If you've never visited Asheville, North Carolina, you're definitely missing out. Nestled in the mountainous western region of the state, Asheville provides access to many outdoor activities, including hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and star gazing. But one of the most enticing aspects of the city is its vibrant street culture, which is highlighted during the many festivals that occur throughout the year, such as the Living Asheville Arts Festival (LAAF).
"Weird" is a word that you'll typically hear associated with the street scene in Asheville. I'm certainly not going to disagree with that. You'll see some pretty off-the-wall wardrobe choices and hair styles as you wander the downtown area. But it's the "weird" that sets Asheville apart from many of its mountain-town neighbors in the Southeast. Weird can be a good thing. After all, if we all strolled around in khakis and polos, things would get pretty boring, pretty quickly.
To add to the flair that makes the city shine, there's a wealth of street art and graffiti available for the eyes to enjoy. When I say graffiti, it doesn't really do the art justice. And that's exactly what it is - art. The imagery you'll see as you explore the streets and back-alleys is colorful, intricate and intriguing. I find it especially fascinating as, in many places, the art seems to blend seamlessly with the life going on around it. Take the image of the young lady strolling the sidewalk, eyes locked on me as I photographed her. When I took it, I was struck by the sense that she was a part of the mural behind her. I decided to manipulate the image to better convey that message, making her and the mural, one.
Another component that is essential to the soul of Asheville is music. There are plenty of places to grab a seat, a drink, and enjoy solo performers and bands, as they play in climate-controlled comfort. But if you want to experience the music at its purist, you need to step outside, where the sounds of the city are interspersed with the notes as they flow. Some of these performers are playing for their lives, as they depend on the tips tossed into open instrument cases by wandering tourists, to survive from day to day. It's an added element of soul that amplifies the impact of ever measure played.
Of course, it's not just the intentional street performers that catch your eye, members of the crowd often dive right in, taking the chance to let go of their inhibitions and become a part of the art as it happens. Music has the
power to unlock the doors that hold us back, and when the song is right, one can quickly fall under its spell. You'll see moments like this quite a bit, as you explore downtown Asheville. It's one of the things that has always drawn me to the city. For a photographer, it provides ample opportunity to capture unique moments in time.
North Carolina has a very rich musical history, which has continued to evolve as younger musicians take up the reins. Bluegrass and folk are prominent, as are the various modern adaptations, which make for an eclectic mix of music that is mesmerizing. Asheville's streets provide the perfect stage for these performers to exercise their craft, and the relaxed atmosphere encourages musicians to play to their full potential, without restraints on style, and without judgment of their abilities.
It's not a perfect place, to be sure. Like any other town around this great country, Asheville has its problems. It's not immune to controversy, it's not immune to crime, it's not immune to homelessness. Those are realities that we all face. The issue is how we face them. The issue is what we choose to do to grow and improve. In a perfect world (which isn't reality), no one would have to wander the streets, not knowing where they'll lay their head at night. I like to capture images of that struggle, not because I take any enjoyment in the struggle of others, but because it's a reminder that life is not a
cake walk. We all face challenges that call on us to dig deep and persevere. It doesn't take much to upend the happy circumstances of one's existence, thrusting them into the turmoil of uncertainty. As a photographer, I'm a story teller, and it's important to convey that not all stories are happy ones. Real life happens. Embrace it.
It's the combination of the aural and visual that really makes Asheville sing. It's the sensory overload that intoxicates the soul, and makes you want to come back for more. Banjos, guitars, mandolins, drums, canvases, murals, sculpture, and the most eclectic mix of folks you'll find just about anywhere. It's the celebration of life, juxtaposed with the reality of struggle, that paints a vivid picture of reality. It's the place many call home, while some struggle daily to find one.
A city without a soul would be as empty as a sand-filled desert, with no discernible geographical features. It'd be a place you'd describe as somewhere you'd never want to go - a place that one should avoid at all costs. For the residents and visitors of Asheville, there's no danger of such emptiness. It's been blessed with a soul that is as rich as the most fabled treasures. The good news is that it's in reach, for all who wish to experience it.
To learn more about the many things to see and do in Asheville, visit exploreasheville.com.