Tag Archive: asheville


Someone in my apartment complex drives a car with a bumper sticker that says “I ❤ Handmade!” (Obviously the ❤ in this case represents an actual heart symbol, for which there is no key on my keyboard.) The heart in question is almost completely faded from its original (presumably) bright red, and is now just barely visible. The edges of the sticker seem to have become brittle and started to chip away. Now I have no way of knowing exactly how long this sticker has been on this car, but the car itself appears to be a late 2000’s model – perhaps 2008 or 2009 – so I’m going to assume it’s been on there for about five years, tops.

My car is covered in bumper stickers. Every year, when the weather finally decides to stay warm for a while, I go through the process of scraping off old stickers that look like shit and replacing them with new ones. Over the years I’ve had some that didn’t even make it a year (Moroccan flag sticker from stickergiant.com I’m looking at you!) and I’ve had some that have lasted almost as long as my car (Who’s awesome? You are, OBX sticker from 2005 that still looks brand new!) But I can’t help but feel a sense of irony when I see the car with the faded “Handmade” sticker.

As my regular readers (both of you) know, I live in Asheville, NC. In addition to being the “cesspool of sin,” it is also the unofficial Hippie Capital Of The East. Everyone here is all about things that seem to preserve the hippie ideal – local businesses instead of chains, local food instead of stuff trucked in from three states over, organic and sustainable, handmade products instead of something from a factory, etc. While I have nothing against these ideals, I feel like sometimes we sacrifice quality for the sake of pleasing our guilty conscience.

The first obvious example would be the bumper sticker. What better way to tout your love of handmade products than with a sticker that will fade and deteriorate faster than the other ones on your car? This sticker doesn’t speak for the entirety of handmade crafts and goods – there are plenty of quality things produced every day that are head and shoulders above anything made by a machine. As an artist, my first default is to handmade paper over that which is produced on a machine mould. But in the cases where a handmade product is not superior to a machine-made one, should we continue to buy the handmade one just on principle? Chances are most people in Asheville would answer “yes.” That is the mentality that I’m protesting with this blog.

How about another example? My former roommate Sofia insisted on buying an organic and biodegradable dish detergent made with a fair amount of post-consumer content. It would barely even lather, and when the winter temperatures would dip, it froze inside the bottle and would not come out. I’m all about the principles of organic, biodegradable, and recycled. But if the product in question is clearly inferior, why should I use it? It doesn’t accomplish its most basic purpose. It completely fails at its raison d’être. I would much rather buy a dish detergent that wasn’t organic, yet produced a good lather, cut through grease, and didn’t freeze every time the overnight low fell to the mid 30’s.

In addition to supporting people and companies that make inferior products, we also form a very damaging paradigm for contemporary consumer culture. If you produce it, and appeal to the right emotions, people WILL buy it, regardless of quality. There’s a sucker born every minute. Go to your local grocery store and compare the price of standard onions versus organic ones. The organic onions routinely cost as much as double, yet every major food website that I’ve seen says that with a vegetable with a non-porous exterior like an onion, no pesticides enter the inner layers and organic farming techniques are completely pointless. But if you grow an organic onion, someone will buy it. If you make organic dish detergent, someone will buy it, even if it fails in every way. If you produce a handmade good that falls apart, it won’t matter, because people with guilty consciences feel like they’ve done their civic duty by choosing it over a competing product.

And now, let’s turn this personal and address the reasons that inspired me to write this in the first place. This morning, after an unfair “probationary period” in which my hours were cut in half without prior warning for mostly invented and irrelevant performance issues, I was fired from my job. I was working for a small local business. A business run by one person, with a small staff, that has become a local institution. Asheville is king of the “buy local” scene, with people here regularly cursing those who choose to shop at chain establishments and chastising them about how they feel chains are destroying the economy and forcing the mom-and-pop businesses to close. For the most part, I agree with these sentiments. But just because a business is local, does that automatically make it the kind of place you should patronize? Hardly.

The store that I worked at was notorious for several problems. As long as I was there, we had a revolving door of employees. People would either get fired, or quit on their own because they could no longer tolerate the owner and her attitude. She was also notorious for putting people in the position where they feel their only option is to quit. I saw that happen with two coworkers, both of whom were at one point in time valuable assets to the company who simply grew tired of the bullshit and stopped putting their all into their performance. When their performance dipped in the owner’s eyes, even if it was due to very legitimate reasons, (one of the aforementioned coworkers quit anti-depression medications cold turkey and can’t really be blamed for withdrawing when she refused his request for some time off because we were “too short-staffed”) she would amp up the criticisms and do everything in her power (especially tweaking the schedule) to make the work environment as unfriendly as possible.

