Jason Sandford is founder of Ashvegas.com. Jason grew up in Asheville and is a 20-year veteran journalist.
Transfigurations II, set for Aug. 28-30 at The Mothlight, the Grey Eagle and on Blannahassett Island in Marshall, will feature some incredible talent. The more than 25 performers include: The Clean, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Mudhoney, Michael Hurley, Sonny & The Sunsets, Moon Duo, Angel Olsen, Mount Eerie, Endless Boogie, Reigning Sound, The Sadies, Steve Gunn, Bassholes, and Hiss Golden Messenger.
Perhaps even more notable is that the whole event has been organized by the two owners of Harvest Records, a homey, beloved West Asheville CD and vinyl record shop on Haywood Road, in honor of their 10-year anniversary. Mark Capon and Matt Schnable have done this before, though (for their five-year anniversary), so maybe folks can be forgiven for taking it a bit for granted. They shouldn't.
I recently sat down with Mark and Matt to talk about their event, their business and the Asheville music scene in general. Here we go:
Mark: We're familiar with The Mothlight and The Grey Eagle, so our push is to get people out to Marshall. Half the bands are playing out there, so we're psyched about getting people out there. There are some real legends who will be playing out there like Michael Hurley and we want people to see them.
Matt: Michael Hurley put his first record out in 1964 and his output is still incredible. He's 70-something years old and he's still captivating audiences.
Mark: In our environment, we have access to music people don't and our tastes are a reflection of that. So when we fall in love with someone that most folks don't know, we just want to spread it and bring them to town. I think that is a good overall view of our festival. In 2014, it's all about headliners and corporate sponsorships, which is cool. On our level, we have to focus on what we are good at, which is turning people onto what they don't know about and giving them access to that. This is a celebration of 10 years of doing that.
Matt: It's also about being able to utilize friends we have made over the years to get people to come here. Michael Hurley - we've kept up with him and a friend of ours put us in touch with him. He's flying out here just for this show. We're not a big-budget festival that can do whatever just because we have a lot of money.
Mark: People like Greg Cartwright, William Tyler, Steve Gunn, Angel Olsen are just a few who have helped us out.
Mark: I can't say necessarily I'm surprised. We still have a copy of business plan from 2004, and what we wrote about then is not that different from what we're doing now. It's amazing and inspiring what has happened. But when you look at our customers and how great Asheville has been and being consistent in supporting us, I would say it is at once totally amazing and at the same time not.
Matt: When you open, you're not thinking 10 years. You're' thinking, "I hope we make it one year." Then we make five years and we pay our loan off and do a festival. It's having a long-term vision but not being weighed down by it; by having it but not having it scare you. That would be stifling for me. You have the vision in the back of your mind and the vision is perpetuating what you're doing, but if some idea comes up, then that's the next thing you're working on.
Mark: When you look at Seattle or Athens or whatever, a lot of the time those things just happen naturally, and a lot of times, scenes came from places people didn't care about. New York and LA and Nashville are different. It's tricky because it's something you don't want to force. You want focus energy on art, but if you're trying to force great art, you'll never get it. So maybe the way to make things happen is to implement structural changes to that give people opportunities to create.
There's not really an identity to the Asheville music scene. We've made steps to pull it out of being pigeon-holed as bluegrass or jam band, but you don't want to force a scene to shift gears. You want all sorts of musicians to feel comfortable here. The Mothlight is a great example. Jon has a label and has been dealing with experimental music and now he has a forum to showcase that. That will give him the forum to bring in bands that wouldn't play here otherwise. I think that is what we have tried to do. It's almost our duty to bring people here who otherwise not come here.
Matt: The more venues you have, the more opportunities you have for all types of music. If those things are in place, then you have places for people to play, and places for people to get turned on to new things. That's a natural cultivation of a music scene. Then it's on the Asheville public. If Asheville is going out to shows, then that is the genesis state, and bands are feeling supported and getting funds for their next recording. Hopefully they go on tour and get out of town and get some shows under their belt and expand their audience. But it has to be natural.
Mark: Our city is really proactive for concert going. We have an insane population to party and go outside and see music. People are down here. And people from all over love coming here to do see music. So if can take advantage of that without homogenizing the experience for those people…let's be honest, there are moments downtown that it's like really, is this the direct we're going; and at the same time, you have moments when you have the experience.
Q: Last question, open to you. Is there anything else you want to say or be sure people know about what you're doing?
Mark: Just that people can buy tickets to just one show. We're not asking everyone to come and see everything. Just look at the schedule and see what you want to see.
Matt: We're psyched and we just want people to come out and enjoy it.