You’ll see a lot of things in Asheville, NC. There’s the mountains, for one. Gorgeous, inviting rolling hills of all colors, surrounding the city in all its natural glory. It’s awe-inspiring, to use a cliche. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, with its stone-cut tunnels and historic bridges, begs to be driven down, if not for a few hours then definitely for 30 minutes. Then there’s the city’s architecture. Established in 1784, and given its name by Governor Samuel Ashe, the city boasts its fair share of structural beauties. When the sun peaks during the day, it’s hard to dismiss the eye-soothing pinks and reds of City Hall or the Basilica of St. Lawrence, the latter of which will have you saying, “How the hell did this get here?” It’s quaint in the sense that, yes, this is a “small town”, but it’s surprising in that it’s much more than that.
There’s an idea to Asheville. You could say it’s a small town with the heart of a city, but you’d be wrong. It’s not a city and it’s not a town. The most obvious word to use would be “community.” At least judging from its downtown area, there appears to be a sense of pride towards ownership. Dozens of independent shops and restaurants litter the area – everything from creative vegan eateries (Rosetta’s Kitchen) to southern-fried goodness (Tingles Cafe) to snazzy bars (Sazerac) – and yet they all work. People flock to them. Items and goods are sold. Smiles filter everywhere. The stores appear happy rather than desperate. It’s great, it’s inspiring, and it’s 100% American.
That’s why Asheville and MoogFest make such a great couple. Despite being the hometown of Moog Music, the overall mission of Robert Moog’s fascinating experiments and technology fully embodies the spirit of community and positivity that pervades the area. People were meant to use these machines to communicate their music in a way they couldn’t before. Seeing as how you can’t cross a street here without coming across one musician pouring his heart and soul out to passersby and pooches, it makes sense that such an open-door instrument would call this place home.
Although New Orleans’ Voodoo Festival capitalized on the Halloween weekend, this year’s inaugural MoogFest has done one hell of a job in making a name for itself. With sold-out ticket tiers and thousands of natives and travelers flooding the intricate downtown streets, all in various (and ultimately creative) costumes, it’s safe to say that this country can handle two landmark music festivals on All Hallow’s Eve.
Three times the charm?
Friday, October 29th
Although Consequence of Sound and WNC Magazine kicked off things the night before at The Southern, with one chill-out DJ set by Saturn Never Sleeps’ King Britt, the party didn’t officially start until around Friday evening. This let everyone else who arrived early to explore the city and take advantage of time. But, that’s exactly what the festival intended.
If you were lucky enough to snag a hotel room at the nearby Four Points Sheraton (basically the hub for all things press and media), then you set yourself up for an easy weekend. Everything’s within walking distance, really. In fact, you can crawl to the Asheville Civic Center. No lie. Well, a little bit of an overstatement, but if you wanted to, you probably could. Bottom line: Comfort should take precedence at music festivals, so here’s a place to start.
King Britt [DJ Set] – CoS/WNC KickOff Party
Photo by Cap Blackard
There’s a reason to focus on where you’re staying. Simply because you’re walking everywhere. This isn’t like Lollapalooza and it’s nothing like that other Ashley Capps-produced event. You know, the one in Manchester? Instead, MoogFest works much like SXSW or Capps’ recent endeavor, Big Ears Festival. Several of the town’s venues take a piece of the line up. There’s the legendary Orange Peel, the vintage-yet-endearing Asheville Civic Center, the corresponding Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Stella Blue, and the Moogaplex. Not only does this give festivalgoers a chance to visit the town’s establishments, but it gets folks out into the nighttime air, offering nearby bars and eateries an opportunity to snag some business for themselves.
The first night started with a bang, but there were some issues. Mild confusion led to some disconnect on where patrons could enter or exit – especially for media – resulting in some traffic issues, at least in terms of moving people around. Several folks seemed lost on where the venues were, as well. The festival had attached maps to the guides, but that didn’t stop attendees from shouting out to one another for directions. It was pretty common to hear, “Dude, you know where the Moogaplex is?” Also, and this isn’t the festival’s fault, but the late-night eating was an issue. Actually, it wasn’t so much an issue as it was just non-existent. Save for the Civic Center’s “ballpark” offerings, and a couple of local places like Rosetta’s or The Bier Garden, there lacked a forum for late-night noshing – which is sort of a must given that the fest goes on until three in the morning. Let’s just say a taco truck would have made a small fortune.
