Residency is a four-part weekly journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite artists every month.
In her third week as April’s Artist Resident, Boston’s Emily Reo explores North Carolina and the many creative communities that lie within its rich walls.
Why hello lovelies, it’s fantastic to see you again! This week’s journey finds us traveling to the heart of the East Coast to some of the most beautiful views and smiles I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. We’ll begin our tour in a very special place called Asheville, and afterwards (if you’re feeling adventurous) we can expand our boundaries to various towns all over North Carolina!
On my very first tour in May of 2010, we traveled the East Coast and stopped in Asheville. Living most of my life in Florida (which is geographically flat) I had no recollection of what mountains looked like. I remember looking out the window of the Attached Hands tour van (affectionately called The Pickle) and the Blue Ridge Mountains suddenly coming into view after turning a corner (I’ll spare you the bit about how I was listening to Everest by Ratatat in headphones, resulting in all sorts of *emotions* and *feelings*). Needless to say, Asheville had cemented itself into a special place in my heart even prior to our few days spent playing shows, hiking and exploring the town.
In May of 2012 I was lucky enough to visit Asheville a second time. On the way to Total Bummer 3D, my pals Noah Klein (Cuddle Formation), Jordan Lee (Mutual Benefit), Cameron Potter (Little Spoon) and I booked a mini-tour down the East Coast, which somehow ended up consisting only of dates in North Carolina. Upon visiting each place, we realized there was a reason these special communities were so accepting towards us and helpful in making our journey down south.
Departing from Brooklyn, Asheville was our first stop of the tour. We left immediately after I got home from work and drove 14 hours through the night. Around 7am, we watched the sun rise and stopped to stretch in a flower covered mountainside field somewhere in Tennessee. Around 9am, two strangers (who were soon to be friends) let us into their home. These new friends were Christian Church and Alisha Torrealba, the brains behind one of my favorite bands Alligator Indian. As if finding us a place to play wasn’t kind enough, Christian and Alisha let us rest, eat and shower in their home, then proceeded to introduce us to their town (and more importantly, the community they had begun to grow inside of it).
A few months later while sitting in the grass at McKibbin Park anxiously awaiting the first day of FMLY Fest Brooklyn to begin, Alisha and Christian began to tell me about the collective they had started called SWAMPING. Alisha explained that the goal behind SWAMPING was “to create a local support system and exposure for artists lacking an outlet.” In the spirit of sharing, SWAMPING has released three compilations of experimental Asheville based artists called New Weird Asheville, all available for free. In addition to their online presence, SWAMPING Presents provides Asheville with various types of multimedia events hosted in venues that wouldn’t normally be exposed to the mediums offered. These unique events include Sunaural Summer (featuring various types of performance art including comedy, theatre and dance), Dads Don’t Dance (an outlet for dancing featuring a collaboration of local DJs and projections) and Haunted Days (a two-day festival showcasing only local acts, simultaneously planned during Moog Fest as a response to their lack of local representation).
As if Alisha, Christian & friends haven’t given enough to Asheville through SWAMPING, they’ve begun to utilize the YMI Cultural Center (a historic building with a primary interest in promoting interculturalism and equal respect among all ethnicities) to provide a living, breathing creative space for their community. This space is called Apothecary, and through their clearly articulated mission they explain their purpose of partnering with creative folks, free thinkers and collectives to provide Asheville with a safe haven to host events of all kinds, or as they eloquently stated, “cultivate growth through artistic and aesthetic experience.” The Apothecary crew have given some insight into their inspiration for opening their doors to the community. In a town that faces the same challenges we see where many DIT collectives are beginning to arise (i.e. our friends at DITEC), Asheville’s venues mostly cater towards a 21+ demographic, taking advantage of a tourism industry largely rooted in local breweries. Additionally, the granola aesthetic Asheville has formed a reputation around makes it much easier for musicians to play shows if their music is folksy and accessible, rather than the more experimental sounds a sect of the community is forming through electronics and modular synthesis. Apothecary provides a space for people of all ages to interact and experience creativity in every form—a space to educate the community, not exclusively entertain tourists in passing.
