By Laura LaVoie
I know what you’re thinking.
You would be much more “into” the Asheville music scene if you just understood the language a little better. Well, that’s what we’re here for. The team at WNC Woman sent out a team (not really) to find out what all these crazy terms mean. (Really, it was just me sitting at my computer typing them up as they came to me.) The reality is, and I’m really not being sarcastic here at all, that the only scene that can rival the beer scene in Asheville, and throughout WNC, is the music scene. Even our buskers are good. And if you don’t know what “busker” means, keep reading and you’ll find out.
Americana: Is it roots rock? Alt-Country? Is it acoustic folk with an edge? Is it indie rock with more steel guitar? Americana is a broad label that can mean almost any style of music infused with American roots music elements. Surprisingly enough, Mumford & Sons are often referred to as an Americana band, even though they are very, very British. In Asheville, Americana tends to mean that they’re more country than rock’n’roll.
Art Rock: Bands and performers that are way, way more into being seen and putting on a show than they are making music you’d actually put on your iPod.
Bele Chere: This is a wall of people, food and activities … and sometimes you can even hear music. The streets of Asheville open up to a flood of people from around the Southeast, even though no one has any idea what “Bele Chere” means, or what it’s supposed to celebrate in the first place. (The City of Asheville will tell you it means “Beautiful Living” in an ancient Scottish dialect, but it’s not true. They just made it up.) The festival started in 1979 as a way to bring people to the city’s then-abandoned downtown, but in recent years Asheville businesses and residents are lukewarm on whether or not it is good business for the city.
Bluegrass: In most places in the world, you’re pretty safe calling any kind of music that involves a banjo bluegrass. In Asheville, people like to split hairs, adamantly differentiating the genre with terms like oldtime, traditional folk, newgrass and novelty jazz. Don’t take it personally.
Busking: You may notice that a lot of people on Asheville play music on the streets for tips. In fact, if you’re not careful, you might trip over one of them. This is because Asheville is so full of talented people they can’t all play indoors. Seriously, listen to some of these street musicians. They can be crazy good. And don’t forget to tip.
Christmas Jam: If you know anything about Jam Bands then you’ve probably heard of Gov’t Mule (or at least the Allman Brothers). Hometown hero Warren Haynes has been a key player in both bands, and every year he brings all his famous friends back to play a benefit concert in the heart of downtown Asheville. The Christmas Jam began in 1989, and in that time a staggering number of iconic musicians (Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and Peter Frampton, just to name a few) have donated their time to raise money in support of Habitat for Humanity.
Contra Dance: Bluegrass is to mainstream music what contra dance is to mainstream dance. Sure, on the surface it may seem like little more than a traditional style of folk dance, making it about as hip as square dancing. Sure, it has the same basic format as a square dance. But unlike square dancing, contra dance has an indie edge that has helped make it (relatively) popular with the kids. Also unlike square dancing, you won’t be awkwardly forced to pair up with another girl in your elementary school gym contra dance class because they ran out of boys for you to dance with. (No, I’m not scarred by that at all, why do you ask?) Anyway, people tell me adults still do this stuff, and that WNC is a contra dance hot spot.
Crusty Punk: You know how punk rock went from status-quo threatening social movement to cash-raking fashion movement in less than a decade? Well, crusty punks want their anarchist movement back. Forget Hot Topic, they’ll play their angry three-chord songs in thrift-shop Carhartt overalls, thank you very much. In fact, they may be too hardcore for punk music, instead preferring old-time folk.
Drum Circle: Follow the sound of drums and you’ll find the hippies and New Agers. (You’ll know it by the strong smell of patchouli.) Asheville hosts a public drum circle in Pritchard Park every Friday during the warm season. I may sound like I don’t like it, but I’m a local so I can tease. Everyone needs to go to the drum circle at least once, and the downtown drum circle actually brings out all types, from tourist families to punk rockers. You may even see me there, wearing my sandals and hippie skirt, dancing the night away.
Frank on Friday: Proof that WNCW is awesome. Seriously, they have an entire hour once a week dedicated to the music of Frank Zappa. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Folkmoot: It’s a “meeting of the people,” which is a humble way of saying it’s a big international folk festival. (In fact, it’s the official international festival of North Carolina.) Waynesville has been hosting Folkmoot USA since 1984, bringing hundreds of performers from all over the world to rural WNC for over a week of cross-cultural exchange. (I really wish it was more like the Entmoot from Lord of the Rings. Seriously, big trees descending on Waynesville would be so much fun to watch.)
