Beat from the street (Aug. 31, 2016)

Many stories lurk throughout Asheville, whether they are behind the Vaudevillian jazz-folk played by buskers around Pritchard Park, the colorful businesses decorated with funky, hand-made crafts or the laughter echoing from a patio as locals and tourists alike enjoy delicious beer. 

Rylee Brooks, 26, waitress, originally from Georgia
Rylee Brooks has a lot to say about
Asheville's expensive housing market.
Photo by Cassidy Fowler.

How would you describe your style?
“I’ve always tried to dress kind of like a combination between an anime character and a homeless person, I guess. That’s how it just ends up and like a little bit of witchy, Stevie Nicks, stuff going on.”

What would you say artistically, literature-wise, musically, are your inspirations?
“As far as how people dress, well, like I said, I’ve always been really heavily influenced by anime and just Japanese in general. I used to be really obsessed with dressing really Kawaii and then I’m like, I’m 26, I’ve gotta tone down the kawaii a little bit.”

What is kawaii?
“It’s basically dressing really cutesy, Lolita-style stuffed animals and little fluffy skirts and stuff like that, dressing kind of like a doll, basically. But also, I end up wearing a lot of black all the time because I’m a waitress and usually when I buy something, I want to make sure it’s something I can wear it to work too so it’s not a waste. Let me think about the people who tend to influence my style. As far as eras of fashion and stuff, I’ve never really been into the whole hippie thing. That’s why I lean a little bit toward the other kind of Fleetwood Mac, witchy-look, you know? I really like cyberpunk, cyberstuff too, Neal Stevenson type of thing, even those I guess it’s more like what I think it’s like in my mind because he never illustrated anything. He’s just a writer. But yeah, I just find inspiration from pretty much anywhere.”

“But I’ve kind of always dressed the same too. I wouldn’t say I’m always influenced by fads.”

How would you describe yourself in three words?
“Cunt-faced bitch”

What do you like and dislike about Asheville?
“Oh god, that’s a loaded question. The thing that I like about Asheville is that it’s still barely hanging on to that idea that you can come here and it’s kind of like an oasis in the Bible belt from persecution and you’re supposed to, you know, be able to come here and be yourself and be an artist and, I don’t know, just be able to create something of value here and other people appreciate it. But, you know, it’s really changing a lot, especially over the past four years. It’s like it’s been a--”

Tourist trap?
“Yeah, you know, all of that is gonna level out eventually, but right now, especially like our housing market, completely unsustainable.”

It’s brutal.
“There’s so many Air B&Bs, but barely anything where you can actually afford to live. Our rent just went up $225 and we were paying almost $1000 a month to live in a hole in the ground. But, I see a lot of people coming in from other places and buying real estate here and they really have no concern for our community or the people who live here and then you find more and more that our local government doesn’t have any concern for the people who actually live here and eventually the tourism is going to fade and, you know, I’m afraid we’re going to end up like Denver, Colorado, you know? It used to be a really cool place and now there’s a Starbucks on every corner and middle-aged white people as far as the eye can see. I mean, you know, this was supposed to be a place, where, I guess, for culture to grow and now more and more I see it just caters to the average southeastern American family, more-so than youth culture and just growth in general of any kind, really. I don’t know. It’s sad. I just hope eventually things will level out again because this is where my family is from, you know, the Appalachian Mountains and it was always such a cool place and I hope that people realize eventually that we’ve gotta do something or rent is not even going to resemble what it was.”

“Stuff like that, especially, you know, you’re late for work because the Pubcycle is stopping traffic. Yeah, there’s no way to work here except in customer service. You go to school in Asheville. You graduate and then you have to leave if you don’t want to work in customer service and then you have the price of housing here and the idea of even buying a house here is ridiculous. We were recently looking at purchasing a home here and we would find something that was reasonable and some huge real estate conglomerate from out of town would come and offer $10,000 over the asking price and of course, the person selling the house, instead of thinking, ‘wow, this is my community,’ they’re just more concerned about making money and just take it. But yeah, between how much money you can make in Asheville and how much housing is here, there’s a huge discrepancy and I think we’re 4th in the country for that discrepancy. There’s New York, San Francisco, Miami and then Asheville. Then, you look at those other few other places, and it’s, like, wow.”

They’re huge.
“Yeah, they’re huge places that have been like that for quite some time and it almost seems that nowhere is safe because everywhere that was ever a center for culture and growth and just being different and artistic always gets taken over and gentrified and you know, everybody who has either, you know, had a lower economic bracket, which are a lot of people who are struggling to do something artistic, you know, people who live in different ethnic groups are pushed all the way to the fringes, pushed out of their homes and then they have nowhere else to go and it just seems like that’s happening with everywhere, not just Asheville, everyplace that was just considered cool. They come in and take it over. Until people stop being more worried about money than they are about building a good, sustainable, supportive community where people care about each other, until they start worrying more about that, it’s not going to stop and I guess that’s the American way, though.”

Teso McDonald, 18, musician originally from Washington state

What brought you out to Asheville?
“Music. I couldn’t busk in Washington. Well, I can here at least.”

“It’s here people are a lot more willing to listen to the underdog and here what they have in their brain. But there, I feel like you have to be recognized already and have some sort of status to be able to come up anywhere.”

Are you from Seattle?
“I’m from north of Seattle, about 40 minutes, a place called Everett.”

Okay, so close to Vancouver?
“Ok, so, I live probably about two hours away from the border and, yeah, rep the 425.”

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Teso McDonald (l) can be found roaming the streets
of Asheville with his guitar. Photo by Cassidy Fowler.
“What the fuck?”

That’s great. What kind of music do you play?
“I don’t know.”

You don’t know? What instruments do you like? What inspires you?
“I have to say people who really made a difference, like Bob Marley got shot for what he believed. He performed like a couple days later because music is worth it like that and I feel that I’m, I’d, get shot for music.”

Yeah, yeah. It’s a powerful force and it’s kind of what keeps everyone together. So, if you were to say, besides Bob Marley, other inspirations that you have, music or literature?
“There are so many. There are so many. I really love Morgan Freeman and Will Smith. I really love Jim Carrey. I really love the Foo Fighters, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pink Floyd.”

A lot of things.
“So many things.”

Did you hitch-hike out here? How did you get out here?
“My stepdad is the lead guitarist of a band called Toubab Krewe. Yeah and my mom and him found a place out here and had a kid. In December, I decided to come live with him and I’m going to college at A-B Tech.”

So if you were to describe your style, how would you put that into words?
“It changes, so tomorrow, I may be dressed like a street kid and nomadic.”

Nomadic, yeah, that’s a good word. That suits you, with the guitar strapped over.

The original version of these interviews was published in The Blue Banner.