6 Artists Not To Miss at Transfigurations II
This coming weekend marks the 10-year anniversary of locally-owned indie gem Harvest Records in Asheville, NC, and founders Matt Schnable and Mark Capon are throwing their baby a fantastic weekend festival to celebrate.
In an era when economic troubles and the rise of behemoths like Amazon have led to the shuttering of many a favorite neighborhood shop, Harvest’s remarkable success has allowed them to constantly evolve in new directions. Transfigurations II (the original Transfigurations was held in 2009) is in many ways a culmination of their efforts, growing out of their encyclopedic knowledge of bands and trends in music and their experience booking hundreds of shows throughout Western North Carolina. The thirty scheduled shows, many of which feature local and regional acts, will be held in Asheville, at the Grey Eagle and The Mothlight, and in the nearby town of Marshall on Blannahassett Island, where an old high school reinvented as studio spaces for local artists sits alongside a tranquil stretch of the French Broad River.
Harvest Records has always striven to “create a space dedicated to the discovery of new music,” and the schedule of Transfigurations II shows their continued commitment to this goal. Schnable and Capon have gathered a strikingly varied assortment of their favorite acts to help them usher in their second decade. Regardless of which shows you pick to attend, you won’t be disappointed. But in case the top-notch schedule has you feeling a bit overwhelmed, we’ve created a guide highlighting our six personal favorites.
Sonny and the Sunsets
Thursday, 9-9:45 pm
Describing themselves as “a beautiful West Coast Thing,” Sonny and the Sunsets create jangly, upbeat songs that go best with a cold beer, a fire pit, and a group of your favorite people. Sonny Smith is the music’s heart and soul, a singer/songwriter who possesses a born-storyteller’s ability to spin narratives and create characters that illuminate the diversity of human experience. Add a tongue-in-cheek awareness of life’s absurdity (revealed in song titles like “Lovin’ on an Older Gal”), a healthy dash of beach rock, and a pinch of psychedelica, and you get pure gold. Sonny and the Sunsets’ most recent album, Antenna to the Afterworld (2013), continues to forge the band’s path to irreverently uncovering the humor and beauty of life.
If Sonny and the Sunsets is the music you listen to while hula-hooping on the beach, Disappears is your soundtrack for when you’ve been snowed into the house for a week watching The Shining on repeat. Minimalist intros open up into swaths of dark, lush sounds that envelop you and take you on an inward journey to the forgotten corners of your secret self. Their most recent album, Era (2013), manifests its moods through the band’s exquisitely executed and controlled instrumentation and the organic melding of resonant, chromatic sounds with occasionally startling aural introjections, including cascades of abstract verbalization, echoes, and screams.
Blannahassett Island Indoor Stage
With Mount Eerie, Washington-based frontman Phil Elverum has created a unique, haunting sound defined by its ability to speak to our dreams and desires. The name Mount Eerie, which comes from the nearby Mount Erie in Elverum’s hometown of Anacortes, WA, attests to the music’s ability to invoke the midnight scenes that have so influenced Elverum. Songs like “Between Two Mysteries” explicitly reference mythos-soaked American landscapes like Twin Peaks while also incorporating echoes of other ecological settings, including the archetypal and endless winters of Scandinavia, where Elverum also briefly lived. Mount Eerie’s music echoes at the level of our deepest connections to nature and to ourselves, something which their latest LP, Pre-Human Ideas (2013), speaks to in its title.
Blannahassett Island Outdoor Main Stage
Brooklyn-based song-spinner and innovator Steve Gunn draws his influences from a dizzying variety of sources, from blues to folk to experimental jazz, creating music that would sound as at home in an intimate basement club in NYC or New Orleans as it would on a sun-dappled front porch in the Carolinas. Gunn’s mastery over the guitar creates enveloping, transportative soundscapes, and his soulful voice is equal parts raspy and smooth, inviting you to drink in his beautifully crafted songs and fall into a gentle, hip-swaying reverie. Time Off (2013), Gunn’s most recent release, also includes the talent of his long-time friends, percussionist John Truscinski and bassist Justin Tripp.
Blannahassett Island Outdoor Small Stage
Angel Olsen’s incredible voice combines the strength and fire of genre-making names in rock and country, like Loretta Lynn, Nancy Sinatra, and Dolly Parton, with a crystalline edge of vulnerability that reveals hypnotic depths of loveliness, sorrow, and rebirth. Olsen is an ethereal singer with a touch of darkness that comes out in every track on her newest LP, Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014). Songs like “Hi-Five” and “Unfucktheworld” speak to loss and pain but also to the peace and stillness that can follow. Olsen’s gorgeous melodies invite us into her world, allowing us to bear witness to her–and our own–journey through a dizzying and beautiful life.
Lee Fields & the Expressions
Saturday, 10:30-11:30 pm
Blannahassett Island Outdoor Main Stage
The last act on the Outdoor Main Stage, Lee Fields & the Expressions will invite you to get your groove on to their soulful blend of funk, R&B, rock, country, and blues. Invoking steamy nights in the Deep South, the music effortlessly folds sweeping instrumentation into Fields’ smooth vocals, which focus on those universal, timeless issues of passionate love and heartbreaking loss. Vice recently called Fields “the coolest motherfucker to sing words into a microphone,” and his songs leave no doubt of this fact. His virtuosic career, which began in the 1960s and has included countless collaborations with other artists, including French house DJ and producer Martin Solveig, has kept the North Carolina-native at the top of his game. His most recent release, Emma Jean (2014), shows that his creative output is as strong as it’s ever been, and his evolution is far from over.
If you’re anywhere near the area, do yourself a favor and head over to Western North Carolina for some of the best shows you’ll this year. Transfigurations II is happening Thursday, August 28th through Saturday, August 30th. Although weekend passes are now sold out, tickets are still available to every show. Check out the amazing full schedule here.