Music, Clubs and Nightlife in Asheville NC

From left to right: Afromotive, Larry Keel and Steve McMurry, Trey Anastasio, Galactic, Burning Spear - Photo David Oppenheimer
Left to right: Afromotive, Larry Keel & Steve McMurry, Trey Anastasio, Galactic, & Burning Spear - Photo David Oppenheimer
Musical notes - clipart

Introduction to the Asheville Music Scene

Afromotive lead singer at the Orange Peel - Photo David Oppenheimer
Afromotive lead singer at the
Orange Peel - Photo David

Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, was once asked to describe the geography of Mexico. His only response was to crumble up a piece of paper. The same could be said of the Asheville music scene. No particular definition is appropriate. The only answer deserving of merit is “there’s something for everyone.”

Indie shoegazers can safely bob their heads to ambient tricksters, Body of John the Baptist, relive Eliot Smith type musings with Nights Bright Colors, or dissemble their minds with the prog freak out of The Ahleuchatistas.

Jazz cats can see Django Rheinhardt relived with the Gypsy jazz of One Leg Up, slip into lounge cool with The Red Light Trio, or witness the progression of modern jazz with the two piece wunderkinds, Speedsquare.

Asheville music also educates, giving way to expanding the mind beyond the normal parameters of music. Two bands, the Afromotive and Toubab Krewe are influenced heavily by West African music. Both bands elicit elation on the dancefloor while also making listeners curious about the musical leanings of the Dark Continent.

Mother Vinegar jamming out at the Orange Peel - Photo David Oppenheimer
Mother Vinegar jamming out at
the Orange Peel - Photo David

Feeling like releasing your inner hippie? Mother Vinegar sports snaky grooves aligned with smart lyrics, courtesy of Karl Engelmann who used to pen songs for Umphrey’s McGee. Bandmate Kevin Cassels is known for authoring the Pharmer’s Almanac, a book dedicated to everything about the jam titan four piece, Phish. Seepeoples, another Asheville based bands, expertly spews political barbs without compromising its danceable feel. They can also move from electronica to Brit Pop seamlessly.

Hip hop owns a steady pulse thanks to collectives like GFE and the Fist Family. Singer songwriters and DJ’s vie for top spots at open mics. Death metal digests easily with Subramanium, and the divas enable the blush thanks to silky voices like Molly Kummerle of Ruby Slippers, Stephanie Morgan of Stephanie’s ID, and singer songwriter Eliza Lynn.

What else? This writer would be ceremoniously drawn and quartered if there wasn’t at least “a mention” of bluegrass. Asheville is a picking mecca, whispered in the same breath as places like Telluride. If you need a quick education on all that’s plucky, step over to Shindig on the Green, a free festival that runs each year from July to September. Mountain musicians adverse to studio surroundings or tour employment gather on the courthouse green to jam. Sometimes their sounds even bypass the hot pickers who shirk their tour duties for a night to come play on the Green.

Woody Wood playing with Ya Mama's Big Fat Booty Band at UNCA - Photo David Oppenheimer
Woody Wood playing at UNCA
- Photo David Oppenheimer

Hankering for more authenticity? Head over to eighty year old Nelia Hyatt’s home on Brevard Road every Thursday for a hometown jam and potluck. Now in its 55th year, Mrs. Hyatt hosts whatever person shows up—armed with instrument or not.

Grammy winner David Holt (a musician/folklorist who’s single-handedly revived the mountain music scene) calls Asheville home, as well as Grammy winner banjoist Marc Pruitt of Whitewater Bluegrass Company. The young bluegrassers are creating their own traditions, racking up awards that only elevates Asheville’s bluegrass scene to yet another apex. The fabulous Steep Canyon Rangers won the coveted 2006 Emerging Artist of the Year honors at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Nashville; and Town Mountain won top prize in 2005 at the band competition at the 33rd annual Rocky Grass Festival in Lyons, Colorado.

There’s more, but to mention every worthy musician would rival Tolstoy for wordiness. Every night of the week is bouncing with some kind of new sound that adds another notch to Asheville’s diversity. The ear will pick up many things if one is willing to investigate. You might hear a banjo interloping on an electronica loop, and you could be transported--in the same club--to 1920’s Dixieland and then thrust into urban modernism with break beats. It’s all here. Just remember to call home before coming out. You might never come back.