Grey Eagle: If you want to catch great music in a more intimate setting, you’re looking for the warehouse-looking building at the entrance to the River Arts District. For such a humble space, The Grey Eagle attracts some incredible bands and performers. Iconic musicians come to play the space just because they like it, and my own Grey Eagle experience includes nationally known musicians like Lucy Kaplansky and Sarah Jarosz. Plus, they also serve a wide variety of beers, which is extremely important in a local music venue … at least for me.
“Gypsy”-anything: Much like the novelty jazz and blues set, only more influenced by Eastern European music (like klezmer) and jazz artists like Django Reinhardt. You’ll often see these acts busking.
Hula Hoop Jam: Hula Hooping has apparently seen a renaissance. You may see people with them at the Drum Circle or Bele Chere. There are classes in recreational hula hooping you can sign up for. There are even regular downtown events just for hula hoopers. If gyrating your hips is your thing, check out a hula hoop jam.
Indiepop: Did you know that you can stick the word “indie” before anything and suddenly it is cool? But it isn’t hipster, because that is the opposite of cool. Asheville has its share of self-proclaimed indiepop bands, but apart from meaning they generally play upbeat music on electric guitars, it’s not much of a description. It’s also worth noting that the indiepop idea has been brought to us by the British, who also brought us such things as Doctor Who, Adele and scones.
Jam Band: If you don’t know what this means I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last 60 some years. Does the name The Grateful Dead ring a bell? Phish? Jam band music isn’t just a style of playing where the musicians are more concerned with going where the moment takes them. It’s practically a lifestyle.
Moog: It’s entirely possible that electronic music may never have happened if it weren’t for Bob Moog. While he didn’t invent the synthesizer, Moog did invent the first commercially successful one (after years of perfecting Theremins), helping to usher in a new era of sound in the 1960s. (Then again, the synth-rock and New Wave sounds of the 1980s were also heavily dependent on Moog’s work, so you also have him to blame for the A Flock of Seagulls discography.) Moog’s Asheville-based factory, Moog Music, is a destination for musicians from all over the world. His influence is also felt through the annual orgy of electronica performances known as MoogFest.
Newgrass: You know what bluegrass is, right? Old-time inspired music played on guitars and mandolins, and people cracking jokes about the foibles of the banjo player? Add the term “New” to it (mostly because it rhymes with blue) and you have a whole music concept. It’s old-timey bluegrass music with a modern, rock/jazz/funk twist. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.
Novelty Jazz and Blues: Acoustic music is a big deal in Asheville, and many local musicians style themselves more after Vaudeville-style stage acts and recording artists from the early part of the 20th century rather than after ‘60s folk musicians or modern-day pop icons. There’s a lot of crossover with the bluegrass and crusty punk scene here as well.
Orange Peel: With that name, surely it’s a cocktail bar. Or maybe a fancy restaurant, right? Nope. (Although you can get tasty drinks there, including plenty of local beer options.) The Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club is actually a topnotch music venue in Asheville. Want evidence of this claim? I’ve seen The Drive By Truckers and First Aid Kit there, and of course my musical taste is superb.
Techno Contra: What? Umm … really? I’m being told that people actually do traditional contra dancing to techno or hip hop music. Why would you do that? Okay … well, that’s fine. I’ll be over here avoiding these events to keep the elementary school flashbacks at bay.
Theremin: You know those weird old electronic sounds from 1950’s sci-fi flicks? Yep, that’s made by a Theremin. It’s an electronic instrument you can only play if you don’t touch it, as you’re actually playing the magnetic fields around it. (I know, it’s crazy.) They’re popular in the local music scene largely because one of the best Theremin makers in the world is Asheville’s Moog Music.
WNCW: It’s no secret that WNC and the surrounding area has one of the best public radio stations in the country, and that station plays some amazing music. Just tune into WNCW 88.7 FM for a few hours, and you’ll see what I mean. I would be more sarcastic here, but I just can’t. It’s that good.
World Music: This is pretty much any music that doesn’t sound like music you’d hear on the top 40. Unless that top 40 is on WNCW, in which case it’s totally what you’d hear. Anything that sounds like it might be performed or inspired by African, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, South American or other non-European/American people is probably safe to call World Music. (Even if it’s totally being played by white people who you’re pretty sure work at Earth Fare.)
Laura LaVoie is a freelance writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. You can read about her tiny house adventures at 120squarefeet.com. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.