If Asheville is diverse, why isn’t Bele Chere?

Last week, I made an appearence on WLOS TV about the lack of hip hop/R&B in the Bele Chere line-up. Honestly, I didn’t know people watch the news like they do (I’m always at work). Since then, everybody and their momma has been saying, “I seen you on TV” and “thanks for standing up for the black community.” 

I feel appreciated and grateful that people share the same thoughts and have the same question I do: 

Why is there no hip-hop or R&B at Bele Chere?

Considering that Asheville promotes itself as a diverse city, how come the musical line up at Bele Chere (which is the largest street festival in the Southeast) is NOT?

Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and Facebook might not know, but the WLOS interview was not random. I was inspired by several people to raise the question to Asheville Parks and Recreation and the Bele Chere Committee. For the past two years, I’ve raised the same questions. To give you a inside look at my argument, I served on the 2011 Bele Chere music selection committee. I witnessed and went through the entire selection process. I will admit, some of the submissions for hip-hop were not that great, but that should not be an excuse. If you don’t have great submissions, then I feel it’s the Bele Chere committee’s responsiblity to fill the void. If the city couldn’t find enough country or rock selections that were quality, they would have recruited more that were. Why does the city even have people submitting to the hip-hop category, if they’ve already decided they’re NOT going to have any representation of it?

Why did I sit through the music-selection process for hours and in the end, every suggested hip-hop act was rejected? The selection process means NOTHING at all when it’s a few heads at the top who make the final decision as to who will play Bele Chere. It’s mind boggling to me that the No. one-selling genre of music will NOT be represented at the largest street festival in the Southeast. Suburban white kids are among the top consumers of hip-hop. So why is there NO representation of it?

Is it racism, fear, the old Asheville mentality or do they just not want to scare the white people? In my opinion, it’s all of the above. I can no longer sugarcoat this issue and stand to see a whole community and genre ignored in Asheville. Within the black community we feel betrayed, left out, and definitely overlooked. The city doesn’t really care about our wants.

Many say it’s just plain ol’ racism. Is it that our music is not good enough? Is it that hip-hop and their crowds don’t generate A LOT of money?

Do the heads of Bele Chere really think that if hip-hop is played, all 10 gang members in Asheville will show up and start a riot?  What hole do these people live in? Has there ever been a situation where black people — or any people — have caused a ruckus at Bele Chere because of hip-hop? No.

If you’re not familiar with the genre of music, it would be smart to ask someone about it. When I say hip-hop, I really mean diversity. There is no better way to bring people together than with music, especially with the biggest genre. For those that are in a position to represent the city and make decisions, please keep this in mind. One decision can set back an entire generation. Let’s move forward and get out of this old Asheville mentality.

What worked 20 years ago won’t work in 2011. The black community in Asheville has been excluded for years. It’s time for change. We have been oppressed but we are still humble. We see what’s going on, so don’t think what the city is doing is going unnoticed.

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61 thoughts on “If Asheville is diverse, why isn’t Bele Chere?

  1. Jake

    “The selection process means NOTHING at all when it’s a few heads at the top who make the final decision as to who will play Bele Chere.”

  2. WNCWhiteChick

    I read the first paragraph: my initial reaction? I could not agree more. Probably because I am part of the large group of people that claim hip hop as one of their favorite genres. But maybe it’s the white girl in me that didn’t consider racism or fear of blacks as the reason for this. After reading your article, I think racism/fear may play a role. But I also think of Asheville and a different stereotype emerges: hippies, hipsters, dread-locks, indie-rock/folk music… not hip hop and R & B. And I think this could also have something to do with it. I’m a white girl who likes hip hop. Either way, I’m with you and would like to see some acts from this genre at Bele Chere. You need not be black to agree.

  3. Asheville Dweller

    Or the simple fact that this town is not as diverse as it pretends to be, Bele Chere is a reflection of Asheville as a hole.

    Its the fact that the only culture that is fed and supported is the hippy/hispter garbage.

  4. ashevillain7

    A few points:

    1. The Secret B-Sides definitely have a hip-hop element to them. Also I realize Mambo Sauce now has canceled but they definitely had a heavy hip-hop element to their music as well.

