Sylva music scene folk revival, with a modern twist

In the not-so-distant past, the bars and breweries that line the streets of downtown Sylva and Dillsboro would emanate the rural region’s most popular style of music: electronica, or electronic dance music (EDM). But now, the Sylva music scene is returning to its original roots, thanks to bands like 1898.

Yes, a semi-nightly rave had descended upon the Jackson County seat fueled by a Western Carolina student body with playlists full of the energetic, pulsing beats and a demand to dance accordingly. But 12-year resident Curt Collins, City Lights Café manager, has had his finger on the pulse of the local music scene. During his time playing in two area bands, as well as managing another, he’s witnessed the beginning of a transformation.

“So there used to be a lot more electronic music in the area a few years ago, but that’s definitely fallen off in recent years. But the music scene now is weird, right? Because it’s evolved, but simultaneously gone back toward its traditional roots,” Collins said.

The 1898 practicing. Photo by Caleb Peek.

During the height of this decade’s dance music craze, a handful of artists were finding success in the folk scene. While YouTube was overloaded with videos of strobe lights and dancers clad in cartoonish masks, groups like Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and Phillip Phillips found favor in the ears of those looking for a softer sound.

Fast forward to 2016, and the coffee shops are returning to an indie paradise. The same bars that once blasted EDM into the after-hours Sylva streets are abandoning the music machines for a sound so old that it’s, surprisingly, become new again.

The effect of a traditional music revival may have the most profound influence on the classic college band. Formerly, bands like REM would be the poster children for post-adolescent, knowledge-fueled, make-sense-of-the-world indie music. For the modern generation, it seems that the theme has shifted from understanding the universe, to simply enjoying what it has to offer.

1898, a local band, has ridden the wave of traditional music popularity since their inception in a 2015 Western Carolina University frat house. Consisting of musicians froma wide array of backgrounds and varying levels of experience, they’re hitting their stride in a small-town Sylva music market that is extremely conducive to creativity.

“I think Sylva is a good place to start, especially for really young bands,” said Brock Atwell, 1898 drummer. “There’s just enough of a young-person presence in Sylva where if you’re playing the local bars, and if you get enough of a crowd there, then you’re just 45 minutes away from Asheville where there can be really big crowds.”

“I think for a band like us: college students, indie/folk and bluegrass, the coffee shops and breweries are perfect,” said Gavin Stewart, 1898 bassist. “I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to be starting out.”

1898 began on Oct. 31, 2015 as an accident. Band members Gavin Stewart, Jeff Denton, Alex Canup, and Colby Lipscomb were all hanging out and

Alex Canup playing the banjo. He is also the lead singer. Photo by Caleb Peek.

listening to music in Denton’s apartment. When a song from The Avett Brothers came on, Canup picked up a guitar and started playing some folk and bluegrass music. As he was playing he brought up the idea to his friends about starting a bluegrass band. Everyone agreed to it with a “why not” attitude, and 1898 was born. 1898 got its name because all of its members are brothers of the fraternity Phi Mu Alpha, which was founded in 1898.

After 1898 formed, they entered WCU’s Battle of the Bands competition with that same “why not attitude.” The competition turned into a showcase because not enough bands participated and 1898 performed five songs at the event. Since then, 1898 has performed at the Hillside Grind and the City Lights Café and are looking to perform at more local venues.

Similar to the current Sylva music genre, 1898 is a traditional-style band but does not fall under a specific genre. Their music is a conglomerate of multiple genres and styles that differ from song to song. Some songs have more of a bluegrass feel to them while others consist of more folk, rock, or indie. They play whatever sounds good to them.

“We are a perfect fit for Sylva,” said 1898 banjo player and singer Alex Canup. Our music really fits in with the mountain culture that Sylva and Western North Carolina offer.”

“We tell people we are an indie-folk band but we really do not have a specific genre, which really makes us unique,” said Stewart. “We just write and play whatever sounds good and all of our songs are different.”

1898 is currently working on producing an album that is set to release early next year. The band is getting help from some friends and the album 1898 will be released on SoundCloud.