Despite its history and charm, Asheville, North Carolina isn’t widely known as a destination for music and culture. Many associate the town with the Blue Ridge Parkway, hippie drumming, and maybe Black Mountain College, a progressive institution that closed in 1957 but once was a center for artists like Merce Cunningham and John Cage. But look deeper and you’ll also find a contemporary music scene, classy bars, and a population of locals that are culturally aware and proud of their town.
And they’re nice — like deep-South nice. Maybe that’s why Robert Moog decided to spend the last 25 years of his life there.
Moog, an innovator in electronic music, created his legendary Moog synthesizer after experimenting for years with the Theremin. His patented Moog equipment gained popularity at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and now, because of the newly reimagined MoogFest, Bob Moog has again been introduced to a new generation of music lovers. In the midst of the irony of this throwback to analog, when people are arguing its merits against digital, Moogfest brings it all together, hosting a diverse lineup of artists that blend electronic elements with spellbinding showmanship (Jónsi), face-melting pop rock (Sleigh Bells), and folksy acoustics (Mountain Man).
After five years of being a low-key, one-night show in New York, this year AC Entertainment took the reigns, moved Moogfest to Asheville, and turned it into a three-day celebration, complete with performances, workshops, and lectures. This year also marks the first year that big-name national acts like Big Boi, Massive Attack, MGMT, Thievery Corporation, and Hot Chip all converged over the course of a full weekend, joining a jam-packed list of talent that also included El-P, RJD2, Bonobo, Matmos, Jon Hopkins, Emeralds, Omar Souleyman, Four Tet, Dan Deacon, The Octopus Project, DJ Spooky, and many more.
The move is indicative of AC Entertainment’s desire to create more “lifestyle” festivals, like its already-established Bonnaroo. Asheville is the right kind of town for such events, with its bohemian demographic and geographic accessibility. Set in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is home to great natural and architectural wonders, like the Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn. Citizens have easy access to outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and rafting, yet Ashevillians also enjoy the pleasures of urban life with a downtown that’s walkable and filled with unique local businesses.
Music and art have become an important part of the community landscape, and Moogfest gives credit to what locals already know: Asheville is a hub for culture. There’s a thriving “busking” (street-performing) scene and a weekly drum circle. Residencies by the Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys at local venue The Orange Peel first brought attention to the Asheville music scene. Band of Horses and the Avett Brothers (both have native NC band members) have recorded at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios. And The New York Times recently ran an article titled “36 Hours in Asheville,” whose 2007 article of the same name dubbed the mountain town the “Appalachian Shangri-La.”
As proud citizens, Ashevillians speak incessantly about maintaining the tradition of the town. They are adamantly focused on sourcing locally, from food to culture. There were protests when the new Urban Outfitters went in downtown. Ask almost anyone to share a CSA (community-supported agriculture) membership, and they’ll be down for it. They take their community seriously. They also take leisure time seriously. In a town where people want substance with their good times, a festival with a focus on educating its attendees fits right in.
The design of the festival also fits Asheville’s vibe and Moog’s focus on connectivity, via electronics or people. Taking place across multiple venues, MoogFest 2010 (October 29-31) allowed local businesses to show guests what Asheville is about (Asheville Brewing Company, for example, made batches of “Moog-filtered ale,” commemorating the festival and its namesake’s legacy). The boutique approach to the festival allowed each show and venue to foster a unique music adventure, and the proximity of venues to local bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and galleries made it possible for festival-goers to truly experience the town.
Moog would’ve been proud. This year, nearly 8,000 people attended each day of the festival, bringing awareness, commerce, and an eclectic mix of costumes through a small town in North Carolina. “He planted the seed,” said Michelle Moog-Koussa, Moog’s daughter and the executive director of The Bob Moog Foundation.
He did. And it’s blooming in Asheville.