But, by now, you’re probably wondering about the music, right?
The Orange Peel, 6:00 p.m.
Dan Deacon kicked off the inaugural Moogfest by doing something that he had never done stepping away from the wild craziness that usually defines his live show, turning it down a few notches, and performing an improvisatory ambient show. Armed with a table of mostly Moogerfoogers positioned in the crowd and not on the stage, of course Deacon began the set with a genuine speech about the Moog brand and what it means to him personally. According to Deacon, he was excited to play a festival where the main sponsor is a brand he actually believes in, and something that has influenced his music greatly. He was humbled to be playing in the same room as some of the people that actually assemble the Moogs that he uses, and the hoard of people crowded around his table didnt help his nerves. After unsuccessfully suggesting to the crowd that they could take a seat if they wanted to as he explained how this show would be different from his others he decided to lead the crowd in some exercises to help everyone get in the zone. He led everyone in stretching, deep breathing, cartoon noise exhaling, and more. He then made everyone get their own personal space by spreading out to where no one could touch anyone else. Then he tricked them into following his lead and sitting on the ground pretend were at the beach! Just lay down!
Photo by Laura Helen Winn
Once everyone was seated, he finally began his set. Through a series of plugging in wires and turning knobs, he somehow managed to create wonderful pieces of music right on the spot. He played two songs if were using a loose definition of the word and they each had their own very unique vibe. The first began as a rolling and calming ambient piece, but eventually was overrun by spurts of noise but not in a bad way. His second piece was more dark and brooding right from the start, with a bass tone that could rattle your chest. A beat eventually kicked in and Deacon used his voice as an instrument until the piece came to a close. The difference between his early set and his late set were enormous, but they each held their own, especially the ambient set where anything couldve gone wrong but absolutely nothing did. -Carson O’Shoney
The Octopus Project/Devo
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.
Photo by Cap Blackard
Austin, TX’s The Octopus Project is like nothing I’ve ever seen; electro-pop meets Mogwai in a loose sense, a dash of Californian HEALTH, and this is your nutshell. Every song is glazed with instrument change-ups on-stage by the band Ã± guitarist Josh Lambert taking over drums, the poetic inclusion of a Moog theremin by Yvonne Lambert, and so on. A long focus on the band’s two latest electronic-heavy releases, Hello, Avalanche and Hexadecagon, had the scarce and costumed crowd discernibly engulfed in bizarre imagery and positive energy.
Photo by Cap Blackard
As if a giant banana and some colorful fairies seizing to “Truck” wasn’t icing on the cake, Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo made an astounding surprise guest appearance for a brief monologue about the band’s relationship with Robert Moog, the synthesizer factory heaven Mothersbaugh was privy to in ’70s New York, and a grand finale of “Girl U Want” and “Beautiful World”. We wish Devo the best, and though we’re sad to have seen them cancel, this little collaborative effort will be remembered forever in Moog – and spud – history. Now, where can we play their special synthesizer? -David Buchanan
Asheville Civic Center, 8:00 p.m.
Photo by Laura Helen Winn
Big Bois hype man claimed that they were the coolest motherf**kers on the planet. After Friday nights show at Moogfest, Im inclined to agree with him. The moment Big Boi walked on stage, he had the entire arenas attention, and he never let it go throughout the whole show. From song one it was a non-stop party, with Big Boi playing cuts from throughout OutKasts discography as well as fresh tracks from his new album, Sir Luscious Leftfoot. From “Rosa Parks” and “So Fresh, So Clean” to “B.O.B.” and “Ms. Jackson” the OutKast songs received the biggest response. Big Boi even dove into his groups first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, for Players Ball. Thats not to say the new songs weren’t fantastic live they were just as huge as he intended them to be. As I looked around the Civic Center, even the people on the top level of the arena could not stop dancing for the whole hour he was on-stage. Big Boi put it best himself in a tweet after the show O yeah we just DESTROYED #Moogfest #weoutchea -Carson O’Shoney
Asheville Civic Center, 6:30 p.m.
An act like MGMT has built an accidental pedestal trying to be two things at once, essentially an amalgamation of psychedelic experimentation and modern pop; a clumsy gamble for a band only onto its sophomore release. As an innocent bystander watching the rise of MGMT, you get the feeling that they’re a very confused group of boys, experimenting within certain comfort zones while also branching out into the unknown, which essentially has resulted in a post-modern picture of ’60s psychedelia. Oh, and a few kick-ass music videos.