In addition to personnel problems like these, we were notorious for the owner’s complete incompetence when it comes to ordering products and stocking the shelves. We routinely run out of things an art supply store should NEVER run out of, (black and white paint, pens, gesso, handmade specialty papers, artist-quality spray paint, etc.) and rather than order in advance and create any sort of back-stock, she would always let things run out completely, causing us to go a week without these items. There are several lines of products that for one reason or another she has chosen not to restock, letting the displays continue to empty until she can’t stand the sight of them and pulls them off the shelves. All the while, we would get shipments of kitschy craft supplies, (paper garlands, cheap-o enamel hobby paints, tie dye kits) specialty items that should logically only be done as special orders, (projectors, light tables, expensive top-of-the-line brushes) and displays of new lines that she thinks would be “neat to have” (a full line of Pentel technical pens) that would proceed to sell down and then never get restocked. If we were out of the item a customer wanted (or if it was something we didn’t regularly carry) we would offer to do a special order. While some customers took their sense of self-entitlement to the extreme (we have limited space and money, we can’t realistically carry every brand, which might include your favorite) most had valid complaints against this process. We should NEVER have to do a special order for a black Micron pen or a tube of white oil paint, yet all too often that’s exactly what happened.

Granted, I am not a businessman. I’ve never run a company, I’ve never been in charge of inventory for a company, and I don’t have a business degree like some people, who shall remain nameless. But unlike my former boss, I was in the store every day. I interacted with customers. I heard their complaints. I knew the things they asked for. When a store owner takes such a hands-off approach to running their business, it would only make sense to cede some control of the inventory process to the employees who actually run the store in your absence. It would make sense to refocus your business model and give more emphasis to your strengths, leaving your weaknesses to be picked up by other businesses that do a better job of things. It would make sense to do everything in your power to use what limited financial resources you have to stock the products that sell the most and are the most in demand. It makes no sense to complain about money and get aggravated with customers who just expect you to have certain staple items on hand, while simultaneously trying to compete with chain craft stores and toy stores and stationery stores that can do that much better than you can. At that point, you’re no longer providing a quality service to the local community. You’re doing what you think you should do, and forcing them to find ways to work around that. That’s the kind of mentality that forces businesses to close their doors for good.

So to make a very long story short, the “buy local” mentality suffers from the same sort of problems that plague handmade bumper stickers and organic dish detergent. There are plenty of local businesses that provide quality merchandise at great prices, quality customer service, treat their employees well, and are well-respected within the community. But there are also local businesses that don’t provide quality merchandise, can’t compete on prices, treat their customers like shit, and fuck over their employees. Maybe you’re too idealistic to see the forest for the trees. If so, then by all means continue to lecture me about how Wal-Mart is anti-union and sells sweatshop goods and you’d support ANY local business before you would a chain. But it’s this lack of peripheral vision that allows these businesses to continue to exist and continue with their ridiculous practices and policies. And let’s not forget, while it’s true that chain establishments have led to many a local business having to close, every chain began life as a local business. Before they were the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart was some guy in Arkansas who just wanted to sell stuff at a lower price. If we’re going to preach about how the free market will always prevail, then we need to back that up with our actions. Don’t shop somewhere just because it’s local. Shop their because they provide quality merchandise, excellent customer services, and treat their employees fairly. If the free market principles we always hear about are true, then the market will decide who lives and who dies. Businesses that succeed in all of those areas will prosper, and perhaps eventually grow and expand and become the gigantic chains of tomorrow. Businesses that fail in those areas will see their customer base dwindle until eventually they have no choice but to throw in the towel.

I’ve now worked for two local businesses, and I’ve seen a lot of what goes on in the background that customers can’t see. At the end of the day, by blindly supporting a local establishment regardless of their business practices, you’re ultimately just buying frozen dish detergent or a sticker that will fade and peel. Don’t be fooled by misguided ideology. Support companies that make the best products. Support businesses that treat their customers and employees the best. As consumers, we hold the power. We can change practices with our purchases (or lack thereof.) Investigate and inform yourself, and then choose wisely. If the superior product happens to be handmade or organic, that’s all the better. If the superior business happens to be a local mom-and-pop shop, great. But if not, don’t fool yourself and settle for inferior quality. That only unnecessarily prolongs things and no one really wins.

 

So I’m bored. I’ve spent the last half hour Googling some of the claims the guide on the ghost hunting tour made. I can safely say that it’s a bunch of bullshit. And I’m not even talking about the ghost hunting aspect of things, I’m talking about the “historical” side that he so often used to back up what he was saying. So let’s see…..

