right length, and a pretty piece of extra material that cascades down the center and over one leg. And the fact that it’s black means the possibilities for accessorizing are endless. Silver, gold, turquoise, wood: you can literally do anything to this thing but throw up on it and it’ll be fabulous. Bam.

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I knew my next piece would have to be shoes in order to determine what style jacket and jewelry I would go for. I headed to Rack Room Shoes, where they’re doing a buy one get the second pair half off sale. After a quick run-through, I found just one pair I would possibly buy (I am very picky). They were blingin’ black and gold peep toe platform stilettos, and while I am in desperate need of a new pair of major heels, they still weren’t quite right. My toes pinched on both sides, my heel popped ever so slightly out with each step, and I knew those issues would only get worse with wear. That’s when, out of nowhere, I saw the real winners.

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Black peep toe wedges with a summery, psychedelic heel design and ballerina wrap-around strap = YES. But it’s what’s inside the shoe that counts, so I strapped myself in and took ‘em for a spin around the store. Three times. Any pinching, slip-n-sliding or heel wobbling, and I would have dropped them like a one night stand. But the heavens opened up, and a wave of warm euphoria fell over me. They belonged to me. I even took them dancing downtown Saturday night, and I didn’t trip once.

The romper and shoes make a complete outfit on their own, but when it’s nearing the end of summer and we’re dealing with shorts and wedge sandals here, a girl needs options for the weather. This is where jackets and/or scarves come in. I’m a big fan of pashminas (big scarves), the many variations of draping and wrapping perfect for these chilly nights.

 

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Rainbow pashmina by local festival vendor, Turnip the Beets

A light three-quarter sleeved jacket would look great with this, too. Color and pattern options are, again, limitless. I happened to snag a classic black (faux) leather jacket at Forever 21. Maybe it’s trendy all over again, but I’ve never had one, and I don’t believe it ever really has gone out of style. Whatever flips your skirt, I say.

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Forever 21 black bomber jacket + power teal tights. Rock ‘n roll, baby.

Let us not forget those bare legs! Throw some tights or leggings on under those shorts, and you’ll be killin’ it. Color accenting in a primarily black outfit is one of my favorite things in life.

The necklace I selected is the only unfortunate part of the story. Jewelry is hard enough to buy, especially costume jewelry with its endlessly stimulating selections of colored beads and chain types. Shoppers become junkies at the displays, sweat beading on our foreheads, hearts palpitating at the slightest hint of some other bitch crowding us out as we try to possibly choose one or two pieces. I want them all. I NEED them all. If I wear this one I could be a ‘30s movie star, this one an African queen! This mentality is not unique to me, and it’s not an accident. Fashion marketing is a brilliant thing, really. Scary, but brilliant.

I finally chose an uncluttered silver Y-chain with two turquoise beads from Maurice’s. It was more expensive than those of the other shops I visited, and I assumed that factor combined with its simplicity would reduce the risk of breakage. But I was wrong. Six hours after my purchase, the bottom link up and fell off. I was driving. Come. On. For now, I’m going to chalk this up to a bad batch, return it (or exchange it for a stack of bangles), and play with the necklaces I’ve already got and can count on. No harm done; I can pair anything with my new romper.

Asheville Outlets pro tip: If you are 95% in love with an article of clothing but are still a little unsure how it will look and feel outside the store, tour other stores and try it on in different dressing rooms. I tried the romper on everywhere I went after buying it and paired it with a variety of jackets under a variety of lighting situations. If you still like it, that piece is for you. If you don’t, jump ship and return it. It’s okay to admit when something just doesn’t work; you’ll be grateful you held onto the money in order to let the right thing in.

What I Spent:

Express, black chiffon romper: $29.95

Rack Room Shoes, black peep toe wedges: $26.74

Forever 21, black bomber jacket: $22.47

Maurice’s, silver Y-necklace: $17.12

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Total: $96.28

Asheville’s First Ever Fashion Week: This is Why We Can Totally Have Nice Things

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Meeoww! KatDog Couture represent! Photo by Pete Zamplas

The music is booming, the soundsystem in The Millroom pleasingly righteous. But I’m not here for a gig or to have drinks with some hot drummer I just met. It’s Asheville’s nascent Fashion Week, four days of runway shows representing a select group of local couturiers. If ya didn’t know it, I like clothes, too.

