This is the 44th edition of the multi-cultural, twice-per-year festival at Camp Rockmont’s Lake Eden, near Owen High School in Black Mountain.
Ignite and Inspire is the motto this time. LEAF is a “unifying power of world music, art, and culture” and a “welcoming space for all walks of life and all ways of perceiving our diverse world,” LEAF Performing Arts Dir. Ehren Cruz stated. Performing artists are “masters of their craft” and “way-makers of powerful messages of hope, freedom, and inspiration. This festival also features a powerful blend of ancient tradition captured within new innovative voices reflecting the times.”
The main theme is African music. Legends of Africa is a collection of musicians from 13 African nations including Mali and Madagascar. Mokoomba of Zimbabwe plays the main/lakeside stage twice Saturday — first joined by LEAF Schools & Streets youths at 10:25.
Jon Stickley Trio returns with blazing bluegrass, in Eden Hall 7:15 p.m. Friday and 9:15 p.m. Saturday. Asheville-based funky Lyric, fronted by soulful Leeda Jones, plays 10:15 a.m. Sunday in Eden Hall. Martin Sexton plays acoustic bluesy folk on the main stage Sunday, May 14. He vocalizes guitar solos. John Mayer calls him the “best live performer I’ve ever seen.”
Following Sexton to wrap up LEAF is Gray, at 4:30-6 p.m. Gray, 49, debuted with a multi-platinum album in 1999 featuring her international hit “I Try.” She won a Grammy for it in 2001, for best female pop vocal performance. The song was in Jennifer Aniston’s comic film Picture Perfect. Gray’s single “Sweet Baby” was a British chart topper, and 11th on the U.S. Billboard charts soon after 9/11.
Last September, her CD Stripped debuted in the Billboard Jazz Chart’s third spot. Billie Holliday is her idol. Raspy-voiced Gray blends R&B, experimental soul, jazz, hip-hop, disco and alt-rock. Her records sales exceed 25 million worldwide.
She is hailed for vibrant live shows, collaborations and covers. She was featured in the studio on funky electronic Galactic’s song “Into the Deep” in ’15, then Ariana Grande’s single “Leave Me Lonely” in ’16. In ’12, Gray covered Motown funk-pop legend Stevie Wonder’s entire Talking Book album and the Eurythmics’ haunting “Here Comes the Rain Again.”
She opened the Macy Gray Music Academy in 2005. She is known for outlandish wigs on stage. Her entire band once wore Andy Warhol-like pink wigs, and other times had political messages on their clothes.
Six-foot Gray is from Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Her given name is Natalie Renee McIntyre. Macy Gray was her pen name as a youth, later her stage name. She spotted the man’s name on a mailbox near her home. In ’08, she recorded the song “Slap a Bitch” under the name Nemesis Jaxson.
Gray also produces albums, and acts. She was in the ’12 film The Paperboy with Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. Gray studied scriptwriting at Southern Cal.
LEAF tickets are $45-55 for Friday or Sunday, and $60-65 for Saturday. Weekend tickets are sold out. But the $105-120 community pass for Buncombe County residents is available, as of press time. Children younger than 10 get in free, when with a parent or guardian. For more information, visit: theleaf.org.