Though its current incarnation is just three years old, Moogfest (happening this weekend, October 26-27) has wasted little time in becoming one of the United States' standout music festivals. This success rests on a unique mix of world-renowned talent and comfy, down-home atmosphere.
Let's begin with the setting: Asheville, N.C. (aka Beer City, U.S.A.), where synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog resided the last three decades of his life, and the location of the Moog company's current headquarters. If you've never been, this bustling mountain town serves as a dreamy backdrop for a weekend of music -- as inimitable a locale as, say, California's Coachella Valley or Telluride, Colo. When you're not bopping about from venue to venue, there's downtown's ridiculously wide assortment of cutting-edge restaurants (foodie zone to the max), craft breweries and bars, and, of course, all that Southern Appalachian foliage set ablaze in autumnal reds, yellows and purples.
But even more vital has been the uncanny prescience of festival organizers AC Entertainment, the Tennessee-based music promotion outfit that's also responsible for the mighty Bonnaroo. Reflecting a mission to celebrate Bob Moog's enduring contributions to the evolution of electronic music, the festival's programming emphasizes electronica, techno, electro, house, indie dance music, dubstep and beyond. That menu increasingly resonates with a country that in recent years has come to embrace these sounds on a mass level, as Rhapsody's Electronic Editor Philip Sherburne pointed out in his August essay "How EDM Conquered the World." Not only does this year's roster continue the trend, it's far and away Moogfest's most skillfully curated to date. What stands out is its balance between anchor artists vital to the success of any high-profile music festival (this time around there's Santigold, Miike Snow and Primus 3D) and cutting-edge musicians who, while not top draws necessarily, lend the proceedings a genuine sense of adventure and exploration. The latter include dark techno badass Andy Stott, neo-ambient producer Actress, and drone masters Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin.
And as with previous incarnations, Moogfest 2012 honors the history of electronic music, with performances from a variety of genre pioneers. Legendary composer Morton Subotnick presenting his seminal work, 1967's Silver Apples of the Moon, is a particular highlight, as is pianist Harold Budd's scheduled collaboration with bassist Keith Lowe. Also related are appearances from Carl Craig, Orbital, Richie Hawtin and Squarepusher. While their respective pedigrees reach back no deeper than the '80s, each one is revered as a key figure in the development of techno. This is particularly true of Craig, one of the founders of Detroit techno.
But the most radical component of this year's roster may be its expanded selection of hip-hop, represented by Nas, Killer Mike, the wonderfully controversial Death Grips, El-P and GZA (spotlighting his classic Liquid Swords in its entirety). This is a savvy bit of revisionism on the part of Moogfest organizers. Though mainstream consciousness doesn't perceive hip-hop as electronic music per se, it most certainly is in regards to the technology and schemes employed. After all, most Americans growing up in the 1980s and '90s were initially exposed to drum machines, sequencing and sampling through hip-hop rather than rave culture.
For the full Moogfest lineup, visit the official website. And now, on to Rhapsody's quick picks for Asheville food and beer.
Plant: Gourmet vegan dishes that even meat lovers will salivate over.
Tupelo Honey Café: A local landmark beloved for its Southern fusion cuisine.
Table: Top shelf seasonal dishes with an emphasis on local.
Not-to-Be-Missed Watering Holes
The Thirsty Monk: Two floors, over 50 taps and hundreds of bottles ... 'nuff said.
The Bywater: On the French Broad River. Get this: You can kayak to the bar.
The Prospect: Off the grid, so to speak. But the search is half the fun.
Wedge Brewing Company: The Iron Rail IPA is a local institution, but be very careful.
Green Man Brewery: Dig their warehouse tasting room -- totally relaxing.
Craggie Brewing Company: Imperial pints!