Photo by Laura Helen Winn
For a raging, energetic crowd, maxing out the wide open space of Asheville’s Civic Center, MGMT took advantage of the energy. Early on, “It’s Working” and “Time to Pretend” kept costumed fans dancing and hopping over one another – most were singing the songs word for word. However, towards the middle, and following another crowd favorite “The Electric Feel”, the band turned to more material off of Congratulations and admittedly the crowd diminished. The lull in back to back spacey tracks didn’t sit well for those who came in with glow sticks and a desire to dance and “freak out.” However, for the thousands that remained, MGMT bounced back reliably with “Kids”, working off some lights and sounds that created a cloud of hum and happiness for “Brian Eno” and the meditative ballad, “Congratulations”. A little work on the set’s pulse rate could improve an otherwise tight and enjoyable set, even for this non fanatic. -David Buchanan
Van Dyke Parks
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, 11:00 p.m.
Photo by Laura Helen Winn
Van Dyke Parks has long been one of pop musics unsung heroes. Most famous for his collaborations with Brian Wilson, hes also worked with everyone from U2 to Joanna Newsom. His fans treated him the right way at Moogfest, with the utmost respect. Beginning (and ending) the set by telling the audience, be nice to each other or Ill kill you! – Parks played a set filled with the pleasant songs that makes him such a popular collaborator. Of course, his Brian Wilson tunes received the biggest response. Towards the end of the set, Claire from Claire and the Reasons, the band supporting him on his current tour, came out to do a few songs including a wonderful version of Heroes and Villains. The crowd was appreciative of Parks, and Parks was appreciative of the crowd. It was a big love fest and Parks looked like he had a great time being the ringleader. -Carson O’Shoney
Asheville Civic Center, 12:00 a.m.
Take one part D&D player, one part Skittles bag, and a liberal helping of radio transmissions from deep space, and Dan Deacon is your result. From improvised dance contests to spoken word to commands and vocal distortion Deacon is like sonic awesome, digitized for consumption, and while he can be a bit much for the lesser eccentric types, the acquired taste is something akin to Mike & Ike’s. As someone just getting introduced to Deacon’s repertoire (Meetle Mice = brain enema), the entire set was an experience that fed off of everyone participating.
On that note, Deacon isn’t so much a one-man band as he is a character with a voice-changer and some trippy lights coming from his mind. Enough said, check the static yourself. -David Buchanan
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, 12:30 a.m.
Photo by Laura Helen Winn
To be honest, I was a bit worried about Panda Bears live show. Ive always loved his work with and without Animal Collective, but I had heard mixed reviews of his live shows. Luckily, he laid those thoughts down to rest and came out on top in the wee hours of Saturday morning. With only a table of looping machines and a guitar, Panda Bear put on a show to remember. He only played three old songs Ponytail, Comfy in Nautica, and Animal Collectives Daily Routine – but some of the new songs showed the potential to become new favorites. The shows opener was an astounding number that found him switching seamlessly between harsh white noise and a deep bass beat, all while keeping his voice as great as ever. The new songs ranged from slow, meditative pieces to straight up dance songs so if its anything like his live show, it looks like fans of every side of Panda Bear should be satisfied with his upcoming album, Tomboy. -Carson O’Shoney
Asheville Civic Center, 1:00 a.m.
Feed The Animals is, to me, the epitome of party music this decade Gregg Gillis’ latest foray into full-length album mash-ups. The man known as Girl Talk, infamous for his reputation as that guy with laptops hosting the big-ass house parties, is a forefront representative for the new age of DJs (term disc jockey used loosely). If you spin vinyl, the purist in you might mock him; if you embrace the digital age, you might see him on-stage, surrounded by dancing fans, and think he’s on cocaine.
Halloween weekend 2010 will go down as Girl Talk’s swiftest letdown in hype: entering dressed as Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare On Elm Street, he jolted the crowd with a Black Sabbath/Ludacris mash, some Halloween-themed pieces, lots of fun pop, and insertions from Feed The Animals, whereas the last half of Gillis’ performance hit a couple of tech snags (me thinks hard for one guy and two laptops) and a lapse in crowd return of energy. When people are dozing off at the second helping of your show, they aren’t full on Thanksgiving turkey or crashing on the candy buzz…they are bored. -David Buchanan
Gallery by Cap Blackard
Gallery by Laura Helen Winn