The term “Asheville fashion” could bring to mind any number of things: hippie clothes, for one, from the incense-scented Deadhead threads found in the touristy import shops to the truly skilled leather- and lace work held down by the fine foxes of Royal Peasantry. For all the slick professionals who can afford $100 blouses, the Lexington Ave boutiques got you, but most of that stuff isn’t designed or manufactured locally (Royal Peasantry excluded!). And then of course there’s that amusing upcycled thing, but let’s not pretend that it’s particularly wearable to most of us.

It is clear upon entering the venue Friday night that the sponsor of the events, Gage Models and Talent, isn’t messing around. Based in Knoxville (with potential plans to expand to Asheville), the established and respected talent agency represents a high artistic caliber, a concept that the cultural infrastructure of Asheville doesn’t yet totally support. In other words, they’ve got money. You won’t find any pants made out of garbage bags here.

And yet Gage doesn’t appear to be riding on waves of pretension or superfluous glamour. The runway set-up is unique yet practical, built into a zig-zag so it crosses aesthetically from one corner of the venue to another. A projection screen displaying the designers’ logos rightly serves as the backdrop. Every seat in the house is filled, the DJ’s bass thuds with anticipation. Most of the photographers are posted up at the end of the runway, their flashes peppering the room.

I am thankful to the gods of time and space when KatDog Couture is announced shortly after I arrive (I’d only missed half of Diamond Brand’s power-outdoor collection). KatDog designer Kati Foster has been on my radar recently, photos of her uniquely Asheville-inspired designs tickling my Facebook feed all year. This all thanks to my friend Aubrey Huntley, who has been one of her key models of feminine badassery for months. I’m stoked to see her walk this collection tonight.

I would rock that little white number so hard. Photo by Pete Zamplas

Foster shows over 25 pieces, a thrilling ride through her current inspiration. Picture it: strapless mini dresses act as the base layer, embellished with an exciting variety of draped, cinched and side-slit skirts, hoods, and capes. From tulle-wrapped, clubby ballerina looks to earth-toned festy forest fairies, the collection is made to be extremely versatile, for wherever you want to look fly and feel comfortable. Most could reasonably be worn for three days straight at a music festival, others would be happy as conversation pieces over low-key drinks on Haywood. There are at least a couple I’d try to seduce you in. If Little Red Riding Hood lived in Montford and her hobbies included sexy acid-fuelled cemetery adventures, her closet would be filled with KatDog. I just want all the dresses. THEY HAVE ALL THE THINGS!

After the show, Aubrey introduces me to Kati (whose humble nature I suspect is overwhelmed by my new sense of fashion groupiedom) and another young designer, Tasha Lief, whose showcase I unfortunately missed on Thursday. Twenty-one-year-old Miss Tasha studies design in Paris like a boss and is probably my favorite new person. I meet some other models and ask barrel-loads of annoying questions, but it’s fascinating to be in a different artistic arena for a change, the exchanges of admiration and of course juicy gossip not unlike that of the music industry.

The week’s finale event takes place Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel. It’s an all-day thing starting at 3pm, but I, typically, don’t make it until 8:30 for the final walk. I see new material from House of Fabrics, Scott McFarland, Southern Charm, Charles Josef, and Angela Kim. Tonight I find model-watching to be the most fun, the range of body types, skin tones, hairstyles and number of tattoos appropriately representative of Asheville people.

There are some models though that look absolutely miserable up there. There’s a difference between a serious runway look and “I can’t stand this and am going to kill every single one of you.” Don’t even get me started on the walks! Ladies, I say this because I love you. If you really are going to pursue modeling you must practice wearing high heels more often. This rough shuffle in reasonable stilettos is awkward and unfair to both you and the shoes. At the same time there is knockout talent up there, and it’s refreshing to see it shine in a city with such relaxed fashion & beauty standards.

