Mountain Xpress: The tide is high

060811coverDiscovering mermaids in Marshall, as part of the town’s Friday event series

A celebration of the arts and culture of Marshall, the French Broad Friday series kicks off with its signature event, Mermaids in Marshall.

On Friday, June 10, you can welcome the onset of summer with a mythology-inspired evening by the French Broad River. Explore your own oceanic character as you explore the many things Marshall has to offer. The town will be buzzing staring at 6 p.m. when you can join a parade of mermaids, mermen, pirates and water nymphs. Sample some of the town’s food, hear live music, explore the shops, visit open artist studios and enjoy a festive evening in this small mountain town just outside of Asheville.

The pairing of arts and a small-town setting is not foreign to this area, but you may wonder: Mermaids in the mountains of Marshall? How do mermaids fit into this picture?

Katie Keyes, who lives in Marshall, explained the genesis of the idea. “I was always really moved by the fact that Marshall High School sits on an island surrounded by the French Broad,” says Keyes, who has a workspace in Marshall High Studios (the renovated former MHS building). “An island in the mountains is very cool.”

She’d walk down to the river contemplating the persona of a fresh-water mermaid. The idea of mermaids in Marshall caught on after Keyes donned a mermaid costume for the very first French Broad Friday. The next event encouraged the whole community to participate in the celebration of water, resulting in the first Mermaids in Marshall-themed FBF.

Keyes remembers, “One year we had all of the kids call the mermaids down from a balcony by singing [the Blondie hit] ‘The Tide is High.’”

“Each year the parade gets bigger and better… One of the great things about the Mermaid Parade, or any event in Marshall for that matter, is that a premise is set, but you never know exactly what to expect,” says Emily Reason, a potter who also works at Marshall High Studios (Keyes describes a group of mermaids getting pulled around in a horse-drawn carriage).

Complementing the water theme, Flow Gallery is this month’s featured artspace. As part of the evening’s activities, Flow will be having a reception for its current show, Porcelain and Perfume, a collaboration between Keyes and Reason, featuring a series of porcelain containers for handmade oils, perfumes and dusting powders.

In addition to the water theme influencing the outfits of attendees, many restaurants in Marshall will feature maritime meals. The newest restaurant in Marshall, YUM!, will be cooking up a snow-crab cluster basket with drawn butter and lemon, some seafood jambalaya and a BBQ shrimp basket.

French Broad Fridays (which will continue through the summer) is part of the NC STEP program, funded in part by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to revitalize small towns. Since the program’s implementation in Marshall, about 20 new businesses have started and many buildings have been renovated. Marshall is becoming a tourist attraction that draws entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Events such as the French Broad Friday series position Marshall as a destination for visitors to experience the exciting things that are happening in this picturesque community on the river.

“People come out because they love the land,” says Ryan Griffith, one of the co-organizers of the event. “They love the open, agricultural vibe here in town, and in Madison County in general.”

In addition to helping organize, Griffith is also looking forward to participating in the evening’s activities. She scoured the local thrift shops and has put together to outfit to attend as Ursula, the part-octopus sea witch from The Little Mermaid. Describing the costume, she says, “I’ll probably have fangs and look all demon-ish.”

— Stephanie Guinan can be reached at

who: Mermaids in Marshall kicks off the French Broad Friday series
what: A town-wide event with festivities including a mermaid parade, face painting, games, a dunk tank, a costume contest and live music by Jonathan Scales Fourchestra.
where: Downtown Marshall (about 20 miles north, take I 19/23 to US-25-70.
when: Friday, June 10, beginning at 6 p.m. with business staying open until 11 p.m.

Source: Mountain Xpress

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