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LEAF Festival in Black Mountain

Last year when we passed through Black Mountain, we became aware of the LEAF (Lake Eden Arts Festival) Festival, and tried to
attend.  Tickets for this event, however, were sold out long before the start of this unique "happening."  So while making reservations for our accommodations in Black Mountain this year, I also purchased tickets for the 41st Festival, all 3 days.  In May and October, the non-profit organization holds the Festival on the grounds of the former Black Mountain College near Lake Eden.  Since it started 20 years ago, LEAF has expanded beyond the festival.  It now includes a Schools and Street program which serves over 10,000 youths annually (since 2004) in art and music workshops, residencies and performances.  In 2006,  LEAF International was launched, which
sponsors programs to "empower global youth and collaborate to preserve cultural traditions."  Connecting cultures and enriching lives through the arts is the key behind LEAF. 

New Orleans was the primary theme of this fall's event.  The relationship between the city and the non-profit began 10 years ago following Hurricane Katrina.  LEAFers donated $100,000 in instruments to the city.  The first Schools and Street program established was with young New Orlean's musicians, and the 20th LEAF Festival (2005) featured entertainers from the area.

Following a group of singing honey bees on stilts (pollinating singing flowers) on our arrival to the event on Friday afternoon, was just a touch of the diversity awaiting us for the weekend.  Six different performance art venues were available for entertainment, but also there were roving entertainers, ranging from jugglers to clowns.  Healing art workshops for yoga, tai chi, herbal medicine, and numerous others, in addition to drum and didgeridoo workshops, soapstone carving, kombucha workshops, and on and on, being offered at 3 different locations.

As a family-friendly event, there were a variety of kids activities offered as well, including soccer, frisbee matches, kickball, and bedtime stories.  Elfhaven childcare was offered for parents wanting to experience some of the late night venues without their children.  With somewhere around 3000 tents located on the outskirts of the festivities, many of the attendees just had a short walk to their "home" for the weekend to take a break.  As temperatures dipped down into the 30's on Saturday night, we were happy to have a heated home to drive to.  Traffic was managed with off site parking, and transfers to the event by bus.  Buses ran continuously until 2 A.M., allowing revelers to enjoy the later  programs.

Trying to describe the event is difficult.  Weirdness is celebrated, and it's like wandering into a
magical carnival surrounded by mountain vistas and fall colors.  Hundreds of people wear costumes, and the excitement on the grounds in palatable.  You are constantly surrounded with sounds and sights to stimulate your senses.  Food offered was unlike any we had ever experienced at a festival.  Even the junk food was somewhat healthy, with organic sugar and no food coloring used for the cotton candy, and organic corn used for the kettle corn.  We had purchased Culinary tickets which provided us with meals offered in Eden Hall, which was also one of the entertainment venues.  So we heard poetry readings, or Taiwanese music or blues, as we ate healthy meals, like beef stew made with grass-fed beef.  But we also enjoyed the offerings at a few of the numerous food vendors.   
 
Aaron Neville and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band were the lead performers for the weekend, with the rest of the program filled in with an outstanding variety of entertainers.  When Aaron started his set, a chill ran over me, his voice was exquisite.  Charles Neville on the sax was sublime, I'm certain I've never heard his equal.   With the large tent area cleared of seating for his evening performance, the crowd danced, swayed and sang along, and convinced him to sing a few encores.  Preservation Hall was the closing performance on Sunday, and their show started with an overlap with the LEAF Delta Jazz and Southside Drummers, part of the Schools and Streets program.  All in all an incredible experience!
Tents on top of tents

Zipliner landing in the chilly waters

Almost non-stop dancing and music at Brookside, offering one of the largest dance floors in the South.
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole
One of the many drum circles




The Shifty Drifters-spoon driven band
Kombucha at a Festival?!
Preservation Hall with the Delta Jazz group
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The Barn, one of the venues
Rachel Kilgour, winner of the singer/songwriter contest
Mardi Gras parade

Poet at Eden Hall
Ziplining into the chilly Lake
Charmaine Neville Band



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