I hear later on that a bunch of models didn’t even show up (classy), and the backstage area for a time succumbed to chaos, designers plucking models from other designers, clothes and attitudes flying everywhere. Classic! Mad props to the models who walked two or three times in the same collection and the designers who made it fuckin’ work. You are fierce.

At the end of our first ever Fashion Week, “Asheville fashion” brings to mind new images for me: from swimsuit to bridal, well-crafted, cutting-edge, comfortable attire that reflects and delights the wide range of lifestyles rocking this collective land, sans the pompous price tag. Sock it to me, baby.

In Plain Sight Brings the House Down (to One World Brewing)

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Photo via mountainx.com (2012)

I turn down the hideaway alley to find a line of prospective patrons waiting outside the venue. I’ve never encountered a line here before. I ask the guy ahead of me if they’re at capacity or if this is just a smoker’s circle.

“Yes, we are waiting,” he says in a subtle lilt. Buttoned up and tucked in, I surmise he’s not from around here.

“Guess it’s a busy night,” I say. “In Plain Sight is playing.” He offers a blank stare.

“Local house DJs.”

“Oh! We are from Ukraine. House music is in our blood.” I take this as a good sign for the night.

As I light up a cigarette for the wait, my Ukrainian friends and I are joined by this fetching girl in a ‘90s throwback flower print mini dress. The doorman informs her we are at capacity, news to which she looks genuinely disturbed. Hey honey, it shouldn’t take long, we’re all cool here. It’s when he asks if she is actually one of the band member’s girlfriends, who does have a spot on the list, that she is visibly relieved.

There it is.

“Yeah, they said you would be showing up. I’ve been holding a place for you, love.” Door guy continues to cajole her as he swings the metal door open, to the rest of us adding “the perks of being a musician’s girlfriend!” I remain silent but am tickled inside. Yeah, the perks are sexy, but it hits me how the flip side of being intimately involved with a professional musician is a little less glamorous: rigorous practice and touring schedules, knowing when to give a creative opinion and when to shut the fuck up, frustration, jealousy, intermittent neglect. A relationship of this nature requires an ironclad emotional intelligence, and there should be full-on training for it. Bless you, baby girl in the pretty dress.

The irony of this situation is that for the first time in ages I did not bother securing my own guest list spot since I wasn’t sure if I would in fact make it, and the show was free anyway. But tonight I’m totally cool hanging on the other side of it again. I have plenty of cigarettes.

Set in the underground, speakeasy-style, One World Brewing turns up for In Plain Sight. DJs Lucas Ledford, Ezekiel and Nomad in the Dark make up the trio, who switch off on the tables every 20 minutes or so to keep the pulsing rhythm continuously flowing by way of their individual talents. It’s extra satisfying to finally be in front of In Plain Sight, as I tell you what: I’d been mistaking them for some other group I don’t dig for, like, two years. Can you imagine! It was only at a Moog event in June that I realized who they actually are: bringers of straight up, down ‘n dirty house + techno in a local music scene seriously lacking in it. Where the fuck have I been?

The DJ tables are set up against the brewing room, the eerie green glow from which is the only light in this dark corner. The dance party is in full swing, a typical mix of Asheville types bumping and grooving together. I don’t speak to anyone on the floor, though I’m glad they’re all here; in a sea of bodies I am going into forgotten conversation with my own. My heart declares itself upon the foundation of the strong, repetitive, unembellished beat; I close my eyes and blazing visions of color bleed from my core like spilled ink. Streams of fevered sweat are rolling sub rosa down my chest, under the thin layer of my shirt. I can’t tell which beat is the kick and which is my heart.

Halfway through the set, Nomad in the Dark (aka Ephraim Dean) steps out from behind the tables to greet me. “Are you Backstage Sass?” He must have recognized me by the RBTS WIN tank I’ve (seriously) been rocking for two weeks.