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Now that it’s quasi-official, here’s the announcement none of you have been waiting for, seeing as how I really suck at hyping up things…

I will be the artist in residence at The One Stop Deli and Bar from September 22 until November 3. There will be an opening on September 22, most likely from 5:00 until 8:00 PM, but that’s still a little iffy, it depends on if there’s a concert at the upstairs venue that night or not.

They have a ton of wall space, so I’m going to try to pull out all the stops for this one. I’ll have a lot of new pieces (including two I’m working on right now,) along with some older pieces I’ve never shown anywhere. I’ll have prints of several pieces available at very reasonable prices, along with the originals at prices which might help me claw my way out of debt.

If you’re an Asheville resident (or live close enough that I can guilt-trip you) I’d love to see you there. If you’re not familiar with The One Stop, it’s downtown on College Street, the same building that was formerly Stella Blue. As it gets nearer, I’ll probably create a Facebook “event” for the opening, along with lots of annoying friendly reminders on my Facebook page. Which, if you haven’t done so already, you should “like.”

So yeah, that’s the big news. Save the date, tell your friends, and I hope to see you there!

 

Yet another new page…

I just made a portfolio at WNCArts.com.

Not really anything new here that you can’t already find at my other pages, but it could be a good way to get my name out there, as far as the local art scene goes.

So if you live in Western North Carolina and are trying to find some cool art, you now have one more link to add to your quiver. And if you’re an artist you should make a page there, it’s free. Yay.

 

Well how about another concert review? Sure, why not…

For those of you not familiar with Asheville’s club scene, Jack Of The Wood is probably a name you’ve never heard before. It’s a bar with an Irish theme and its own brewery. They’ve been hosting live music for a long time now, with bluegrass jams and Celtic bands being some of the more common shows. I heard through the grapevine that recently they’ve hired a new guy to do their booking, and evidently he has some pretty serious connections. So now this tiny little hole in the wall pub is getting big name acts like Junior Brown, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Case (who cancelled), and the King Of Surf Guitar, Mr. Dick Dale. Tickets sold out in only a few days, and to say it was “standing room” only would be quite the understatement. You barely had room to stand without bumping into someone. I’m pretty sure if anyone else showed up there would be a few fire code violations. But enough about that, let’s talk about the music…

The opening band was a local act called The Krektones. They’ve resisted the label of “surf rock,” yet in a pre-show “prayer” their guitarist acknowledged Dick Dale as their “heavenly father, who sits in glory in California.” Aside from a few random yells, shouts, oohs and ahs, and banter in between songs their set was mostly instrumental. Their guitarist is quite good, bringing a bit of a psychobilly vibe to their surf rock sound. They had a guy who switched back and forth between trumpet and sax, and occasionally screamed random things into his instrument mic. Their rhythm section was pretty tight, even if they were usually overshadowed by the guitar and horns. They did some original songs, a few well-known covers, and a lot of movie themes. On the latter they sounded almost like a more restrained version of Naked City, minus the hardcore breakdowns and free-form improvisation. Their set was rather enjoyable, I might have to go see them the next time they’re playing around town.

In between the bands DJ Rob Castillo spun 60’s surf hits and obscure garage rock, playing a great selection of stuff. The break seemed to be longer than The Krektones’ entire set – there seemed to be some technical difficulties with the microphone setup. Finally at about 10:20 the headliner took the stage to thunderous applause.

Dick Dale is now 74 years old, with a long white ponytail and an almost fully receded hairline, but once he starts playing you would never know it. After his opening shred-fest, he spent a few minutes fussing at the sound guy to make the microphone louder. He was actually quite hilarious in doing so, asking the guy if he knew where the volume knob was, and then graciously informing him that it had a big “v” on it. He did a song with a call-and-response section and stopped in the middle because he still couldn’t hear himself. It could be a bad sound tech, it could be an aging rocker losing his hearing, but the most likely reason is that his music is just that loud. I’m talking thunderously loud. Even when playing with a clean tone his guitar is pushed into overdrive, stacks of custom Fender amps shaking the entire stage. His bass player’s stack was just as big and the bottom end was huge. His drummer (who I’m guessing is his son? his name was Jimmy Dale) pounds the drums as if his life depends on it. Whether ripping through power chords or soloing at breakneck speed, it’s pretty safe to say that Dick Dale is the most energetic 74-year-old in the music world.

