Asheville’s infamous Bele Chere weekend kicked off on Friday, July 24 with plenty of sunshine, music, fine art, universal cuisine and the usual display of unique characters swarming through the downtown streets.
Bele Chere is an annual 3-day festival on the streets of Downtown Asheville featuring live, original music all day and night and a display of arts and crafts for generally about 350,000 festival-goers.
The festival celebrated its 31st annual year in 2009, only this time with a smaller, more focused system, which included an hour-earlier closing time, but with crowds that continued to grow as each evening progressed.
“There was a good variety of people,” said WCU senior Jessica Osborne who attended the festival on Saturday, July 25 with friends. “I know a lot of College students who came.”
The big celebration in the streets began at noon with food courts on Pack Square and Pritchard Park, and as usual, downtown was filled with hungry festival-goers enjoying everything from ice cream cones and funnel cakes to Thai cuisine and hot dogs.
Cold beer was also served, but to drink on the street, it was required that you buy a $2 wristband and bring your ID to purchase each drink. Beer was only sold on the streets on Friday and Saturday, while alcoholic beverages could be found in a club or restaurant on Sunday.
The highlighted arts at Bele Chere weren’t limited to the performing kind: More than a 150 artists and craftspeople lined the festival streets and crowded the Arts Park at the corner of Patton and Lexington avenues Saturday and Sunday.
“I liked the art,” said Osborne. “It was interesting and unique.”
The arts were not solely restricted to the Arts Park area. There was an additional 120 vendors on the festival streets, as well as the downtown merchants who kept their doors open during the festival.
Local galleries and arts stores also merged into the streets as part of the Local Merchants element of Bele Chere. These galleries included: Appalachian Crafts, Asheville Art Museum, Atelier 24 Lexington, Chevron Trading Post & Bead Co., Pura Vida Gallery and Woolworth Walk LLC.
Bele Chere has typically been known for it diverse musical line up and has always featured local, regional and national performers in genres including everything from Americana, Bluegrass, World and Reggae to Rock, Blues, Singer/Songwriter and more.
All scheduled performances at the 2009 Bele Chere Festival were free of charge. There were no gated concerts and no tickets were necessary to experience the 2009 musical lineup.
The amount of entertainment was reduced this year. However there was still plenty to see, including headlining concerts by Cracker and Dar Williams, The Family Stone Project and the Old 97s, and Webb Wilder and Orleans.
Also, several other performances by local names such as Now You See Them, The Dirty Guv’nahs, The Two Man Gentlemen Band, Your Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, David Holt and the Lightning Bolts, The Freddy Long Band, plus several more.
“The music was all different,” said Osborne. “I liked it though.”
Instead of its usual six stages of live music playing, Bele Chere scaled it down a bit this year and only offered music on four. The stages were on Coxe Avenue, Biltmore Avenue, Haywood Street (at the Civic Center) and Battery Park Avenue.
Lexington Avenue, which was previously a main stage, instead featured a drum circle. And Memorial Stadium, which was used last year for the big-ticketed shows, was not used for Bele Chere this year.
In addition to its free entertainment, Bele Chere featured many special events at various times and areas of the festival. The events included the 30th Annual Bele Chere 5k race, the Lexington Avenue Drumming Tent, creative Street Performers, painting the wall mural, and more.
“I really liked the street performers that looked like statues,” said Osborne. “They were my favorite part.”
Bele Chere also featured family-friendly fun such as the art zone, Rashad McCants Shoot for the Cure half-court basketball shooting contest and the ever-popular Purina Ultimate Air Dogs.
One of the most noticeable changes in this year’s slightly reduced festival was the new setting for the Food Lion Children’s Area, which was on the arena level of the Asheville Civic Center after years of being located on College Street and the neighboring Renaissance Hotel parking lot.
The arena was transformed into a children’s wonderland, which included a miniature golf course, face-painting booths, live entertainment on stage, free food giveaways, crafts booths and a space for kids to make peculiar hats.
Ultimately, Bele Chere is truly an experience to behold. In addition to the assorted mix of music, the variety of food choices and an excellent selection of high-quality arts and crafts for sale, there are always interesting individuals on the street who make Bele Chere the diverse event it is.