A day in the LEAF

LEAFAsheville, a center for arts and culture in the Southeast, has no shortage of events that enrich the soul. Fortunately, the local arts councils are also generous with these events, providing free tickets to those who could not otherwise afford them. Little Miss and I were lucky enough to score day tickets to the Lake Eden Arts Festival, or LEAF.

The clouds had burst the night before, and some rain lingered into Saturday morning, but it certainly didn’t extinguish the spirits of those on site. When we arrived, the event was in full swing, concert music spilling into the air outside the tents, a poetry slam tearing words from writers’ hearts, the aromas of hot garlic and smoky grills on the breeze. Brave (foolish?) younguns ziplined down into the lake, now a balmy 50 degrees. One bank of the lake was lined with the tents of those staying for the weekend, the other with the festival venue.

Kids ran everywhere, enjoying being kids, many barefoot, even in the squishy mud left from the rain the night before. Arts and crafts booths lined the perimeter, and soon Little Miss sported her own magenta and lilac African mask on a necklace.

The crowd was a burst of colors, so many dressed in flowing fabrics and “hippie” style. I fell in love immediately with the atmosphere, one which pervades Asheville as a whole, but seemed concentrated at the event in one glorious serving.

The headliner for the music scene was Macy Gray; she’s playing today, so we missed her, but we didn’t miss out. Saturday afternoon, we listened to bluegrass artist Sara Watkins, and as the evening wore on we were treated to a show by Cuban R&B/hiphop artist Danay Suarez.  She’s one of LEAF’s teachers in the visiting artists program at local Erwin High School. Though her concert was in Spanish, even her commentary to the audience, it was easy to decipher her meaning once she began to sing. The reggae and jazz beats reached into the soul and lifted it up.

Such a wild and wonderful combination of folks! We, of course, hunted down our family connections with Lucia and Kevin Barnes from Ultimate Ice Cream (did you know they have a CSA for ice cream???), then moved on. I loved the folks with this sign–good advice was free, and “bad” advice, you paid for. Sounds about right.

I’d had a rough weekend physically, so I had my cane and a folding cart with a camp chair, etc. that I finally set up outside the concert tent. Little Miss announced she wasn’t done exploring, so she spent the next few hours going from booth to booth, talking to vendors, learning about sound healing, swinging on some awesome hanging chairs, smelling incense and candles and much more.  I know it may not sound like much to most folks that a 17 year old worked a crowd, but for those who know the autism spectrum, and Little Miss, this means she overcame the noise of the music and crowd, went on her own, spoke with strangers to gather information, and experienced independence–knowing I was in one place where she could find me if she needed anything. Pretty awesome.

Mid-afternoon, LEAF was treated to a parade with a host of performers like those of Imagine Circus from Raleigh, sparkling and dancing in the sun. 


A glorious day, in the end, though I hadn’t expected it would be.  Something I’ve been working on, my expectations. When you have debilitating conditions, it’s so easy to slip into a niche where you automatically choose not to go out and do things for fear of increased pain or repercussions or inability. I’m trying now to “expect” that yes, there will be difficulties, but the experience is worth it once all is done.

And the lovely Danay Suarez proved my point. The beats of her music got me to my feet, moved me like a hurricane wind from her island. I didn’t look around to see what people were judging this old, fluffy lady, swaying her hips with one hand on her cane and one on her chair. I was simply the music.

We went to LEAF. Little Miss got to be a real teenager. And I danced. 🙂




The greatest gift

Civilization is a wonderful thing.

Every so often we venture from our small town where the locals’ idea of foreign food is Taco Bell and Guido’s Pizza, to a “real” place. You know, the kind of city with lights for miles at night, real shopping malls, and diversity?

I had such an opportunity this weekend, when my sister invited me for a much-appreciated “getaway.” We battled the snow in the eastern Cleveland snow belt for the lights of an area called Coventry, which has a delightful mix of small shops and interesting places to eat. We chose a combination Thai/Korean/Japanese restaurant called the Tree Country Bistro , where we had an assortment of vegetarian and other appetizers, fresh sushi and edameme, and some killer Basil Fried Rice.

Then the highlight of the evening was a trip up Fairmount to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to hear the complete Handel’s Messiah performed by Apollo’s Fire.

If you appreciate baroque music and you have not heard Apollo’s Fire, then you are missing something amazing. Reading over the bios of the performers, both vocal and instrumental, we found dozens of advanced degrees in music, advanced study and accolades  in no less than seven countries, and outstanding accomplishment. Music Director Jeannette Sorrell and her small, diverse group play period instruments (she conducts and plays the harpsichord during the performance) to give the audience the same quality of experience as those who listened 300 years ago.

I always thought the phrase “less is more” was something very odd, but Apollo’s Fire demonstrates the truth of these words to perfection. Not only do they command the venue with a modest several dozen singers and instrumentalists,but the soloists are a delight.

I have to confess that normally I dislike soprano soloists in almost any performance because they are belting out ear-piercing arias. Not so here. Amanda Forsythe brings her crystal voice to a near-whisper in places where others would give too much–she brought tears to my eyes. Definitely my favorite.

The group is often featured on public radio, so you too can share in the magic, with a performance of the Messiah on both December 23 and Christmas Day, at least in our neck of the woods. Check your local schedule to see when your local station will feature them (assuming you have civilization enough to have a National Public Radio available).

It’s important at this time of year to remember to take care of yourself while you’re rushing about with holiday plans for everyone else. Take the time to listen to some great music–or read a book, take a hot bubble bath, light a candle and meditate, get away for a day. Give yourself a gift as well. Your loved ones will be glad you did.

‘Tis the season

I bet over the years I’ve gone to 100 holiday concerts.

Some were mine, as a child. Some of my favorites then were the ones at Euclid Senior High, where old chorus director Sam Taylor taught the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah, and each year any alumni in the audience came on stage to sing along.  What a powerful feeling as that music swelled! That Handel music is still one of my preferred Christmas indulgences.

Then as I became a parent, we had multiple performances from preschool onward for B, who was an attention magnet, and always ready to be on stage. There were also orchestral performances from S, and choral bits from M, during a time when we lived in a community that included a great number of Mexican farmworkers, so the concerts were spiced with Spanish Christmas tunes as well.

When K came along, she preferred the trumpet, so we had several years of those performances. She, however, eventually moved on to backstage endeavors, and actually became stage manager for the high school a full year before most kids did, running the lights and all aspects of not only school functions but rentals as well.

The Captain tried an instrument; not so much. However, he does enjoy singing, and has done chorus for a couple of years now. Last night was his first “real” concert with a hundred kids on the big high school stage.

There he was as the event opened, sitting RIGHT NEXT to the piano, where the chorus teacher who’s been there forever had him in yardstick distance. We figured that was a bad sign.

There were a half a dozen songs, and about halfway through the first one, I could see the Captain’s nervous tics start rotating through. I really felt for him. (After all, a year ago, when he performed in front of the sixth-grade and parents group he ran off stage and said he was going to throw up.) The facial tics got stronger, but he followed along with the teacher, stood up and sat down as required and stayed in his seat, instead of wandering the place.

He’d said he had some sort of solo, which surprised us, because he’s one of those singers who makes up in volume what he might lack in correct tone. In the program we saw he was one of those chosen to lead the singalong with the audience for “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” So we waited. And hoped.

When his song came up, he walked proudly to the microphone, tics and all, and belted it out with the best of them. If you hadn’t known he had some issues, you wouldn’t have known it then. He took his bow and sat again, beaming, and so were we, even Little Miss, who kept saying, “That’s my brother up there!” A fine moment all around, and well worth making it concert # 101.