Very few festivals throughout the southeast, or the country for that matter, have as strong of a commitment to community growth, international involvement, and social consciousness as the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, NC. Headed into it’s 47th iteration this weekend LEAF has become respected the world over for their strength of purpose and their ability to draw and book a wide variety of internationally renowned talent ranging from musicians to healers to dancers to poets and so much more.
The theme of this years fall festival is “Home,” and having been to a few LEAF’s over the years I can tell you that “Home” is what LEAF already feels like. The perfect family friendly festival, LEAF finds space for children, parents, teens, singles, couples, queers, straights, and everyone in between. This weekend, as the leaves turn pretty colors and the sun sits at that perfect angle LEAF has put together a line-up both diverse and local to match the beauty and contentedness of these Western North Carolina Mountains.
From Mitch Mcconnell to Here Come the Mummies whether you are into folk, outlaw country, jam, funk, grass, rock, or edm they have something for everyone. In addition the grounds are littered with world class vendors, learning stations, and healing arts. Some of the local highlights include grammy winning kids hip hop Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, local songwriter Carly Taich, DJ Nex Millen, and of course, all weekend long, The Screaming J’s.
In addition there are several local dance troupes performing as well as the annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam. I had a chance to catch up with Justin Blackburn who will be representing the Asheville Slam Poetry Team (and competing for his eleventh year in a row) to ask about why he loves LEAF so much, and what it is like competing there. Before I can even really get in to my questions he just starts gushing.
“I love LEAF,” he tells me, “I love it because it has everything that I like. There is a spiritual tent that I have always loved that always has yoga or tai chi. It has another spiritual tent with talks and a lake you can go swimming in and contra dancing and great bands and on top of all that it has the poetry slam and all of the people are cool as hell there.”
“LEAF is a very “Home” sort of place to me,” he continues. “I have gone there as a volunteer, I’ve worked, I’ve bought tickets, I’ve gotten in free for advancing in the poetry slam, it feels like home to me.”
In fact, it feels so much like home that Blackburn doesn’t even bother with whether he knows someone there or not before he engages them.
“Everyone is like, ‘do I know you?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah I know you from LEAF’ and it’s like ‘Hell yeah man,'” he explains, chuckling as he does. Still, it is the quality of the competition and the excitement of the crowd at the Southern Fried Poetry Slam that keeps him excited year after year after year.
“The energy at the poetry slam is almost unlike any slam I have ever been to,” Blackburn informs me. “The final stage is fucking intense, all the best poets from the southeast, like Ed Mabrey, Ashley Hayes, all these poets that are incredible, that are the top poets in the world and they perfrom there. The show is amazing and even though it is packed you can hear a pin drop.”
Competing for his twentieth time in over ten years, this will be the first time that Blackburn has an Asheville Slam Poetry Team to represent. “I feel blessed to be able to represent this team,” he confides. “My goal is just to go out there and do my best to inspire and to speak my truth.”
Fewer local bands than normal with gigs this weekend but a few worth noting for sure. Hunter Grigg is back from europe and playing a patio show at The Grey Eagle on Saturday night at 5pm.
Also on Saturday is the Noble Kava Dead Band featuring members of Phuncle Sam along with other incredible local musicians, kicking off at 9pm.