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Downtown After Five Schedules Great Band Lineup for 16th Annual Summer Series

Spring is in full bloom, which means it’s time for Downtown After Five, Asheville Downtown Association’s insanely popular free concert series that serves as homage to good friends, cold drinks, and hot music. As one of the city’s most popular events for locals, Downtown After Five draws an average of 3,000 people to Pack Square the third Friday of each month, May through September. Here, a stage is erected across from Vance Monument, and the streets fill with people dancing to the beats of some of the Southeast’s most popular bands.

The 2005 season kicked off Friday, May 20, with New Orleans-based The Iguanas. These roots rockers provided R&B, blues, and jazz tunes with a decidedly Latin and Caribbean feel, thanks to the Mexican heritage of founders Rod Hodges and Joe Cabral. Pick up any of the band’s six discs and you’ll find songs sung in English, Spanish, or a combination of the two, and their rousing live shows have earned them a reputation as a party band non pareil.

Local opener Firecracker Jazz Band featured moonlighters from favorites such as Squirrel Nut Zippers, Scrappy Hamilton, and Asylum Street Spankers. Together, this crew played New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, and other period pop, paying tribute to greats, such as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Bix Beiderbeck.

Cyril Lance follows on June 17, bringing his blend of jamming, free-wheeling blues-rock to the streets of Asheville. Relix magazine hailed him as “one of the most exciting guitar players around today.” Billboard dubbed his 2002 debut one of the best blues albums of the year and said that the “sheer musicianship” of his 2004 follow-up, “Live from the Outskirts,” “matches the best any blues label has to offer.”

Opening for Lance is Hollywood Red, also known locally as Woody Wood. The solo Red has held onto the trademark outrageous style and stage antics he injected into the Blue Rags, but now he’s sharing a rock sound that’s less stylized and more soulful. His latest album (a self-titled disc released last year) is a virtual who’s who of the Asheville music scene, with some of the city’s hottest musicians making guest appearances.

The July 15 Downtown After Five offers a dose of hard-rocking Southern-roots music with Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. This Atlanta-based band has been touring for 20 years, selling out venues on their own and opening for R.E.M., Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others. Over the course of nine albums, they’ve become one of the South’s supreme rock bands.

Warming up the stage for the July event will be Dash Rip Rock, a trio best described as Bayouland country punk. These guys have been tearing up stages throughout the Southeast for more than two decades, and their live shows are notoriously spontaneous and energetic.

On August 19, Walter “Wolfman” Washington brings a healthy dose of blues, jazz, funk, R&B, gospel, and soul to Pack Square. Considered by many as one of the best rhythm-and-blues musicians working today, Washington combines soulful vocals with unmistakable guitar riffs to produce a sound that many say channels Sly Stone, Ray Charles, and T-Bone Walker.

Opening for Washington is Kellin Watson, whose jazzy folk-rock has made her a favorite on WNCW. Watson has been writing songs and playing guitar since age 13, and she recorded her first demo at 16. After a few years with local bands, she released her first solo album in December 2004. The season will wrap up on September 16 with a local showcase featuring some of the area’s hottest bands, which will be announced at a later date.

“Downtown After Five has become such a popular event for people who like to have a good time and support Asheville Downtown Association,” said Association President Carter Bagley. “We’ll be out there rain or shine throughout the summer and invite everyone to join in the fun.”

Each event runs from 5 to 9 PM, with the local opener warming things up before the headliner takes the stage. In addition to live music, Downtown After Five features drinks by local and national breweries and wineries, plus food by local restaurants. As in previous years, the family-friendly event will also feature an alcohol-free kids’ area with face painting, balloon artists, and crafts for children.

This will be Downtown After Five’s final season in its current location, where it moved in the late ’90s after starting out in various downtown parking garages and lots.

“Downtown After Five began on top of the Wall Street parking garage and then moved to the Walnut Street parking lot across for Gypsy Moon,” Bagley said. “1998 was the first year on Pack Square, and it will be sad to move out of these intimate confines.

“However, we do look forward to the challenge of moving Downtown After Five all over town while Pack Square Park is under construction next year, and we’re very excited about using the Pack Square Park upon its completion in 2007.”

Downtown After Five is presented by the Asheville Downtown Association.

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