I’ve recently noticed certain areas of the country seem to be artistic hot spots, with an “it” factor bubbling beneath the surface. Because of the juice radiating out, they become meccas for artists, musicians, and writers. I started pondering what creates these locations that the arts orbit around like the sun. They cannot be chosen at random; it can’t be a matter of chance when it comes to such greatness. I started thinking about the places that make me feel that energy, and they have one thing in common…heat.
When I say a place has heat, I don’t necessarily mean temperature, though a warm climate usually is the case. I mean the place radiates a fusion of controversy, history, hurt, love, and soul. That’s why many of these places are southern cities. I’m thinking of two places in particular: Asheville, North Carolina and Austin, Texas.
I was born and raised in Asheville, a place that was once only a patch of dirt in a misty valley marking the crossroads of two Cherokee Indian trails. The Europeans checked it out, along with the rest of The South in the 16th century, but the Appalachian town wasn’t born until the late 1700’s. Soon enough the new settlers pointed the natives towards the trail of tears to Oklahoma and took the land for themselves after being drawn to the scenic landscape. I would say Asheville’s first heartache was the day of its birth when it was pried out of the hands of it’s inhabitants.
After becoming a hub for 19th century sanitariums and wellness centers, the area attracted a little more attention. However, it wasn’t enough, and the city suffered. When the stock market crashed in ’29, Asheville had the most debt per capita of any city in America. Therefore, the beautiful art deco buildings, mostly built after the Civil War, were preserved because the town couldn’t afford upgrades. On accident, and due to poor financial management, the buildings themselves became art, and are now a rarity in the United States. There came the architects, artists, and tourists. There came the livelihood. Art.
Now the heat pumps out of Ashevlle from the inside out. It pulls in abstract thinkers like an insatiable magnet, thirsty to connect with everything around it. It’s a vibe, and I swear it’s stronger on hot summer days…
Now there is Austin, Texas. I visited there for the first time just last week. I’d heard so much about the city’s music scene and was anxious to check it out. Home to artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the blues is a staple of the musical society. I knew it would be interesting, but I didn’t know that whatever that presence was down there, would be so tangible. I did know however that the blues is something a little more regal than other music, because it literally gnaws its way out of the soul. I should have known there would be something surreal there, caught in that beautiful area that lives somewhere in the middle of happy and sad.
It was 90 degrees at eight o’clock at night of 6th Street. People were hustling and bustling, and something sweet in the air was sticking to my skin. Maybe that’s what humidity in The South is…it’s the magic in the air reaching out to grab us, not letting us go. It was in the air that night.
I walked down the cracked sidewalks, staring at old buildings that made me forget I wasn’t in Asheville, hearing different brands of blues pulsing from every street corner. Smoke came out of every bar, but I didn’t smell one cigarette. I’d almost swear on all that’s holy that it was the music floating out like an apparition, but I won’t go that far. Whatever it was; it was mysterious. It stirred up feelings that don’t really have words, which is why I suppose, not all artists write. Some of them just have to slide their fingers up and down the seductive neck of a six string to convey the whisperings in the air around them. It can only be felt, not retold. It was all over Austin, and had me sweating it out of my skin.
That feeling is what makes art so intriguing. It’s why the heat is better than the cold. Heat makes us lose our minds, stir up emotions that most have the good sense to leave untouched, strip naked, and make something real cry out of us in some art form or another. It’s hot because it’s always moving, always picking up steam, and is so far gone that it will never cool down.