“That’s me,” I confirm, my face aglow, my eyes wide. He might think I’m on drugs. I’d might as well be. He thanks me for coming out and further extends his appreciation for my role in the music community, what with my being an outspoken super fan and all. As if my heart wasn’t warm enough right now.

These guys are clearly a friendly bunch. Their popularity is palpable; it seems almost everyone on the dance floor at one time or another steps behind the speakers to talk to them, except me. In Plain Sight, indeed: the kind of group who is fully here, available to and merging so naturally with their audience.

Which leads me to believe we’ll be meeting again. Watch out, fellas, you’ve got my impassioned ass for a fan now too.

Missed IPS this time around? Catch them August 14th at the New Mountain SOL Bar.

RBTS LOVE

Post-show with RBTS WIN and some Junior Astronomers

Post-show with RBTS WIN and some Junior Astronomers

Last Saturday was a particularly potent music night in Asheville. Holy Ghost Tent Revival was covering Beck’s 1999 album Midnite Vultures in its entirety at the Mothlight (fuck!) while Marley Carroll entertained the Christmas theme-loving drunks at the Holiday Liquor & Dance Luau Party. But amongst all this temptation I knew I was on the path to righteousness, for I was seeing RBTS WIN for the first time at Isis.

A simple stage set supported the black-clad trio, who don’t need mind-melting visuals or even color in their clothes to spread their message of universal love, peace, and good times. Imagine that, Asheville!

The rich, soulful quality of Worsham’s vocals matched with the tremendous electronic beatstorm conducted by Bolea and self-possession of guitarist Josh Chassner exemplifies the yin-yang symbiosis that makes this group shine. (I failed to mention Chassner in my preview piece. My folly! He’s awesome.)

Favorite moments:

1. Whatever Bolea did to make “Stay Wavy” go to 11

2. Drunk chicks up front trying to touch them (yay groupies)

3. “Death Magic” ALL OF IT ALWAYS

 

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Some new songz in there, y’all

I missed first act EmE by a hair, but the second band, Charlotte-based Junior Astronomers, was a lot of fun. The four-piece brought some solid Strokes-influenced indie rock to the party, something the AVL scene pretends to have forgotten about. I’ll speak more on them later when they invite me to a show of their own. You hear that, fellas?

And meanwhile…

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A new band tee deserves a trip to the Bywater

 

…I’m having a ball with my new RBTS WIN tank top. The cut is perfect! Ladies, git it!

 

 

RBTS WIN Likely to Win My Heart at Isis July 11

I first became aware of RBTS WIN through a remix of their original “Mountain Child.” That strong, pulsing melody, those silky, beckoning vocals swimming through an unmistakable Marley Carroll filter. Now, being of the mind that Carroll doesn’t remix shitty songs, I had to know who this RBTS WIN was. I went straight to their SoundCloud.

RBTS WIN is the sonic lovechild of Javier Bolea and Cliff B. Worsham, Miami and Asheville natives respectively, who in 2008 got together and soon found a groove that reflected both their shared musical interests as well as their distinctive origins.

Last year’s album release Palm Sunday is a celebration of Bolea’s beachy roots and Worsham’s mountainous ones. Where the two meet in the middle is a lush, electronic tide pool, heavily sampled and tweaked but always with a groovy nature base. They are seemingly just as likely to be inspired by an ocean wave or hornet’s nest as ’60s soul and urban beats.

Others have tried to genre-lize them, but with so many influences I’ll spare you that arbitrary attempt. The sensual, technicolor soundscape of such tracks as “Beach Child” and “Death Magic” are textured like a lucid dream, so stunningly real but impossible to pin down.

When BomBassic told me they’re working on their own “Death Magic” remix for their upcoming album, I quite nearly licked their beautiful faces. That song has been that good to me (while you’re at it check out Blue Sky Black Death’s take on it yum yum yum yum YUM).

