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Wednesday, 11 July 2007 00:00

A smashing residency in Asheville

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By Joe Hooten

As I was barreling down Interstate 40, racing to make it to Asheville in time to see the fifth concert in a nine-show residency put on by the Smashing Pumpkins at one of the South’s finest venues, the Orange Peel, I hesitantly reached into my glove compartment to find my map. I slowly unfolded the aged paper with some lingering anxiety and felt compelled to double-check to see if my favorite mountain metropolis was still there.

As I scanned the western portion of my map, I let out a sigh of relief. Yes, there it was! Whew, my blood pressure leveled off as I felt satisfied that indeed Asheville was still there, even though it was an old map. I suspiciously wondered if someone was trying to lead me astray. What about all of these claims from the national press that Asheville was only recently put on the map by Billy Corgan and the Pumpkins? Remembering that this was a band that was influential a mere 15 years ago, the carrot dangled in front of me. I knew I had to take a bite of the hype and see for myself.

After the concert, I realized that this “reunion” was more of a media ploy than a true return to form. The Smashing Pumpkins are a money-making machine like any other corporation. They marketed their return prior to the release of their latest album Zeitgeist — the band’s newest material in seven years. They called their stay at the Orange Peel a “residency” — another marketing gimmick to attract attention.

There are even plans to release four different versions of their new album — each with different bonus tracks — so I guess the real “bonus” is that fans will be shelling out a lot of money if they want all the new material from Corgan and friends. In the end, there is enough cause for discussion over the validity of their appearance here in Asheville or at the Fillmore in San Francisco or wherever the road takes them. What is clear to me now is that Asheville can only stand to benefit from someone else’s gain.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ decision to unveil their latest incarnation immediately caused a stir in local, regional, national, and even music circles outside the country. According to Liz Whalen, marketing director at The Orange Peel, the first night was the largest night in terms of the amount of media covering the event.

“We had anywhere from one to eight journalists present on any given night, and we’ve had at least two photographers or videographers at each show,” said Whalen. “Almost all local and regional newspaper and television outlets from Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and upstate South Carolina covered the opening night — even national music press outlets like Spin, Harp, and Relix magazines ran positive stories about the fans, the music, and the city of Asheville.

Why has Asheville suddenly been inducted into the Rand McNally Hall of Musical Fame? Are there any lasting effects to the Pumpkins’ residency?

I thought everyone knew about Asheville’s rich musical heritage, the numerous music festivals throughout the year, the intimate venues that host a variety of acts that have steadily grown in popularity over the years. Recently the number of quality recording studios has also been on the rise as more bands choose to record in Asheville not only for production values but also for what the area has to offer outside of the studio.

The resources are aplenty in Western North Carolina, the opportunities are present, the fans are certainly able and willing to come out for live music of any style, so has Asheville finally earned its spot among other notable music cities like Athens or Chapel Hill? Hopefully the impact brought on by the Smashing Pumpkins visit will foster a greater awareness among promoters and larger national acts. Everyone involved in the recent residency still considers this a springboard into the big league, or at least a revival of the present music scene in Asheville.

It’s encouraging to see the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce acknowledging the importance of such events. Marla Tambellini, for the Chamber of Commerce, was excited about the publicity.

“As one of only two venues for the Smashing Pumpkins residency, Asheville not only gets both the benefit of increased spending and overnight stays by concert-goers but also the lasting impact on the awareness it creates for the area and, more specifically, its vibrant music scene,” said Tambellini. “Asheville boasts a long legacy of music tradition here, which is complemented by a thriving live music sector, which is often overlooked. This concert helps shine the spotlight on all that is uniquely Asheville, including the fact that this area boasts a very rich, diverse music culture.”

Without a doubt, the Pumpkins have breathed new life into an already existing scene.

“We hope that other artists will consider doing residencies like this at the Orange Peel,” said Whalen. “We also hope that this helps to put Asheville on the musical map for other well-known acts.”

Let’s hope that all our maps continue to show Asheville and Western North Carolina as a region filled with great musical traditions and musicians, venues willing and able to showcase them, and fans that will faithfully come out and support live music.

(Joe Hooten, who used to write regularly about music for The Smoky Mountain News when he lived in the area, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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