Harvest Records: ten years of tastemaking

Aug 28, 2014

This weekend, Harvest Records is putting on Transfigurations II, a music festival to celebrate a milestone: ten years ago this month, two music-obsessed college grads decided to open a record store on a street filled with vacant storefronts and car repair shops.

This was three years after Napster had been shut down, but digital music definitely wasn’t going anywhere.

iTunes was selling singles like hotcakes.

And CD stores like Sam Goody and Tower Records were already a thing of the past.

So how did Harvest make the cut?

“Just trying to take care of customers, and not really have an ego or any kind of attitude about it, just kind of like, ‘Ok, you want that? Ok, we’re gonna get that,’” says Matt Schnable.

He and Mark Capon met each other in college and bonded over their love of music-- and putting on shows.

For Schnable and Capon, the idea really is to give people what they want, whether that’s Led Zeppelin or a new breakout band.

Greg Cartwright is the guitarist and singer for the Reigning Sound, a band performing at this weekend’s festival.

He owned a record store in Memphis before he moved to Asheville.

“You know, I really admired what they were trying to do because I knew already what the pitfalls were,” he says.

It’s one thing to sell used records, says Cartwright-- once you’ve got a storefront and people know you’ll take records, it’s easy enough to get business.

But Harvest was trying to do something different.

“They were really trying to stay on top of people’s tastes and interests that are a little out of the norm, which you know is the norm here in Asheville... and that’s hard. That’s really hard,” Cartwright says.

Especially 10 years ago, when West Asheville didn’t have an established scene of its own.

“It was still old school,” Schnable remembers. “Like, mechanics, random shops like the vaccuum cleaner store… I bought a vaccuum there one time. It was awesome.”

Cartwright says the fact that Harvest decided to open there really set the tone of the rest of the shops that came up on Haywood Street.

“It was just a really great time for that side of town, which now has all kinds of restaurants and bars and stuff, but at that time, those were the two games: the record store, and across the street, the Admiral.”

One newer West Asheville venue, The Mothlight, is even a part of Transfigurations. Shows will also be at the Grey Eagle in the River Arts District tonight and tomorrow, with the Saturday shows at on Blannahassett island in Marshall.

Angel Olsen is another musician performing at Transfigurations.

She says she first met the Harvest guys when she was touring with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. They had a show in Marshall, too.

“At first, I was like, ‘Why are we driving out to the middle of nowhere?’,” Olsen says. “But then you get there and it’s this beautiful old high school with art studios. I call it the snow globe place because it’s this beautiful little town in a snow globe.”

Transfigurations II features about thirty bands over three days. Some, like Nest Egg and Axxa/ABRAXAS are based in Asheville. Others are coming in from New York, and as far away as New Zealand.

Schnable says, like the store itself, the point of Transfigurations is to provide festival-goers with a sense of discovery.

“The goal is for people to say, ‘Oh maybe I recognize one or two people, but yeah, I’m gonna trust that this will be an event of artists that are worthy of seeing. That should be the goal perpetually in life: to trust people to provide things that are meaningful. Why not get out of your comfort zone for a day? And at the very least, you’re hanging out in Marshall.”

Or, as Cartwright put it: “It’s like a Willy Wonka ticket. You don’t know what’s gonna be there, but you know that it’s gonna be fantastic and that the people who are in charge of the whole thing … it’s gonna be amazing.”