He played most of his biggest songs, along with an interesting selection of covers. He threw in a few famous surf riffs (“Walk Don’t Run” and “Wipeout”) but never played them long enough for the audience to latch onto them. Most of his songs were long jams that took unexpected turns into other songs and styles before coming back to their original riffs. To my surprise he actually sung on a few songs, most notably a bluesy version of “House of the Rising Sun.” At one point he did a monster medley based around the signature riff to “Smoke on the Water” that must have lasted six or seven minutes, incorporating a lot of snippets of classic rock songs. For one song he played harmonica, and while he’s not the greatest, the energy level remained high the entire time. The next to the last song was a crazy jam where everyone got a solo, and then he walked over to the drum set and performed a drum duet with his drummer. He then walked around to the bassist and began to hit the strings of his bass with drumsticks while the bassist fingered chords. Then he flipped the bass over and tapped out a rhythm on the back of it while the bassist got in some ghost notes and slides. The closing number was another extended jam, full of soloing and huge walls of sound.

It was pretty easy to see why Dick Dale is so legendary in the guitar community – the guy can play circles around just about anyone else. His energy is intense, and he’s got a great sense of humor to go with a stage presence that is at once imposing and understated. Even though the show was pretty amazing, a few things really disappointed me. For starters, his set was entirely too short. He barely played an hour, whereas the opening band went on for around forty-five minutes and the break in between was about that long as well. I understand he’s not a young man, and sometimes there are technical difficulties and whatnot – not to mention local noise ordinances – but if I’m going to pay big bucks to see a legendary artist, I’d like a little bit more bang for my buck. Secondly, there was no encore. I realize there’s no rule that says a performer must do an encore, but still it is mostly expected. At first I thought that’s why his set was so short – surely he would be coming back on stage to do a few more songs. After waiting around for almost half an hour it became apparent that this wasn’t happening. By the time I finally left he was comfortably signing autographs at a table where a long line had formed. And this was my final disappointment – it was clear that he embraced his rock star status and turned it into a moneymaking machine. He had all the usual merchandise, and I definitely don’t fault a musician for wanting to make money… but the prices were outrageous. Shirts were $40, signed records were $100, signed CD’s were $35. There were tiny 3″ x 5″ postcards for $15, posters of the show for $20, and if you brought something of your own he would kindly sign it for the low, low price of only $10. I’ve seen a lot of big-name artists, and quite a few “living legends,” but I have never once seen anyone charge to sign something you already had. Like I said, I don’t fault the guy for wanting to make money, but surely he could at least sign things for free. Maybe this sort of thing is more common than I realize, and he obviously plays with a lot of emotion and a genuine love of performing, but his merch table made it look like this was purely a business venture, and business was most certainly good.

Overall I had a good time, and I love Dick Dale the guitarist. I’m just not so sure how I feel about him as the CEO of Dick Dale Enterprises. So what I’m ultimately left with is a night of great music, albeit not quite enough of it, and a final sour taste in my mouth. And a constant ringing in my ears because this show was so incredibly loud. On that note I think I’ll wrap this up and attempt to get some sleep so I can wake up in a few hours for work.

 

Record Store Day

After a pretty eventful Record Store Day last year, I somehow forgot it was this weekend and didn’t ask off from work. Our shifts are 10-7, and that was pretty much the same hours as every record store in town. So yeah.

I took my lunch break around 3:30 and fought my way through ridiculous Asheville Earth Day crowds on Lexington until I finally made it to some stores. By the time I got to Voltage they were pretty much wiped out, only about ten full lengths and a handful of singles left. I managed to snag Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression on 180 gram vinyl, which, although somewhat overpriced, is an amazing album. They had the second and third UT albums but I opted for the debut since it was the first one I heard (not counting the 89-93 compilation.)

After Voltage I headed over to Static Age, and although they had a bit more stuff, they didn’t have a lot that I really wanted. There was a live album by The Birthday Party that I considered, but I’m honestly not a big fan of live albums, so I passed it up. I almost got a single by Hot Water Music until I saw the price tag. I just can’t bring myself to pay $9 for two songs, no matter how limited a release it is. Oh well. I grabbed a free SubPop sampler (which is as uneven as SubPop’s catalog) and some stickers and called it a day.

Next year I’ll need to make a mental note and make sure I either have the day off or don’t work until later so I can manage to get some of the good stuff before it’s gone.

 

Stuff…………..

Hey Asheville peeps… if you happen to be downtown anytime soon, drop by True Blue Art Supply and you can see not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of my paintings, lovingly hung right above the fashionable wooden doors. Have a looksee…

From left to right:  The Reappearance, New Growth, Faisceaux, Taking The Long Way

And if you happen to love any or all of these pieces and you’re feeling particularly generous, they are in fact for sale. They have price tags on them, but nothing is set in stone, so make me an offer…

PS: We technically have an artist of the month but he only brought like five pieces, so the rest of us have been filling in. I’m not sure how long they’ll be up there, because our next artist of the month might bring a ton of stuff. So come see them while you still can…