Come out to Isis Restaurant & Music Hall this Saturday, July 11 to see and feel for yourself the emotionalism of RBTS WIN live. Junior Astronomers and AVL’s own EmE support.

Show // 9pm

$7 in advance // $10 at door

BomBassic Beat Life Birthday Lovins June 27

So, tomorrow’s my birthday. You’ve probably heard. But on top of that, my boys BomBassic are headlining at The Mothlight for another installment of Beat Life, brought to us by the Asheville Beat Tape Collective. Weeeee

Cpt Hyperdrive and Brucey B of BomBassic are on fire these days. I’ve been seeing them on the regular for nearly two years now, and in their last few shows in AVL alone there’s been an intangible shift in their presence, a sense of greater connectedness between themselves as well as the audience. Maybe it has something to do with their Kinnection experience last month (everyone came back all ONE LOVE and whatnot), or maybe it’s because they’re best friends and play music all the time and are and sinking into both their individual and combined crafts harder than ever. Whatever it is, they gellin. Love those guys.

JUST ANNOUNCED: BomBassic’s set will be amped up with a slew of special guests, including MCs Musashi Xero and Spitty the Sequel, Tin Foil Hat, and DJ Kutzu.

Get there early for sets by Samuel Paradise, Axnt, DJ Kutzu, and Vietnam Jerry. You ready for this? I dunno, watch out for me. I might get rowdy. But it’s my birthday so I do what I want.

10:00p-2:00a

$5 door//21+

Just Trying to Commission Peter Gabriel Remixes is All

peter gabrielI love Peter Gabriel. I listen to and think a lot about him. I just finished his biography Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel. What a brain-tickling babe.

For a couple years now I’ve been keeping my ear out for great PG remixes. Just found this dark, synthy version of “Mercy Street” by Virgin Magnetic Material via Soundcloud, which pleases me. I just don’t want to stop at his most well-known songs. I want to go deeper.

Of all his beautiful material, he’s got this song I can’t shake called “No Way Out” from his 2002 album Up. From first listen I envisioned this minimally powerful song remixed into a dance track. That guitar riff, that chorus! That’s all you need. Now I suppose this is what a DJ feels when s/he makes a remix. But I don’t do that. I do this.

I want one of you internet musicians to remix this song. Who’s up to the challenge? There’s a lot of Backstage Sass blog love in it for you. And probably hugs and kisses if you’re local.

 

A Voice Comes Through: Ayla Nereo on Love, Fear, and Touring Radically with The Polish Ambassador

Photo by J Smilanic

My photographer friend and I are directed through to the main room of the Orange Peel where The Polish Ambassador crew are soundchecking. It’s Ayla Nereo’s vocals that stand out first, her honey-like voice winding through the streets of Polish’s bustling city of beats. Boston-born conscious hip-hop fave Mr. Lif is there too, getting his levels on a new collaborative track called “Shine Bright,” a delicious funk song that heats up even the chilly, empty venue.

Like typical touring musicians, the crew is here to support a new album, TPA’s Pushing Through the Pavement, but perhaps in an even greater way, they are pushing something quite unusual for the electronic scene: their accompanying Permaculture Action Tour.

The artists, with the help of a team of organizers and sustainability experts, are bringing their passion to not only music venues but farms, gardens, and even lifeless lots in 32 cities across the country. The day after every show, dozens and even hundreds of fans gather alongside the TPA troop to build, enliven, and connect: to the earth, to each other, to themselves. It brings tangible meaning to “party with a purpose.”

But before we get to all that, I want to know more about the woman behind the voice that’s become a staple of TPA’s sound. We’re sitting backstage in Ayla’s dressing room: clothes, bags and jewelry options strewn about (she’s just like us, girls). Gracious and at ease, she’s warmed up her throat and changed into her stage outfit, a bangin’ capri-length, white and silver bodysuit, keeping in line with the jumpsuit theme that rules the TPA Family.

