West is the best
All Go West Fest returns with BBQ, beer and indie music
by Nathaniel H. Axtell in Vol. 17 / Iss. 39 on 04/19/2011
Now that West Asheville is vibrant with restaurants, bars, coffee shops and other small businesses, what’s to separate it from downtown proper (besides square footage and, oh yeah, the river)? West Asheville even has its own map brochure. Well, downtown’s got more parking meters, and downtown’s got more festivals.
Enter last year’s inaugural All Go West Festival. Despite the all-day rain, roughly 2,000 people packed the junction of Westwood Place and Waynesville Road (just off Haywood), splash-dancing to the sounds of Asheville’s finest on a covered outdoor stage. There was also a round of performances inside the now-defunct Rocket Club. Take that, Bele Chere.
“It was awesome,” says festival co-founder Arieh Samson, whose company, Heira Productions, manages 2010 performers Kovacs and the Polar Bear and If You Wannas. “There were, like, hundreds of people rocking out in the rain to stephaniesid and [Yo Mama’s Big Fat] Booty Band. If we can do what we did last year this year, it will be hugely successful.”
This year, Samson and festival director Jimmy Hunt (also of Boone’s Music on the Mountaintop festival) are adding a second outdoor stage and offering a beer-and-barbecue tasting that pairs brews from Pisgah and Craggie with Luella’s BBQ.
For the second All Go West, Samson and Hunt faced new hurdles, including fewer sponsors and potential conflicts with Easter weekend plans. But the duo isn’t too worried. “We spent a little more on the lineup this year because we’re trying to bring out more heads,” Hunt says. “I think we’re giving people what they want.”
What they want, say promoters, is a free, community-minded festival that boosts West Asheville’s profile and economy while promoting a wide range of up-and-coming, local artists not often heard at larger fests in the area. This year, the local artists include a preponderance of indie folk-rock acts, including For The Birds, 10 Cent Poetry, Uncle Mountain and Do it to Julia (Uncle Mountain and Do it to Julia played last year as well).
“It has turned out that way, but not intentionally,” Samson says. “I like the idea of giving bands a chance that don’t always get spots at other festivals that I really respect ... these musicians, what they’re writing and the boundaries they’re pushing ... they deserve to be heard.”
Getting exposure at a festival like All Go West is perhaps most important to independent artists, Hunt says, because, as the music business has gone more online, unsigned bands increasingly rely on live shows to build a buzz. Jam bands and world music artists are well-represented at many local festivals; not so with most indie acts.
“These artists can do a record in their basements,” Hunt points out. “They don’t need a big label to be successful. But a band has to have that one-on-one relationship with their fans, and the best way to do that is to play live in front of bigger crowds.”
Even more established acts, like this year’s headliner, Josh Phillips Folk Festival, see gigs like All Go West as crucial to their marketing success. In a phone interview from California (where his new album is being mixed by Ben Harper engineer Eric Serafin), Phillips says “The more hype a show you play, the more you can hype it up online and create a buzz.”
Folk Festival fans who attend All Go West will get a sneak peek at the new album, due out by September, which Phillips describes as “less world-vibe, more rockin’ than the first album. There are a couple of ska tracks, some klezmer-y sounding songs and a couple of folk-y tunes Debrissa [McKinney] and I sang in an echoing room. It’s definitely all over the map, but more heavy-hitting.”
“All over the map” describes Phillips’ supporting cast at All Go West, as well. The festival’s lineup encompasses genre-bending acts, reggae-ska, electronica, soulful songwriters, punk-thrash, funky hip-hop, Americana and more.
Hunt acknowledges that closed streets full of vendors and festival crowds may be stressful for some of the West Asheville shops near the performance area — but he hopes the festival’s community focus will more than compensate for any inconvenience.
“Hopefully, people will walk up the road and buy an album from Harvest, they’ll get a cup of coffee at Izzy’s, they’ll get a bite at the Admiral,” he says. “This really is about the betterment of the community, by supporting both independently owned businesses and independent music.”
— Nathaniel Axtell is an Asheville-based freelance writer.