By Jose Mujica
October 10, 2018
“If she can do it, I can do it,” LeAnna Eden said, explaining the impact she hopes the Black Alternative “BLA/ALT” Music festival can have on artists in Charlotte. With its second iteration dated for Saturday, October 20, hype for the homegrown festival has been brewing among those who attended last year’s debut and even more so among those who wished they had. BLA/ALT’s inaugural launch was a success, drawing showcasing some of the most talented artists from Charlotte and beyond.
Manifesting a music festival from scratch can be a real learning experience. Navigating the administrative and managerial hellscape of booking vendors and artists, taking care of clerical communications plus marketing and promotion for the event, not to mention troubleshooting unforeseen problems that undoubtedly arise; the responsibility is unenviable. If nothing else, however, it helps level up your organizational skills. Skills which have served Eden well in her time since managing her band, LeAnna Eden & The Garden Of. Handling dates, finances and inventory of merchandise are not exactly the most glamorous aspects of being a musician but absolutely crucial ones for any successful act. All of this festival planning is done when Eden’s not rehearsing, recording, songwriting and overseeing the finishing touches on the group’s second studio album. If it’s not clear by now, LeAnna Eden is a workhorse. As impressive as her work ethic is, the motivation behind it is perhaps even more admirable: to enable and nurture local community, and to create a platform for local artists of marginalized groups to come together, claim space and be heard.
A resident of Milwaukee before her move to Charlotte, Eden remembers traveling to attend shows hosted by the Black and Brown Punk Show Collective in Chicago and what an expressive, accepting and community-oriented vibe they had. There was a anarchistic, grassroots authenticity to a group of unapologetically black, brown, and queer artists guided by radical community-based politics expressing themselves through music. Shows would raise funds for worthy causes and center acts typically overlooked by bigger mainstream venues and events. The collective continued to leave their imprint after Eden moved to Charlotte about five years ago.
After getting settled in the Queen City, Eden ran the typical open mic circuit around town. “I’d played a lot of shows in Charlotte. I’ve done all the poetry open mic nights. I’ve gone to Evening Muse, been to Smokey Joe’s. Done everyone’s feature open mic at everyone’s brewery,” she remembered. “I’m always the only black person doing what I’m doing.” A certain type of alienation likely not unfamiliar to people of color in predominantly white spaces, Eden described going into a bar and being overlooked by bartenders uncertain if she’d tip or she felt generally isolated as she looked for friendly faces and people seemed to clique up. This would all change after her performance, of course, as she’d have the same strangers who’d ignored her before gushing with compliments. The situation wasn’t much better at predominantly black open mics. “Ninety percent of the acts would be hip hop or doing a spoken word piece and then I’m there, playing guitar a bit differently,” she said, referring to the Lauryn Hill-esque rapping percussive style that those audiences may be more accustomed to, as opposed to her self-professed “emo shit.” It was frustrating. She was in touch with black alternative bands from all over the country, but Charlotte seemed to be lacking any scene at all. It was in discussing these frustrations with a friend, that the idea of a festival was brought up. Initially reluctant and doubtful of her ability to pull it off, Eden was finally convinced that she had all the resources and knowledge to do so and the seed was sown.
“Everyone is all like, ‘What’s up with the music scene in Charlotte? There’s no music here.’ There is! You just got to leave your neighborhood. You got to leave your nice apartment and walk around. You’ll find it,” she said. When she first moved here, Eden remembers hopping from bar to bar trying to find one whose general feel suited her best. A couple of years ago you had to search or be in the know to find the spots that curated the progressive alternative culture Eden was looking for. “I’d find like one cool person at this bar and then another somewhere else and then I’d try to get them to hang out at the same spot,” Eden laughed before comparing it to community base-building. It’s her attempt to recreate the culture present in the Black and Brown Punk Show Collective in Chicago. In that regard, Charlotte’s BLA/ALT Music Fest is a worthy descendant.
Scheduled to start at noon on Saturday, October 20 at Camp North End, the 2nd Annual BLA/ALT Music Festival will feature performances from Charlotte’s own LeAnna Eden & The Garden Of, The Business People, Blame The Youth, Dallas Thrasher, and Kang (TJ Banks, the bassist From Jaggermouth). The lineup also features XOXOK from Carrboro and Black Haus. The headliner is Neycha, a psychedelic soul singer from Harlem whose described her sound as “acid hip hop for the culturally remixed.” Vendors will include Cosmosis Stone’s wire-wrapped jewelry, Lady Go-Go’s vegan mexican food, a gourmet egg roll company and Birdsong Brewing providing the refreshments. As always, BLA/ALT is free to the public and will remain so as long as Eden has a say.