Having grown up in a musical family, I ask her if singing is something she always wanted to do. “No, I was actually terrified of singing!” she admits, “I thought I wanted to be a film director…but it just started happening, songs started coming through.” Now she regularly teaches workshops on how to use the voice effectively and work through the fear of expression. “I think it’s an important piece that I was afraid of: using my voice. I had to go through the fear process.”

It certainly wasn’t a sense of fear that eventually found her writing rich, lyric-driven folk music and wanting to experiment with different recording processes. It was in the Oakland Ecstatic Dance community that she met producer David Sugalski, aka The Polish Ambassador, and started collaborating with him. “I had just finished my second to last album called BeHeld, and it had the first loop songs on it. Those loop songs were catchier and created those hooks, so I was asking a lot of the producers in the Ecstatic Dance community [to collaborate], and David was one of them.”

We don’t get into the juicy details of how they subsequently fell deeply in love (awww) and formed their duo project Wildlight, but I do inquire into the fascinating subject of navigating a romantic and professionally collaborative musical relationship.

“It’s all very, very woven. We tour together, we live together; it can get muddy sometimes. But the other piece is true; we also get to bring love in. The best shows are the ones where we’re in love with each other on stage the whole time. It’s carrying the music, too.”

It seems that they all carry each other. This theme leads us into the twin aspect of the Pushing Through the Pavement tour: the Permaculture Action Days.

What began as a rolling stone idea of Polish’s quickly gained traction, and a crowdfunding campaign was initiated to meet the financial needs for tools, supplies, education materials and organizers. The campaign was successful enough and took off, quite literally on the road, still with little idea of how it would turn out or who would actually show up to support the idea.

Ayla gushes: “The goal was just to bring some action days on tour, and it quickly grew into this thing where every single city was like ‘We want an action day!’ It became a big part of the momentum and the draw of this tour and the excitement around it. That, for us, has been really encouraging to see people’s interest in what we’re doing.”

She is relaxed and lucid as she remembers the disillusionment she sometimes felt on previous tours and how that’s flipped with this fresh sense of purpose. “It’s giving me a lot of hope to see what’s already going on in these communities…we’re trying to take all this fan energy and direct it…so they can be connected and not so reliant on this system that’s not working out.”

I imagine it’s difficult enough to be a touring musician, but pile manual laborer on top of that, and it must bring a whole new level of exhaustion. Nope. Not this crowd. She beams as she tells me how high the energy runs out there on the land.

“[That’s] the cool thing about having 100-300+ people at an action day. We’ve never been overworked…because there are so many hands on deck. That saying ‘many hands make light work’ is so absolutely true. We are seeing it. It’s giving me chills. To see how quickly and how easily things can happen because we’re all helping each other. We’re not on stage, we’re all just people, and we’re working on something together. It’s so much fun.”

The united focus is strong within Jumpsuit Records, the record label started by Polish and currently rebooting itself as a collective. “The idea is that we’re all in charge, we’re all going to decide who comes in, and we’re all going to promote each other.”

And after experiencing the success of the Permaculture Action Tour, they clearly can’t go back to the old model. “We’re focusing it around action-based touring and activism in that way, being a participant in the creation of this world that we want…together.”

Due to the shitty weather Halloween weekend, Asheville’s action day was relocated to the downtown bar Sovereign Remedies for a few hours of discussion and brainstorming, and it appeared to be a success in itself. It took me quite a while to even notice Ayla and David were there, blending perfectly with the earth-toned group, occasionally facilitating discussion but mostly enjoying Asheville community members forming connections and presenting their own ideas. Needless to say, they really dig Asheville. *swoon*

That’s what this is really all about for them: using their popularity to activate communities to sustain themselves.

“As artists we have a platform, and there’s a responsibility there to use it for the greater good. Whatever your platform is, there’s an ability to do something good with it.”

The Permaculture Action Tour is almost over, but tune in with The Polish Ambassador, Ayla Nereo, and the whole Jumpsuit Records collective to take part in the revolution. Oh, and all of their music is still Name Your Price. Dig it, y’all.

