Legends of the Americas is LEAF Retreat Theme - TribPapers

Legends of the Americas is LEAF Retreat Theme

Angela Gladue does First Nations tribal dancing. Photo provided.

Black Mountain – The LEAF Retreat on May 11-14 is more globally-oriented than ever by featuring Latin, Native American, and African music and dance.

Aztec dancing by Chichimeca and also John John of the local Eastern Band of Cherokee epitomize LEAF’s year-round theme of Legends of the Americas. John John provides song, dance and a cultural history talk. In Sonos Poetica, Jeff Firewalker reads poetry set to tribal music. Tracey Schmidt’s “visually captivating” photos of Native Americans across North America (“Turtle Island”) is exhibited at the retreat.

LEAF Executive Director Jennifer Pickering told the Tribune “it’s amazing how little we know about indigenous First Nations (Native American) people on our own continent, and how they’re embracing and continuing their rich culture” such as with “stories that are connections to land and food.”

Tribal dancer Angela Gladue is from Edmonton, Alberta. She has more than 20 years of professional dancing experience and dance competitions in North America. LEAF Entertainment Director Otto Vazquez performs Latin and hip hop dancing.

LEAF is renowned for its global performers. This time, groups are from such countries as Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Venezuela; also Morocco, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Uganda. Pickering calls the performance program “robust and culturally rich, very ‘LEAFy’ with world music.”

Cozier Retreat

Pickering has run LEAF festivals since they began in 1995, as the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF). The festivals are a feature of her non-profit LEAF Global Arts’ cultural arts education and preservation. They are supported mostly by donations and membership dues, Pickering said. “Our fundraiser is our memberships, for the greater mission.”

Pickering ingeniously adjusted her approach, since the pandemic eased. “I’m so glad we survived COVID,” she said. “We did smaller events” with sanitary restrictions, such as the down-scaled “retreats.” By now, such a limited turnout continues in the spring with a limit of 1,500 people. This is a cozier contrast to the full-fledged LEAF Festival, Oct. 19-22 which fits in 10,000 people – as many as 5,500 daily, Pickering said.

“It’s a time to relax, find your inner LEAF, and feel revived” in the warm days and by “old-school LEAF magic,” Pickering said of the smaller spring gathering. “Everything’s on site” including parking.

Contra and other dancing is in smaller Eden Hall, not huge Brookside Gym as in the fall. Festival-goers are encouraged but not required to get vaccinated or tested for COVID. Wearing sanitary masks is quite optional at LEAF events, Pickering said. “It’s everybody’s personal preference, at this point in the world.”

In simplification, retreat tickets are sold only online in advance and as weekend-long with optional camping included. The purchaser must be a LEAF member, but can buy tickets for family or other non-members, Pickering explained. Those not yet members should first buy a yearly LEAF membership – such as at $50 per individual or $100 per immediate family. A “WeX” work exchange volunteering option is for those with limited discretionary cash.

Educators, Youth Musicians

The LEAF Retreat showcases local youth musicians on stage, such as the band Minor which festival organizers hail as the “electrifying teen rock group from Asheville Music School… whose passion and talent are inspiring the next generation of musicians.” This is part of “LEAF’s ongoing commitment to uplifting youth voices.”

LEAF (in) Schools and Streets (LSS) instructors give an all-star performance on Saturday, May 13 at 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the Lakeside Main Stage.

The funky band The Change with vocalist-bassist Kayla Lynn McKinney (stage name “McKinney”), guitarist Paul Gladstone, ukulele player Derian Blane Mills, and drummer Ary’an Graham performs. Pickering calls The Change “absolutely extraordinary” as musicians, instructors and mentors. “They’re young teaching artists who help run the LEAF Global Arts Experience downtown” in Asheville.

Guitarist Gladstone leads jazz jams each Thursday from 7-10 p.m. at LEAF Global Art’s headquarters at 19 Eagle St. There is a suggested donation of $10.

The Change musicians are among those who instruct local youth in various Buncombe County Schools (BCS) year-round as resident teaching artists, through the The One Voice Project and starting last fall. This is thanks to a year-long grant that Pickering secured. On April 20, these four taught their original song “Be the Change” to North Buncombe Middle School eighth-graders, who later sang along to it on stage in the The One Voice Project show for the entire school.

Kayla “Layla” McKinney gives youth messages of hope and anti-bullying in such shows. She has played in The Asheville All-Stars in Downtown After Five.

Her mother Melissa McKinney directs The One Voice Project, via the Stages Music School that she has run since 2008. She is a singer and songwriter. Pickering said, “Melissa and her crew give inspiration to youth finding their creative ‘voice,’ and being able to express it. It’s feeling really empowering and culturally relevant.” The One Voice Project is “finding extraordinary voices for change, and creating beautiful pathways of community.”

LEAF Retreat ticket prices are $222 per adult or $186 per youth aged 10-17 (for Friday 9 a.m. to Sunday at 7 p.m.), or else $262 per adult or $234 per youth when adding Thursday, May 11. Children younger than 10 get in for free. Commuter parking is in lot 6, for a one-time $10. There are options for on-site lodging and camp parking.

To purchase a LEAF membership and then LEAF Retreat tickets, do so online in advance at: theLEAF.org/tickets. Tickets for the fall LEAF Festival go on sale June 1.