While crowds gather over the weekend to attend larger concerts, like Azalea Fest’s 38 Special, Billy Currington and Ludacris—not to mention Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings on Thursday night and Dark Star Orchestra on Sunday—local businesses along 4th Street in the Brooklyn Arts District (BAD) continue boasting a localized flair to the springtime festival: Alt-Zalea Fest. The volunteer-run musical showcase features local singer-songwriters and bands all day on Saturday. Featuring 35 different groups and individuals, they’ll play at six different venues, and the best part: Alt-Zalea is completely free.
Allister Snyder, owner of Detour Deli, started the festival in 2015 to help promote Wilmington’s local talent as Azalea Festival brings in masses of people to the area. Ever since, Alt-Zalea has taken place annually on the Saturday of the Azalea Festival weekend.
“[Snyder’s] been a great champion for local artists and that’s why I agreed to help how I could,” Anna Mann of Carolina Pine Productions explains. Mann, one Alt-Zalea’s organizers, has worked with Snyder to plan the event each year. The two handle all booking and promotion, but Mann also helps take photographs of performers while they are on stage.
The festival has still grown since its creation. For its first two years, Alt-Zalea was only held at three locations: Folk’s on 4th (now The Brooklyn Café), Hair Slayer (now Boombalatti’s) and Snyder’s own Detour Deli & Cafe. For 2018 the festival will extend its reach to venues like The Foxes Boxes, The Brooklyn Café, The Goat & Compass, Edward Teach Brewing, and Bottega. “With added venues and memories of sore feet from years past,” Mann recalls, “I’ll be bringing a bike this year.”
Of the 35 performances, multiple genres will fill the BAD. In the past, the festival showcased talents focused on folk, jazz, rock and experimental, among others. Alt-Zalea 2018 will showcase much of the same, but with even more varieties thrown into the mix, like symphonic metal.
Tumbleweed is a group, in particular, eager to perform. The local folk band consists of singer-songwriters Jordan Sutherland, Amanda King and McKay Glasgow. The band also features the musical talents of Ross “Raws” Paige on percussion and Peter Boscaljon on bass. The group will take over Goat & Compass, along with A Different Thread and The Yard Dogs. It marks the band’s second year performing at Alt-Zalea.
“We were fortunate to play in the festival last year as a three-piece at Bottega, which was an awesome venue, with a great atmosphere and sound,” Sutherland remembers. “This year we will have the full band and are looking forward to performing our original music.”
Tumbleweed is eager to share Sutherland’s “Can’t Stop” and King’s “Place I’m Going.” Both songs boast haunting harmonies. Another tune they hope to play is Glasgow’s “Sweetest Dream,” a sentimental ditty, with the ability to “take you to higher ground” with its constant instrumental and vocal build.
“It feels great [to be part of the festival],” Sutherland mentions. “For us, music is about sharing stories and emotions with other people. It makes us feel like we are part of the larger music movement in this city, which is full of amazing talent. It was a great time last year, so we are looking forward to doing it again.”
Another artist showcasing their talent at Alt-Zalea Fest 2018 is Cara Schauble, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Asheboro. Schauble started singing when she began speaking as a child and has not stopped since. When attending UNCW she was part of the university’s a cappella group, the Seabelles, and has since started performing locally around Wilmington. She looks forward to performing at the recently opened Edward Teach Brewing.
“I was contacted about Alt-Zalea Fest for 2017 and thought the idea of having a sort of ‘side festival’ to showcase local musicians and venues was a great way to promote the more hidden side of downtown,” Schauble says. “I love Azalea Festival and I attend every year, but it’s gotten so big you can get lost in the tourism of it. Alt-Zalea offers a local, community-driven breath of fresh air—away from the crowds and chaos. So, when they asked me to be part of it, I didn’t even have to think about it.”
Like Tumbleweed, Schauble plans to share her original music. Her favorite song to perform is “Where the Sidewalk Ends”; writing it came so naturally to her. The song hits home as it describes a woman on the run with a wealthy man she could fall back on if needed. The woman represents Schauble chasing her dream through wary circumstances, and the man is the stable lifestyle awaiting her back home. Instead of giving in to the temptation of safety, though, Schauble chooses to confidently run in the direction of her dream.
“With every performance, my goal is to make the audience feel like they know me,” she notes. “I try to portray that through my voice and show the audience how I feel by the way I play the song. I try to let the music speak for me. Each performance is a little different and that’s what’s beautiful about live music.”
Talents like Tumbleweed and Schauble will perform for Alt-Zalea Fest on April 14 in the Brooklyn Arts District. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy the alternative fest’s variety and support smaller artists and businesses in their endeavors.
“I hope it inspires locals to seek out more music locally because we really have a lot of great talent here, and if you’re not part of the music scene, you might miss it—and that would be a shame,” Schauble suggests. “I’d love to blend the two worlds, and this could be a good start. I hope it makes tourists feel more welcomed and part of our community. I want to represent Wilmington well and leave them with a good impression of what we’re all about.”