Photo by Fabian Productions via The Polish Ambassador

Photo by Fabian Productions via The Polish Ambassador

Marley Carroll in a Hammock Haven: An Intoxicating Mix at Highland Brewing

Photo by J Smilanic

Photo by J Smilanic

For a company that specializes in laying your ass out in outrageously comfortable hammocks, Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) knows a lot about parties. The festivities at Highland Brewing last Friday proved that.

As part of Highland’s (apparently months-long) 20th anniversary celebration, the brewery and ENO teamed up to host the July 11-12 events, parties to punctuate Night Flight, a four-mile race that benefits the Asheville Parks & Greenways Foundation. Now, I don’t know about any of that because I don’t run unless it’s to catch a plane or a concert, but yeah, I’m always down for hammocks + drinks + music. So when I pulled into the parking lot and the sprawling ENO Lotus Lounge unveiled itself before me, I knew I was exactly where I belonged.

The grassy area behind the brewery is just pleasant as can be. There’s an outdoor bar on one end of the field serving a handful of choice Highland beers, but silly Sally that I am, I go for the faceless white wine. The Lotus Lounge stretches its petals out, hammocks of every color strung between them; the kids dart under and around them like ants disturbed from their magnetic march, crawling over each other to snag any available part of parachute material as if it were all covered in honey. Anyone and everyone I want to see in this moment is here. I smoke mad cigs in processing how lovely it all is; the midsummer air is still thick and hot as the sun slips toward the horizon. A forest surrounds us.

Of course, my attention quickly falls on the guy in the DJ booth at the center of the lotus: local producer Marley Carroll. His familiar dark blond head bobs up and down to his beat, which for the time being is not much more than a general funk/pop playlist to please the masses. But I’m excited for what’s to come because I’ve just recently seen him at the Asheville Music Hall 4th of July show. And in combination with fellow locals BomBassic and Canadian producer Elaquent, it’s the hottest Asheville electronic show I’ve attended maybe ever.

As the night wears on and the kids exhaust themselves and their parents, Marley’s set moves deeper into his true style. I am posted under a lotus petal in front of him, dancing madly in the psychedelic lights, meeting his eyes from time to time because, I admit, I am way turned on. He begins to peel off originals and remixes, his transitions seamless, his (literally award-winning) scratching expertly sensitive.

Marley’s flawless fusion of heavy house beats and minimal, liquefied glitch makes his particular sound remarkably original and lush. Densely-packed layers of sound operate off one another, some stomping, some tapping, some swimming in open water. My body moves all the while, celebrating every molecule of this moment with ultimate conviction.

So, I just bought his album SingsYou can look forward to that review because it’s, oh, only blowing me away.

Big-ups to Highland Brewing, ENO, and Marley Carroll for the satisfaction. You will all be seeing me again. Bwahaha.

 

 

 

This Is My Brain On Beck: Live at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

[Editor’s note: Okay, there’s a lot I have to say about why Backstage Sass has been gone for three months and now looks like total shit all over again, but suffice it to say that GoDaddy is a sleazy bag of dicks. We’ll get to that later. Right now, I just want to talk about Beck because that's all that really matters.]

“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I say as I make a poor attempt at soaking up with my bare hand the champagne I’ve just spilled on the gentleman sitting by the aisle I’ve just tripped in. I’m prepared to face the reality of my more-than-slight intoxication when he looks up at me with a pair of innocent, sparkly blue eyes, and I know he is genuine when he says it’s totally fine. We’re vibing on the same level of excitement for the show that makes us untouchable. I leave him and his wife–who’s looking on with a mixture of amusement and disgust–with my sincere apologies and proceed to my seat, laughing and weeping inside all the way.

Somehow it had slipped my mind completely that Beck was coming to Asheville on July 12, so in a mad dash to procure a ticket two days earlier, I Craigslist whored it all the way up. I contacted about 10 people with seats in the orchestra, prepared to pay upwards of $100 to see Beck’s sweat (hey, that kind of thing is important to me), but in the end I wound up in the next section back, mezzanine center, ultimately a lovely spot for a reasonable price.

