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Why This Asheville Venue Is a Must-See

Asheville’s creativity is its heartbeat. Story Parlor is the stage. Head there and beyond for authentic experiences that push artistic boundaries.

The exterior Story Parlor—a brick building with tall arched glass windows.

Story Parlor is an intimate narrative arts space in Asheville.

Photo by Andre Daugherty

Picture an intimate space, one with a stage just the right size for a musician and a portable keyboard, or a poet and a microphone. The historic building’s rows of arched windows form an elegant backdrop for those gathered here. This is Story Parlor, West Asheville’s enchanting narrative arts space.

In a setting of this size, barriers between performer and crowd are non-existent. There’s the sense that each has shown up for the other with good intentions and they’re completely present. Enchantment and inspiration ensue. On the other side of the thick, amber velvet curtains that line the windows, cars and trucks race up Haywood Road. But inside there’s a certain alchemy taking place—an artist is sharing a story, and the audience is actively part of it.

Such reverent tones about the artist-audience connection at Story Parlor might imply a certain gravity in the performances you’ll see here. Serious talent, yes, but you’re just as likely to find irreverent musical performances such as the luminous voice of local singer-songwriter Elizabeth McCorvey mixing her original lyrics with hip-hop music as she strums the cello or songwriting pianist Melanie Ida Chopko sharing a love song about her cat. If you attend one of the monthly Story Mix nights, you might witness everything from narrative dance to a prose reading. The local talent “has swept me off my feet,” says Story Parlor founder Erin Hallagan Clare. “Asheville really packs a punch.”

A new cultural chapter

Two performers speaking into microphones on a stage backed with red curtains at Story Parlor.

A Story Parlor performance

Photo by Andre Daugherty

As a former organizer of a film festival writer’s conference, Clare began to see story as the heart of all art forms, from film and theater to poetry and dance. In 2015, she started a story-centered, “vagabond” project that offered performances everywhere from farms to backyards to stages but dreamed of a permanent home for the initiative, and kismet happened in Asheville, as it often does.

After moving here to be closer to family, Clare noticed a “For Sale” sign on a charming property just up the road from West Asheville’s beloved Taco Billy. The nearly 100-year-old brick building, now empty, had housed everything from a doula group to a natural casket company. At around 1,000 square feet with a capacity for an audience of about 50 and a small bar, it was akin to a “listening room.” Choosing it “felt effortless,” Clare says.

Story Parlor–generated events take place once a month. On other nights, the work of other arts groups such as Asheville Creative Arts or Speakeasy Improv takes center stage. The sheer variety of performances is surprising and delightful. You might find performers engaged in mind reading, classical guitar, poetry, or jazz. Story Parlor is “not only for the community but by the community,” Clare says. This new chapter of performing arts in Asheville continues a rich heritage of cultural invention in the region.

Western North Carolina’s legacy of artistic experimentation

A girl reaching out to touch the nose of a fox in a mural by artist Gus Cutty.

Art, like this mural by artist Gus Cutty, is everywhere in Asheville.

Courtesy of Explore Asheville/Emily Chaplin

The Asheville area’s affinity for pushing boundaries extends beyond the city’s downtown. Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center celebrates the impact of Black Mountain College, which nurtured some of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, including Josef and Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, and Robert Rauschenberg.

{Re}Happening, a one-day event held each spring on the site of the original campus at Lake Eden, keeps its spirit alive. With innovative dance, music, art installations, and multimedia work, it draws local and national artists to explore new territory in artistic expression. Lake Eden is also home to Asheville’s beloved LEAF Global Arts Festival, a celebration of local arts across multiple disciplines and high-profile global acts, from Toots and the Maytals to the Indigo Girls.

Boundary-pushing is also the ethos at Asheville Fringe Festival, and Revolve, a contemporary arts space that hosts regional visual and performing artists in its small-capacity Riverside Drive space. Focused on experimental contemporary music, multidisciplinary and multimedia work, and film performances, it’s a place to encounter the unexpected, the cerebral, and the thought-provoking up close and personal.

Asheville’s spirit of open-hearted and open-minded experimentation draws visitors and new residents from around the world. “People are attracted to Asheville’s cultural heartbeat,” says Clare. “We feel a responsibility to maintain and uphold that creative fabric and we keep it at the center of all our efforts.” Story—in its many forms and on different kinds of stages—is an ideal access point for understanding Asheville’s cultural scene, giving travelers essential insight into the city’s vibrant creative community.

Explore Asheville and written by Joanne O’Sullivan
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