By Nora Donovan
Rain or shine, nothing was going to stop LEAF from carrying on its celebration of music and arts. The organizers’ ability to brave the elements and still deliver top-notch entertainment was very much on brand.
In fact, this year’s theme, “Breaking Ground,” seemed to be very appropriate, said Ehren Cruz, artistic director of LEAF. According to him, the theme was “a celebration of our resilience, our ability to overcome the impact that we have on the earth and with each other, and also the strength we have to endure.”
Day pass holders for Saturday, May 11, were granted festival entrance at 9 am. If overnight campers were awake—the drum circle had lasted long into the previous night—they were waiting in line at the Sugar Shack, a longtime LEAF vendor, for energizing mocha lattes or french toast glazed with maple syrup.
LEAF starts mornings off swinging, with live music beginning as early as 8 am. The real dance party began at the Lakeside stage at 11:15 am with Sean Ardoin, a zydeco musician and singer and two-time Grammy nominee. You can listen to a full interview with him here:
In between music sets, LEAF featured an incredible array of handmade craft vendors, as well as food from several Asheville eateries. HomeGrown, Okie Dokie’s Smokehouse, French Broad Chocolate, Buchi Kombucha, and more. If eating, shopping, drinking or music wasn’t your jam, LEAF also had a healing arts tent where you could treat yourself to a massage.
(photo courtesy of LEAF)
“This year, my 13-year-old urged me to go,” said festival attendee Syd Speer, of West Asheville. “All his friends are coming and most of them kind of grew up coming to this.” LEAF is family friendly, with many different activities to entertain the under-18 crowd, such as zip lines, aquatic obstacle courses, medieval sword fighting, paddle boarding, a jellyfish swing, a Dragon boat ride excursion, and more.
The Flow Zone was a popular attraction, run by Full Circle Flow Arts, based in Asheville. “We provide an area for kids to hula hoop, play with poi, experience flow…we have LED toys,” said Jamie Lee Willocks. “Mostly it’s just about being in the flow and sharing all the tricks you know.”
(Photo courtesy of Nora Donovan)
The Screaming J’s, an Asheville-based, ragtime and boogie woogie trio who have played LEAF before, took the Eden Hall stage at 12:45 pm. Jake Hollifield (lead vocal and piano) led off the set by chanting “Yes!”— and soon the entire room was chanting it along with him. This positive energy reverberated throughout the performance, with everyone dancing around like Charlie Brown characters. We were able to catch up with the group’s drummer, Mikey Gray, and you can listen to that interview here:
Some of the members of the Screaming Js (Photo courtesy of Nora Donovan)
Here’s an interview with Dave Hollister, who played with the Screaming Js at the LEAF Festival:
The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, a vintage rhythm, blues and soul outfit from Seattle, Washington, took the Lakeside stage at 2:30 pm and brought high-energy, organ-infused funk. Everyone was dancing when they played a killer Curtis Mayfield cover. We talked to Delvon Lamarr, and you can listen to that here:
(Photo courtesy of Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s Facebook page)
The headliner was India.Arie, the soul empowerment songstress, who performed at 8 pm on the Lakeside stage. As she sang her hits, such as “Video” and “Brown Skin”, phrases like “Black Lives Matter” were projected on a screen behind her. Earlier in the day, you could have found her walking through the festival, which really echoed LEAF’s core value: building community.
(photo courtesy of LEAF)
The night finished off with performances by Black Violin, a classical hip hop duo; Larkin Poe, two female singer-songwriters; and Yaima, who performed “organic electronic folk lore.” Attendees who wanted to keep the party going returned to the drum circle, ignoring the storms and just dancing in the rain.