- Written by Hunter Pope

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Featured Asheville Music Venues

Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club

The Orange Peel

101 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
1-866-468-7630 (for tickets)

The Orange Peel, opened (for the second time) in the Fall of 2002 and has quickly made a name for itself from coast to coast as a great place to see live music. The building was a skating rink in the 1950's, after that it was the site of several soul and R&B clubs, the most prominent was called, The Orange Peel. After 20+ years of sitting mostly vacant, the club was renovated and reopened by new management, but kept the same name. Ever since, national and international bands of all styles have been playing the Peel to rave reviews. Some of the more prominent artists to perform include Bob Dylan, the Flaming Lips, Blondie, Jurassic 5, and Joe Cocker. The Orange Peel is only open when there is a show scheduled. Shows are scheduled frequently, almost always on weekend nights and occasionally up to seven nights a week. Shows usually start at 8 or 9pm, and last for varying lengths depending on the artist performing. It contains a hardwood floor, high ceiling, a powerful sound and light system, and 'the cleanest toilets in the South'. Most shows are 18 and over, although some are 16+ or all ages, consult the club for more info. This thousand-person capacity venue frequently sells out, so if there's a show you're set on attending, you might want to get advance tickets to avoid disappointment. The Orange Peel is a NON SMOKING venue. No membership is required, beer and wine is served, and the average ticket price range is $12-$18 (sometimes more, sometimes less).

Grey Eagle

The Grey Eagle

185 Clingman Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Some folks have been known to have a little trouble finding the Gray Eagle for the first time as it's not located in a pedestrian-heavy area. Once they locate it between Future Traditions warehouse and the Silver Dollar cafe though, they'll see that it's really not that far from all the downtown action and stands guard over Asheville's River Arts District. Quaint and cozy, the Gray Eagle seems to be a modified house-turned-listening room. The Eagle has always been known for it's crystal clear sound, bluegrass, Zydeco, and contra dancing. Recently, they have been making a name for themselves on the Indie rock circuit, with Harvest Records presenting a series of concerts there. You can go hungry to the Gray Eagle because it hosts the Twin Cousins Kitchen, serving up authentic Cajun cuisine. The Gray Eagle has a capacity of just over 600 people and is NON-SMOKING. All ages are welcome, beer and wine are served.

One Stop Deli and Bar

One Stop Deli & Bar

55 College Street
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 255-7777

The One Stop Deli & Bar is a neighborhood hangout in downtown Asheville providing you w/great food and great entertainment six nights a week. Come on down for some quick, cheap, healthy and delicious hot & cold Deli Sandwiches, grab a local brew or a drink at our full service bar and stay for the show. We are proud to present you with local meats we smoke in house and the best produce we can procure from local farms. The One Stop Deli & Bar is open Tues-Sat at 11AM for lunch, and if you can’t make it in we’ll Deliver it to you for free in downtown Asheville. We are your late night snacking spot as well, our kitchen will be open until 2am! The One Stop and Geniass Productions strives to bring you the best Local, Regional and National music we can fit into our room, six nights a week. Keep your eyes out for great music of all descriptions and special events w/National artists. We are also committed to growing the local and regional music scene – come see them here first!

Emerald Lounge

The Emerald Lounge

112 N Lexington Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 232-4372

The 'E Lounge' is one of the focal points of Asheville's hippy scene. It's a somewhat small, very dark room with suspect bathrooms. It usually doesn't open up until 10pm or later. On a busy night they'll be lots of people hanging out on the sidewalk outside; maybe for some fresh air, or maybe because you can hear and see the music just as well from outside and you can avoid paying the cover. The Emerald Lounge hosts jam, bluegrass, reggae, and Hip Hop shows frequently. Every Tuesday night is reggae night and every Wednesday night is Hip Hop night, both with DJs. The Emerald Lounge has a full bar and you need to be over 21 with a membership. If you don't have a membership, a member will be happy to sign you in.



113 Broadway St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 285-0400

The first time you go to Broadway's you might look around and wonder if all these people drinking PBR’s are trying to channel the spirit of Johnny Cash. They are. Broadway's is a two story dive bar and popular hangout with Asheville's 'hipster' crowd. Downstairs are pool tables, pinball, and the best jukebox in Asheville. (Which has recently gotten even better as it's now one of those high-tech gadgets that can play nearly any song you can think of. Thank you, internet.) Upstairs is an outdoor patio which can be quite nice in appropriate weather. The inside area of the second floor is where the shows occur (mostly garage rock) and on Wednesdays is the location of 80's night (free for members). 80's night at Broadway's is nearly an institution and really gets going after midnight; if you find yourself at some strangers house muttering incoherently as the sun rises don't say we didn't warn you about 80's night. In other words, mischief often ensues. Broadway's has a full bar, membership is required, or you need to be signed in as a guest. They're pretty strict about the member policy at Broadway's, the door guys can be a bit curt, you just need to grow to see it as part of their charm.

