The organizers of the LEAF, one of Western North Carolina signature music festival events, are set to unveil significant changes to the event later this month. The biggest change to the family friendly Black Mountain festival involves dismantling the children’s play area known as Kids Village and sprinking seven mini-villages through the festival grounds.
The area for young children – which features everything from an instrument petting zoo to a costume tent and interactive art experiences – has been set off to one side of event grounds. Jennifer Pickering, LEAF’s founder and executive director, said last week that the change was in response to parents, who began commenting that they were having a hard time accessing other key parts of the festival because the children’s area was segregated. In essence, the Kids Village was a victim of its own success, she said, noting that it has “been its own magnificent world for years.”
“We just want to make it easier for parents to have the experience they were always looking for, and at the same time continue to make it engaging for the kids,” she said. “So we’re starbursting” the kids activities across the festival, she said.
“Everything will be in closer proximity. Now you’ll only have to walk a few feet to next place,” Pickering said, while the sense of a dynamic cultural arts adventure that permeates the festival remains.
“As a nearly 20 year-old signature event, we’re always looking at how to create a richer more engaging experience and gives something that makes their lives a little bit better,” she said.
Each May and October, thousands of people flock to the pastoral valley setting at Camp Rockmont to camp, canoe on the LEAF lake, zipline, relax and take in the festival’s top-notch mix of eclectic mix of music, which encompasses everything from world and reggae to funk and bluegrass. The event is in its 19th year. LEAF will be held May 8-11 and its musical headliners include Beats Antique, Los Lobos and Bootsy Collins. (LEAF on Facebook.)
There are other changes coming, too. Truth Wingfield, a spokeswoman for LEAF, said the food-and-drink facet of the festival will have a more local focus, to better reflect the area’s thriving food culture. Think less “festival” food and more representatives from local restaurant and food truck owners, Wingfield said, noting that some festival favorites like the Sugar Shack will remain.
-The Jelly Dome: The interactive art experience looks like a giant jelly fish and kids “go crazy over it,” Wingfield said. It will be located by the festival’s main stage.
-LEAF Amber in a can: The Pisgah Brewing beer made especially for LEAF will be available in cans.
-French Broad Food Co-0p general store: The store will be better than ever and has grown into a great place to get all festival needs, from a tooth brush to glitter, said Pickering.
-Kickball: It turns out that kickball is a great date, said Pickering, and LEAF will have a singles kickball game on Saturday.
Proceeds from the festival support LEAF in Schools and Streets, an arts education program that connects with 5,000 kids a year around Asheville and Western North Carolina and around the world. LEAF in Schools in Streets is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It has connected with more than 42,000 kids locally and around around the world, Wingfield said.