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ETHAN ANDREW MCMAHAN Local rapper Eazy (aka Ethan Andrew McMahan) spits the sort of verses and expounds upon topics that would probably make his grandmother blush. He’s also been featured on mix tapes with the likes of Yelawolf, Wakaflaka and Machine Gun Kelly, according to his bio. His Bele Chere appearance is likely to be not soon forgotten. therealeazy


MICHAEL RENO HARRELL Michael Reno Harrell’s long, white locks and somewhat silly demeanor might have you expecting Americana frivolity — lightweight yarns good for a laugh and little else. But one would be mistaken to judge this veteran folk storyteller by his album covers. His mastery spans acoustic ballads, stark, hardhearted blues and pure-and-piercing bluegrass. The tales he spins match his stylistic diversity. Keenly capturing wry country wisdom, Harrell ably adapts it to whatever tone he’s pursuing, consistently charming with disparate sounds.

GROWN UP AVENGER STUFF When Charlotte’s Grown Up Avenger Stuff isn’t fighting crime and modeling the latest fashions (as they did last fall for Charlotte Magazine), the musicians blend punk, blues and art rock into their own potent elixir. The band is dad John Thomsen, with sons Tyler and Hunter, and award-winning vocalist Dierdre Kroener.



Originally from the Virgin Islands, reggae outfit Inner Visions is all about family. Made up of two brothers and two songs, the band (all with storied nicknames: Grasshopper, Jupiter, Mr. Snooze and Hollywood) are Bele Chere favorites. Deep grooves, island flavor, positive messages and well-preserved roots reggae traditions are what they bring to the stage.

KOVACS & THE POLAR BEAR Asheville indie-rockers Kovacs & the Polar Bear have been going through some growing pains. They saw multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Lee move to the West Coast earlier this year. His spot has since been filled by Casey Ellis on bass and Xpress writer Dane Smith on keys, guitar and banjo. The good news, of course, is Kovacs’ excellent catalog of songs and infectiously fun stage presence are still solid as it gets.

JODY MEDFORD & CASH CREEK Baritone vocalist Jody Medford kind of rap-sings, but that’s not nearly as important as his subject matter: moonshine. His song, “Moonshine,” recorded with the band Cash Creek, is a Jerry Scoggins-style (singer of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”) play-by-play on the art of moonshine production. It was inspired by the late moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, and one of Sutton’s stills in featured in the video for Medford’s song.

LARRY KEEL AND NATURAL BRIDGE Larry Keel specializes in flat-picked folk that honors mountain music traditions while also appealing to fans who just want a catchy ditty. With Natural Bridge, he nimbly adapts bluegrass trappings to his own purposes, using mandolins and banjos to texture breezy ballads and gritty folk rave-ups. Keel unites his various strands of Americana with gruffly gratifying pipes, growling through the intense moments and diminishing to a fractured whisper when emotions are tender.

LORRAINE CONARD BAND Lorraine Conard makes the kind of bright, easymoving folk-rock that requires talent and stage

presence. Her band’s pleasant melodies and rustically comfortable arrangements would be common to the point of meaninglessness were it not for Conard’s deft songwriting and softly smoldering vocal chords. Anyone could easily name a few dozen artists making similarly laid-back blues and wistful folk ruminations, but Conard still manages to stand out, a testament to her talented and passionate approach to music.


BY DANE SMITH It’s starting to seem like Dr. Dog has a crush on Asheville. The Philadelphia-based five-piece performed at the Orange Peel in March, it headlines this weekend’s Bele Chere festival and it’s slated to return again in August for a slot at nearby Boone’s Music on the Mountaintop. Not to mention the gushing endorsements for Asheville’s own Seth Kauffman (Floating Action) that appear regularly in interviews with the band. Or maybe we’d just like to think Dr. Dog is smitten. “We go where people ask us to go,” says bassist/ songwriter Toby Leaman. “We have been trying to think a little more about playing down South. That’s always been an area that we hit a little more sporadically than we’d like to. “I mean, we all really like Asheville. That’s one of our favorite places to go to, just because of the town, and obviously we get to see Seth and his guys and all of our buddies and stuff. Whenever we get an offer to play down there, we hop on it.” So we’ll call it a mutual affection. And what’s not to love about Dr. Dog? For more than a decade, the band has been churning out irresistibly catchy indie pop with clear echoes of classic rock, soaring harmonies and a bouncy optimism. Live shows are exhaustingly energetic, the band is charming and engaging and, perhaps most importantly, it’s immediately apparent that they’re all having a damn good time.