Tressa's Downtown

Tressa's Downtown Jazz and Blues

28 Broadway
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-7072

Tressa's Downtown Jazz and Blues is a popular hangout of jazz aficionados, swingers, and the well-dressed. A membership is required and there is usually a modest cover charge for the night's band. The downstairs is best know for it's jazz bands and allows smoking. Upstairs is known as Breathe, Asheville's only oxygen bar and usually has a DJ and a cozy fireplace. Both floors are well-known for their martinis. 21+

Dancing, Bars & Nightlife

If nightlife is part of your life, Asheville is not one to disappoint. There is always something going on no matter what night of the week you want to go out. Be sure to check our Calendar of Events to see what is going on and if that doesn’t work then check out the Mountain Xpress. Although both are great resources, nothing beats getting out there and exploring. Besides, Asheville is an accepting and tolerant place, so no matter what you cup of tea, there is probably a group or niche waiting just for you.

AshevilleNow Calendar Clipart
Asheville Calendar of Events

Beer lovers will be elated by the variety of great bars in town, many of which feature locally brewed beers, and just about every wine & spirit a seasoned connoisseur could desire. The local breweries include:

  • French Broad Brewing Company
  • Highland Brewing Company
  • Asheville Brewing Company
  • Pisgah Brewing Company

Some pubs like the Bier Garden and Barley’s have more taps than one could possibly try in a single night. We even have our very own Asheville Brews Cruise where one can not only get a taste of local beers, but do it in tour style. Brewgrass is an annual festival held each fall for fans of beer and bluegrass.

If you love dancing then you only have to choose which type and Asheville is sure to accommodate. Ballet, Folk Dancing, Latin, Salsa, Swing, Belly, Contra, and Club Dancing are a few of the types you will find in the Asheville scene. Warren Wilson is popular for its weekly contra dancing, Bobo’s always has a DJ laying down some phat beats, and Margaritaville on Patton has Salsa dancing on Wednesday nights. On the weekends Z Lounge, and Magnolia’s are also popular spots to get down with your bad self. Just get out there and explore and you won’t be disappointed.

Musical notes - clipart

Asheville Music History

Warren Haynes at Bele Chere 2006 - Photo David Oppenheimer
Warren Haynes at Bele Chere
2006 - Photo David Oppenheimer

Assessing downtown Asheville’s recent musical history is akin to organizing leaves with a blower. Genres, clubs, and musicians are too plentiful to count, and giving credit to one entity leaves out a score of others. Perhaps the best way to gauge the rise of Asheville music is to go back to December 29th, 1989. It’s the day that the now defunct venue, 45 Cherry Street, became the launching pad for Asheville’s biggest yearly attraction. It’s a gala that now attracts troubadour titans like Dave Matthews, the Funky Meters, and Phil Lesh. The event is the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and its meteoric rise from a smattering of onlookers to 7,000 rabid fans is a testament to Asheville becoming a musical weather vane.

Back then, however, the marquee names’ popularity (except for one) was indigenous only inside the Asheville city limits. The pioneers of this debut event were Crystal Zoo (who went on to some national notoriety), Mike Barnes, the Stripp Band, the McBad Brothers band, and of course Asheville’s music ambassador, Mr. Warren Haynes. It was Haynes and Mick Hayes (of Crystal Zoo and David Alan Coe) who came up with the idea to get local musicians together to play for charity.

It was called “The Christmas Jam, Musician’s X-Mas Reunion.” It’s grown every year, and now it takes a dexterous finger on phone or computer to obtain a ticket of almost Willy Wonka proportions. The 2006 event sold out in less than a day. This rise is not only due to Haynes’s growing popularity, but also Asheville’s growing maturity as a music Mecca.

The early 90’s saw Asheville’s music scene in the throes of awkward puberty. Music venues popped up all the time, but many were short lived and badly managed. The usual formula consisted of the owner having an intense interest in music, but it melded with bad business skills. Since venues expired quicker than month old milk, it was hard for the music culture to come together. Plus, there were no larger venues (i.e. Stella Blue, the Orange Peel) for a local artist to move up to. Still, places like 45 Cherry, 31 Patton, Sonny’s Bistro, the Squash Pile, etc. gave the musicians hope.

One can consult the mercurial rise of Asheville natives, The Archers of Loaf, as a symbol of the fractured nature of the early 90’s music scene. Darlings of the indie world, the Archers of Loaf (along with Superchunk) became the sound of Chapel Hill. Although all four members hailed from Asheville, they moved to Chapel Hill in 1991 (forming soon thereafter) due to its fertile music scene. There’s a good chance that if Asheville had a more abundant musical environment back then, the Archers of Loaf would have stayed, thus bringing more attention to Asheville early on.

