On the evening of Friday, June 20th, downtown Asheville’s premier outdoor venue, the New Mountain Amphitheater, opened its gates to a sold-out crowd who was eagerly lined up around the block for a special show. The headliner that drew in this excited crowd was the acclaimed world-fusion electronic dance ensemble Beats Antique, with support from the rising DJ/producer star CloZee. This was a show which had attracted a great deal of anticipation for a number of reasons, and in no small part due to the venue itself. The amphitheater at New Mountain AVL — itself a three-room club-style venue which has become a staple in recent years for local, regional, and nationwide acts who tour in Asheville — only hosts a handful of shows every year, all of which are in the warmer months.

Photo shot by Key Vision Photography.

   Despite the meager quantity of shows being hosted there, it is cherished by fans and artists alike. Offering lots of free space behind the sound stage — empty but for a reasonable dispersal of picnic tables — the amphitheater attracts a number of delicious food trucks as well as a stout brigade of local art dealers, merch vendors, and live painters, giving the place a distinctly festival-esque vibe. Adding to this festival vibe is the fact that, even at a sold-out show like Beats Antique, the amphitheater’s open-air expanse provides more than enough room for everyone in attendance to find space of their own and to mosey freely through the crowd — a perfect environment whether you want to keep your squad in one piece or venture out to make new friends.

Photo shot by Key Vision Photography.

     Certainly, Beats Antique made full use of this festival vibe. This show marked almost three years since the group’s last Asheville appearance in October of 2014 with the Creature Carnival Tour, and the hype was real amongst the many Ashevillans who remembered this legendary Creature Carnival show with great fondness. Unlike Creature Carnival, no costume code was set for this show, but scanning the crowd, one could hardly tell the difference (nobody needs to tell the people of Asheville to dress up for an event like this). Painted faces, feathered accoutrements, colorful floral and paisley patterns, elaborate pin hats, and big smiles were everywhere to be seen. But Beats was hardly the only thing drawing in the crowds, costumes and grins — a good deal of the pre-show chatter involved the magic word, “CloZee.” CloZee is by no means a “big” name in electronic music (yet), but in a town such as Asheville with such a voracious appetite for eclectic dance music, this promising young producer has already become a major hit in our mountainous city. This local popularity, along with the prominent non-Western influence in her music, made her the perfect fit for an opener.

Photo shot by Key Vision Photography.

     Clozee took to the stage around 8pm and promptly had the steadily-growing crowd jumping and jiving as if they’d forgotten all about the long night of live music and dancing still ahead of them. Her style is both unique and versatile, and the set she delivered was a masterfully arranged medley of mostly dub- and hip-hop-influenced tracks made incredibly vivid by the use of a variety of polyrhythmic, “tribal” drumbeats along with a well-placed assortment of broadly multicultural acappella samples. She also mixed in two tasteful remixes — one of Ratatat’s classic hit “Loud Pipes” and the other of Bonobo’sCirrus” — both of which elicited rousting cheers from the lively crowd.

     One could hardly have asked for a better opening set, but as the sun neared the horizon and painted the sky behind the stage with streaks of red and orange, we knew with great anticipation that it was time for Beats Antique to take the stage. Never one to disappoint, the band came in hot with “Beauty Beats,” an instant classic that is also probably their best-known track. Expanding upon this longtime fan-favorite, Asheville’s very own Empire Strikes Brass joined the Beats trio on stage for a sizzling live horn jam over the ever-hypnotic dance moves of Zoe Jakes. Led by Jakes’ brilliant original choreography, Beats Antique commands an overpowering stage presence that makes standing still near-impossible. This was as apparent as ever at their New Mountain show, especially during the hit song “Cat Skllz,” which had the entire crowd going airborne in unison.

Photo Shot by Key Vision Photography.

   Though performance art is always a crucial and spectacular element of Beats Antique’s stage routine, the band seems to have streamlined this aspect of their show in comparison to past tours such as the Creature Carnival, which included such elaborate elements as gigantic inflatable animals, audience volunteers, and a literal ice cream party. By contrast, this show put a heavier emphasis on the “ensemble” aspect of Beats Antiques’ music by curating an impressive roster of guest musicians to spice up the band’s musical library with blistering solos, and intensely energetic jams. This different emphasis brought a certain balance to the band’s signature musical and visual components that played out extremely well in the highly musical town of Asheville, making highly infectious dance tunes even more engaging.

Photo Shot by Key Vision Photography.

     Having delivered a satisfying hour-and-a-half headlining set, Beats wrapped up shortly before 11pm with a jammed-out version of “Let It All Go,” the funky single featuring Preservation Hall Jazz Band that comes from their most recent album, “Shadowbox.” Alas, the night was hardly over yet. Clozee returned for a late-night round 2 of her uniquely exotic sound in New Mountain’s main room, finishing off the night’s festivities to a large and eager audience. Meanwhile in the Sol Bar upstairs, a series of local/regional DJ’s brought in a heavier vibe for the enjoyment of the resident bassheads, as the versatile young Asheville-based producer Tenorless closed out the night. With these fantastic after-parties to choose from at the very same venue as the main event, a great many concert-goers stayed out jamming and grooving right up until last call at 2am.

Photo Shot by Key Vision Photography

     The night was surely one for the books — an evening of happy and friendly faces, free movement, and kick-ass art at every turn. Having proven its promise and potential, the New Mountain Amphitheater has us hooked, and we will certainly be keeping an eye out for future events there. And though it may go without saying, we eagerly await the return of the always-fabulous Beats Antique.

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 Thanks For Stopping By!

–   Sam