The band is founded on the 20-year songwriting collaboration of Leaman and multi-instrumentalist Scott McMicken, who began writing together in middle school. Miraculously, the pair have managed to evolve as songwriters and maintain such consistency in their respective offerings that it’s often difficult to discern who wrote what. “Sometimes I feel like we’re really dissimilar in our songwriting, and then other times I feel like we’re doing the exact same thing; it’s just one of us is doing it instead of the other one,” explains Leaman. “And both times it feels fine. Every once in a while you’ll come up with what you think is great and it turns out it’s a stinker. And that makes you kinda feel weird ... But that’s exactly what should happen some of the time. It would be sorta pointless to have a collaborator that just agreed with whatever you thought was cool.” The band’s latest album, Be the Void, was just released in February, but already the prolific outfit is preparing another. This offering, says Leaman, will be a five-song EP, to be released exclusively on 10” vinyl, consisting of tracks recorded during the last album cycle but never released. And while it’s exciting to have an outlet for the unused material, he admits that it also has a downside. “I always have to remind myself that releasing EPs and singles and all that kind of stuff is never the same thing as releasing a record. Those songs will never get any attention. So it’s always kind of frustrating when you’re like, ‘What the f--k? This song rules and nobody’s ever going to hear it.’ The reason the songs didn’t make the record is not that they weren’t good enough, they just didn’t fit.”

Asheville’s Sanctum Sully fits right in with the progressive contingent leading the charge in N.C. bluegrass. Like Steep Canyon Rangers or Chatham County Line, the band’s melodic pathways are paved mostly with pop, harnessing tangled acoustic instrumentation to make hooks as unavoidably catchy as mountain bramble. The recently released Trade Winds sees the group refining its approach, and rustic harmonies and bustling arrangements add a comfortably road-worn feel to slick and satisfying songs.

THE SWAYBACK SISTERS The first line in the Swayback Sisters’ online bio trumpets the fact that they are a “close harmony trio based out of Asheville,” and, truth be told, that pretty much sums it up. With guitar, banjo and bass, they pick their way through mostly mountain styles, ranging from Appalachian blues permutations to unfettered ballads. But in every case they downplay their instruments, playing quietly to give their well-matched voices room to reverberate. Musically solid and self-aware, these Sisters are sure to please.

THE TRAVIS SMITH PROJECT Spartanburg’s Travis Smith Project offers a compelling mix of experience levels. Smith, who leads this Christian-informed folk and R&B outfit, is a relative newcomer, highlighted by his Facebook bio, which notes that in 2005 he “was recognized as the Best Male Vocalist at the Lee Roy Water’s Talent Show in Woodruff, S.C.” His drummer, John Rutledge, on the other hand, has been playing since the ‘70s. A little old and a little new, this project strives to please all comers.

YO MAMA’S BIG FAT BOOTY BAND Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band does not value subtlety. The Asheville funk outfit specializes in come-ons and rhythms that are unflinchingly frank. Take “@$$,” the second jam on this year’s Doin’ It Hard. The song’s hook is a call-and-response where one member sings “Badonkadonk” and the rest scream “Shake it!” “I like what your momma gave to you, now give it to me!” they cry over a twostepping bass line that just won’t quit. This Booty Band is after a sexy good time, plain and simple.

Mountain Xpress, July 25 2012  
Mountain Xpress, July 25 2012  

Independent news, arts, events and information for Asheville and Western North Carolina