Nonetheless, the quartet never forgot their roots, and they promoted bands from the area, including the now defunct band, The Mathmatics. One of the members, Milton Carter, now lives in Brooklyn, where he owns a t-shirt line. It was Carter (along with Rob Best) who put out “The Decline of Western North Carolina Volumes 1-3” (Atone Records) from 1995-1998. The music was raw, snarly, and represented Asheville musicians who only bowed down to the DIY creed. Bands like the Merle, Luvsix, 7 foot Spleen, and Tripod became the sound of Asheville’s mid and late 90’s scene. It was hard rock with a melodic undercurrent. They proved that Asheville didn’t have to be primarily a bluegrass or edgy southern rock town. They brought in diversity, as well as adversity. These bands survived despite a lack of interconnectedness among venues. The poster child for this DIY attitude came from the legendary venue, Vincent’s Ear.

The Ear opened in the summer of 1993 with partners Rick and Joan Morris and Kristen Chambers. Most of the storefronts that adorned Lexington Avenue at the time were vacant. Vincent’s courtyard became a late night way station for drifters and prostitutes.

“It was a very scary street,” Joan Morris told Mountain Xpress’s Steve Shanafelt.

Despite the downtrodden surroundings, Vincent’s flourished because of its desire to support from the community level. Local artwork was always the venue’s main décor, and the owners’ main thrust was to get acts that would entice the locals instead of looking for the highest selling ticket. Vincent’s also became one of the first places where local musicians could schmooze with DIY national acts like the White Stripes. This sort of famous proximity gave Asheville musicians hope that staying true to a musical vision could render future success.

Arriving around the same time as Vincent’s was Be Here Now, a 550 person venue with the capability of attracting national acts. Be Here Now (before it closed in 1998) drew in marquee names like Leo Kottke, Chris Whitley, Peter Rowan, and Lucinda Williams. Like Vincent’s, the venue latticed local with national. Both venues were an important stepping stone for Asheville music because it could give a little known local musician the ability to step up and shine at a nationally recognized venue. One of the biggest local beneficiaries of BHN was the Blue Rags, a highly influential band (to this day) that incorporated ragtime, punk, Appalachian folk, and rock-n-roll. In 1995, the Rags began booking a “dead night” slot at the venue. It soon became the talk of the town, and locals flocked to the weekly session. Their popularity ascended, tours became nationwide, and they even signed with Indie heavyweight Sub Pop for two albums. The Rags, like the rest of the credible Asheville bands were hardcore DIY. Piano maestro Jake Hollifield joked to Mountain Xpress’s Tom Kerr in 2004 that he would write the Blue Rag’s memoirs entitled, How to Live on the Road Cheaper than Anyone. Kerr even went so far as to call them “the Davy Crockett Kings of Asheville’s music revival.”

At the same time that the Rags were lifting off, local musicians Rob Best and Milton Carter were shaping Asheville’s musical personality from the streets. Best (a promoter) and Carter (a graphic designer as well as a band member of the Mathmatics) put on a benefit show at Vincent's Ear in 1995 with the Spoonbenders, the Mathmatics, and Acme Music Company. This paid for the 100 copy cassettes of Decline of Western North Carolina Volume One.

“Milton was not impressed,” wrote Rob Best in an online response to this piece. “He wanted more, he wanted to make CDs, which was unheard of in 1995. But we did it anyway. Milton said we needed about $1400-$1600 to pay for it, and we could make a thousand copies of a 73 minute CD. Thanks to a new alliance with the venue 31 Patton (where Stella Blue is today), Decline of Western North Carolina took over the Wednesday nite slot (Decline Nite), and Milton and I got alot of free beer.”

“I think we raised the money in about 4-6 months,” continued Best. “It seemed to take forever: in fact the release part took place about a month before we got the CDs... however in the Summer of '96 the Decline of Western North Carolina Vol. 2 was on the streets. The cover was a parody of the classic LA punk compilation "The Decline of Western Civilization.” Milton was the genius behind the cover.”

“I think the most interesting thing about that time was "Decline Nite" at 31 Patton,” continued Best. “Until Doug Nissley and I put on the first Five-Eight show there in the winter of ‘95-‘96, it was a country bar that the people downtown always walked past. But thanks to the hard work of a lot of people like Nissley, it was now a live music venue virtually anyone could go to and have a good time. At first we tried to have all three bands on the bill of any given nite to sound alike. But soon we started putting the Ska bands with the Hippie bands, and the speed metal bands with the noise bands and so on... soon there was a united kind of scene downtown, and ALOT of young people were just coming out to hear independent music. I think 31 Patton even started MAKING money.”

- Written by Hunter Pope

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Music, Clubs and Nightlife in Asheville