I’m sitting next to David and John, two guys from way the fuck out on some mountain east of here, and they’re laughing at the spill I just took on that guy. David is startlingly attractive in a conventional way and a big Pearl Jam fan, so I know this will be better than sitting next to that crisp-shirted douchehole on my recent flight to Boston.

“Did you see the opener?” I ask, referring to The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Sean Lennon’s band. They did while I missed it completely, having peeked in upon arrival but figuring there was still time to get a drink before catching the bulk of their set. I was wrong; they’d left the stage by the time I returned.

What I heard when I entered the dark theater didn’t grab me, but I admit I haven’t cared enough to familiarize myself with their music at all. Still, to witness Sean Lennon onstage, his long, frizzy black hair covering his face Yoko-style as he picks dangerously at an electric guitar, is noteworthy. The GOASTT has some weirdo music videos and will obviously never achieve great recognition while poor Sean will always be compared to the incomparable legacy of his father, but what else is a guy supposed to do when he wants to play music and has to live with John Lennon’s exact face? That’s gotta be rough.

Finally the house lights dim again, the full auditorium erupts in applause, and suddenly Beck’s band is coming in swinging with “Devil’s Haircut.” The sound is fuzzy in the Thomas Wolfe, but my virgin sight on the one and only Beck Hansen, grooving across the stage looking like a hip Amish preacher, makes up for it.

There is something to be said for seeing someone live who’s only existed to you via stereo for the last 20 years. The familiarity of a song I’ve known since childhood juxtaposed with the space pop of something like “Gamma Ray” and psycho-geometrical stage visuals threatens to overwhelm me, but I am reminded of the earthliness of this moment: Beck’s deep, dense voice that has rapped, screamed, crooned and bled into me over the years comforts me, and I invite myself to exist alongside him in this moment.

Most of what’s going on lyrically is indiscernible, but everyone knows what to do during the choruses of the thunderstorm hits like “The New Pollution” and “Loser,” to which he adds entire verses and/or has just forgotten the original wacko words. Fuckin works for me.

Generally, the setlist pleases the hell out of me, my darlings; I was unsure how it would be mixed for this tour, the lushness and sentiment of his latest album Morning Phase more comparable to Sea Change than Midnite Vultures. And while he has performed some seriously mellow sets, the man knows how to throw a party, and electro hits from across the board appropriately support the more emotionally lucid songs like“Lost Cause” and this year’s mushroom-trip meditation “Wave.” I can’t for the life of me understand what is wrong with all the people who choose “The Golden Age” to go to the bathroom. I could die right here in my own arms.

The sold-out auditorium has been beautifully responsive throughout the whole show, but the buzz seems to get down to the molecular level as we approach the end. “Girl” and “E-Pro” open up a new plane of mega-funness, and the only thing that separates the main set from the encore is the head-scratching application of caution tape across the stage and Beck’s inquiry as to “what kind of laws [we] like to defy” here in Asheville. Forget pot, public drunkenness, and acute civil disobedience; the answer is of course SEXX LAWS!

Beck channels his hilarious inner James Brown and Al Green with “Debra” after that and then closes it out with “Where It’s At.” Sean Lennon even comes back to play tambourine, the ol’ sport. Then, as if waking from a dream, the transition from 2500 voices shouting “I got two turntables and a microphone” into everyone-getting-the-fuck-out is seamless. These guys are pros.

If I hadn’t continued to hang out with my seat-neighbors David and John, I would have pulled my usual old school groupie shit and gone around back to try to intercept the man himself. I didn’t even CHECK OUT the situation; tour bus or black car? But honestly, I would have been too late anyway. Everyone knows you have to work that shit out during soundcheck.

Dig the setlist here

Songs I Wouldn’t Kick Out of Bed: Nicotine & Gravy, Mixed Bizness, Novacane, Nobody’s Fault But My Own (they didn’t play ANYTHING from Mutations! Ack!)

Random celeb sighting: Saw Charlie Day in a drink line. You know, this guy.