Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Seven Circles of Friday Night Drumming

    Anyone who has traveled through downtown Asheville on a summer Friday evening has heard a rhythmic beating from the heart of Pritchard Park. Those more familiar with the city recognize this pulsing sound as Asheville’s drum circle.
    Asheville is a popular destination for weekenders looking to unwind, and the drum circle certainly gives them the chance to loosen up. I’ve spent quite a few Friday evenings at the drum circle myself, sometimes listening and occasionally attempting to dance. After many weekends I have noticed a hierarchy within the circle, beginning on the sidewalks around the park and working to the center. 

    On the outer level are the hula hoop dancers. Though not quite part of the true drum circle, these hoopers enjoy the attention of those headed to check out the beating drums. Their swirling LED-lit hoops also add to the rave-like atmosphere. 

    Moving slightly inward are the interested yet shy onlookers. This audience is typically comprised of  middle aged couples (often with kids), those wanting to join the party but not quite outgoing enough to actually get up and move their hips. They still provide quite a bit of on- and off-beat clapping creating their own rhythm. 

    Many of the drummers in attendance aren’t quite part of the real ensemble, rather people of the community who play for their own enjoyment. Instead of sitting on the stairs with the others, these rogue percussionists (or piccolo players, occasionally) wander through the throng to the beat of their own drums.  

    The drum circle is a college kid hot-spot, and the 4th level is made up of raving students. Often less inhibited, my peers contribute to the loud and raucous yelling that accompanies an increase in cadence. My cross country teammates and I often bring recruits here to get a taste of Asheville life. 

    Some of my favorite drum circle attendees are the dancers in the middle – those who have jangling bell-bedecked scarves tied around their waists to contribute to the music. Even on my most outgoing days I don’t sway half as hypnotically as these entertainers. Their twirling hands are the only movements I can imitate. 

    One of the most important parts of the drum circle is the crowd of drummers sitting along the steps in the park playing on smaller mobile instruments. Percussionists from around Asheville unite to create the beat that pulses through the crowd. Interestingly, these drummers have no written notes to play from. Instead, someone introduces a tempo and everyone else adds their own beat creating a new authentic sound every week. 

    Finally, those who apparently have no fear of bursting ear drums make up the inner sanctum. These drummers play on standing drums allowing them room to dance with the mob at the heart of the park as they beat their instruments.
   The first time I went to the drum circle in my first week of college, I was intimidated by all of the people who were not self-conscious. But, through many trips to the drum circle this summer I’ve managed to enjoy every level of the experience - even taking a drum stick to a snare in the very center of the throng. I had to dance my way back out of the mob camera in-hand and toes tapping. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Experience Facing the Lens

    As a photographer, I don’t often have (or want to have) the chance the stand on the other side of the lens. But, a couple weeks ago I met with Deborah McGrane, owner of Facing the Lens photography, and got to see how the other side lives as I modeled for her.
    Newly a resident of the River Arts District community, Deborah moved to Asheville to give her dream of becoming a full-time photographer a go. Here, she has begun to expand her wedding photography business as well as her macro photography art.
    But, Deborah is not just any normal person with a camera. Her vibrant nature and ability to make her subjects comfortable by making them laugh allows her to create expressive portraits that actually show the personalities and emotions of those she photographs. While I was modeling for her, Deborah kept up a continuous conversation about cats (a shared love) and life so that rather than stiffly sitting for a portrait, I could smile and laugh. This allowed my photographer to capture some great expressions – like a mischievous grin when telling the story of feeding my cat at the Thanksgiving dinner table or a blushing smile when discussing how I met my boyfriend.
    We also talked about photography in detail. Our styles are similar; we both try to catch the little moments filled with pure emotion to create a narrative. This holds especially true in wedding photography. Deborah says that she embraces the cheesy happiness of weddings so that when the couple looks back on their photos they remember exactly how they felt when they watched their spouse walk down the aisle.
    The owner of Facing the Lens also focuses on less emotive subjects: flowers. While her portraiture explores emotions to create a story, her solitary art of macro photography explores the raw physical beauty of nature. When I first met Deborah at her studio, I had a hard time focusing on the interview I was conducting because I could not take my eyes off of the canvas-lined walls. These photos expose intricate geometric patterns within the flowers she had chosen that could not be seen by the naked eye, but my favorite part about them was the saturated colors of the pieces that brought the room to life. 

    Deborah works in the Riverview Station studio in the River Arts District. 

    Deborah and I both agree that working with another person as passionate about our art as we are can be an incredible learning experience, and this held true in our partnership. Being in front of the camera as a model rather than behind the lens taught me more about positioning subjects in an aesthetically pleasing and comfortable way in one afternoon than hours of photographing could have. And I was able to capture a few shots of Deborah’s hilarious impishness so that she could have some personality shots of her own. 

 "Please, tell me more about myself!" 

    Deborah also helped me understand my passion for photography. As she said, “I don’t have a really deep reason for why I got into photography, but I’m good at it and want to share it with people. It makes people happy and it makes me happy.”

It's always fun to find a fellow cat-lady-artist. Meet Mr. Bingley, the cat. 

Check out Deborah's photography at

Monday, July 1, 2013

Street Performers: Part I

Amazing Grace is a moving song no matter who performs it. But Rhoda Weaver filled the entire street with her loud, stirring voice.

    Asheville is a town full of artists, but not all artists present their work in a studio or music hall. Especially when the weather is nice, on any given street corner there is at least one performer sharing their particular form of art with people traversing downtown. Or sometimes simply performing for the local critters. 
    Many of these artists are “traditional” performers: musicians. But these musicians are far from traditional. Each has a personal flair, from belting out Amazing Grace in a doorway (above), to creating music with a washboard and a fork (below).

The epitome of a Bohemian band, the Carolina Catskin's hair was almost more fascinating than their music.

    Musicians staking out the busiest street corners attract large crowds that stand together entranced for a song or two. These people group together as strangers, and go their separate ways strangers again, but for those one or two songs they’re made acquaintances through this shared musical world the performers create. Every time I stop with a crowd to listen, I always end up chatting with someone for a minute about how good the music is. I don’t ever know the person, but the music creates a sense of camaraderie. 
    Other artists find more peaceful alleys to practice new songs or to simply play without the strain of performing for an audience (or making money.) These musicians may be harder to see, but their poignant notes follow you through otherwise quiet streets. One evening I was walking back to my car after an evening of photographing performers, when I came across a young lady singing as she played guitar. She was sitting in a doorway at the far end of Wall Street halfway through writing a new song. Shy as she was, she did not want me to take her picture, but she let me sit and listen a while, captivated. Even as I walked away, her beautiful faint notes trailed after me and played through my head the rest of the evening.

I have seen Peter Levitov play his didgeridoo by the flat iron monument many an evening. 

Apparently this sax man played a mean enough sax that he paid for a trip to Europe last summer from his earnings. 

This group, self-titled the Stillwater Hobos, is one of my favorites I've seen so far. From their interesting taste in pants, to their catchy Irish tunes, these guys quickly caught my attention. And their exuberance for the performance kept me there through four songs, even though I was on my way to work.