Apothecary has hosted an astounding list of events, with the creativity and diversity I hope to one day experience within a community where I reside. Their inspirational repertoire has included a workshop entitled Make Noise, where Robert A.A. Lowe (of Lichens) and Richard Devine shared insight regarding modular synthesis, an Art Run, which is a jog between various galleries in response to Asheville’s Art Walk (which requires payment to participate), an instrument building workshop with Neptune, monthly meetings entitled Response Improvisational Summit, which hold the purpose of provoking creative collaboration and experimentation, a cartoon and drawing workshop called Cartoon Networking and various other events such as film screenings showcasing local filmmakers, yoga accompanied by synthesizers and their summer plans of planting a community garden in collaboration with the YMI Cultural Center.
But Apothecary isn’t alone in their mission to bring Asheville together. Upon my next trip to the ‘Ville, I look forward to exploring the numerous recommendations passed along to me from the Apothecary crew. I’m inspired to learn about Burton Street Community Association, a true community working together for over 100 years. Asheville is also home to Black Mountain College, a progressive arts school and museum rooted in participation and equal ownership amongst faculty and staff. I’ve been hoping to visit BMC each time I’ve been in Asheville—hopefully the third time will be the charm. Another recommendation A+C passed along to me was to check out Make Noise, a label and shop focusing on modular synthesis and the website I’m going to spend the next year exploring (also responsible for presenting Apothecary’s aforementioned synthesis workshop). And finally, I can’t wait to visit Blackout Effectors, a small group of folks building (and painting) customized pedals with care and pride. Their website even lists bands and friends that use Blackout products, offering them a couch to sleep on anytime.
Traveling about 3 hours East, our next stop on tour was Greensboro, NC. We played at Science House, aka a kitchen packed with sweaty and supportive new friends (with surprisingly good sound). Although we didn’t have much time to explore while we were in town, the Apothecary crew has been nice enough to introduce me to some rad spaces in Greensboro so we know for next time. An inspiring collective that I look forward to connecting with in the future is called Elsewhere. Described as a “living museum,” it utilizes the materials obtained from when the space was a thrift store to create new art out of existing things. Additionally, Elsewhere operates as a multimedia platform for collaboration through a team of Members. They’re home to a community radio station, a cooking show, an online and print magazine consisting of stories collected from LGBTQ youth, and countless additional inspiring projects. Also in Greensboro is CFBG, a record co-op that triples as a venue and art gallery, while showcasing more than 10,000 releases by local independent musicians you can listen to in the store.
While we’re on the topic of record stores (and in honor of tomorrow being record store day) I’m thrilled to take you on a field trip to our last stop of the week—my favorite record store! Gravity Records is located about 3 hours Southeast of Greensboro in Wilmington, NC. Wilmington has always been very special to me because it’s home to some close family friends, but I had never known anything about it’s community until playing a show at Gravity. Taking the former location of Manifest Disc and Tapes in 2004, Gravity is an overwhelmingly large sea of vinyl, with a giant stage living in the front of the store. We were worried such a large shop would feel empty during our show, that was until we witnessed Wilmington’s supportive music community. Before the sun went down, folks of all ages had filed in and made themselves comfortable on the various couches scattered around the store. We played to a large gathering of excited and respectful locals, who stayed for everyone’s set and seemed to have a genuinely great time. It became clear that this was a united community, supportive of the arts and grateful to have such a wonderful local establishment.
I have to give some extra thanks to Christian and Alisha for being such an inspiration for this piece, and for pointing us all in the direction of so many amazing collectives to learn about in North Carolina. Perhaps this year on your way down to Total Bummer 4EVER, you can stop at Apothecary for a workshop or snag some vinyl from Gravity. I hope to see you there!
P.S. as soon as we got to South Carolina our car broke down and the next few days of tour looked like this. Thanks for keeping us moving while you could, NC.