    2. I can’t quite put my finger on the exact reason why but to me it just feels wrong to read you trying to make your point by bring up the issue of what suburban white kids want AND THEN turning around and asking about scaring the white people. I guess both could be true given age differences but it doesn’t seem like the best way to make your point.

    3. Not sure why the racism issue is brought up at all actually. It seems like your beef is specifically with the lack of a particular genre not the lack of a particular race. What about Rebirth Brass Band? What about Cedric Burnside? NOLA brass bands and juke joint blues are 2 genres that absolutely undoubtedly would not exist without black people. It’s not a race issue.

    I’ve never personally had the thought that hip-hop is the only pure black music but that’s the vibe I get from this article. I apologize if I misinterpreted it. I love hip-hop but I also listen to a lot of reggae and afrobeat myself (neither of those genres are represented either) and historically those are more pure forms of black art.

    I don’t know, I wasn’t there at the meeting table looking over the bands that applied. I just don’t think it appears to be any specific exclusion of black people because there is no pure hip-hop. My personal opinion (and I would not doubt if I am to take some heat for this!) is that there is no good hip-hop locally. Perhaps there was a monetary issue and they could only afford a local (i.e. smaller, more affordable) hip-hop act and yet none of the applicants were deemed worthy? Perhaps there were not enough applicants at all whether local/regional/or national?

    I sort of agree with your point but sort of not also. I would love to see a big name rap artist come to town. I missed Ice Cube when he came but that’s the level I’m talking about. I’m a huge fan of Kanye, WuTang, Frank Ocean, Nas and the list goes on. I doubt Bele Chere could afford someone of that caliber. I think you should stay on that music committee and keep trying. I don’t think it should be made into such a race issue though.

  5. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Everything comes down to numbers–what the public will support and/or tolerate at any point in time–even in Asheville.

    Make that especially in Asheville.

  6. De La Soul was scheduled to play a few years ago. They didn’t tell anybody, but they preferred to play a NBA star’s private party in Atlanta instead. They never hit the stage and neglected to tell the city or the thousands of fans that turned out to see them. It might be a stretch, but perhaps there are some sour grapes with the hip hop genre as a whole?

  7. boatrocker

    Yeah, I waited in vain for De La Soul downtown too.

    Even so, lack of rap/hip hop doesn’t make Asheville racist in my opinion. I’m gravitating towards Betty’s comments above as being the case. Every once in a while someone here will ask why there aren’t any specific clubs for hip hop music vs. just being able to catch a rare show here.

    Is it Bele Chere (with a different music selection committee every year) or some larger plot to cater towards certain music genres? Dunno. I personally don’t see an insidious conspiracy.

    Maybe those cute Asheville write ups in travel mags around the country just don’t see hip hop as a selling point for retirees- thus the city of Asheville responds by not including them in festivals? Knowing that tourism and hype are Asheville’s two biggest industries, are we surprised?

    As for music featuring members with higher levels of melanin, I’d say Bele Chere and most Asheville music festivals have a pretty good track record.

  8. LLJK

    You go to Bele Chere for the: crappy jam band music; chaos for downtown small businesses; obnoxiously loud street preachers spilling hate; and ugly lemmings eating fried sugar covered in powdered sugar. go bele chere!

  9. ashevillain7

    Re: De La Soul – It actually was announced prior to the previous band (Mofro) to play on the same stage as well as after Mofro’s set. Granted, this wasn’t far enough in advance for most people but they DID announce the fact that De La Soul would not be there prior to the time they were scheduled to perform.

  10. Betty Cloer Wallace

    If Asheville is diverse why isn’t the Citizen Times?

    Ask them, and tell us what they say.

  11. There also aren’t punk bands, noise bands, experimental bands, or sound collage artists represented. Also, no death metal.

    Some musical genres have a more selective appeal.

  12. dpewen

    Mat, you are correct. I do not care for hip hop and would not go out of my way to see a show. I have been to plenty of blues, soul, and r&b shows here where the only blacks present are on the stage. Asheville is not diverse racially and I find it disappointing that many blacks do not attend shows that would normally be attended by a mixed crowd in real cities like SF,ATL,Chicago, etc … but this is a small town … very small town.

  13. The De La Soul snafu was also my first thought for a lack of hip-hop at Bele Chere, but I’m unclear whether Asheville in general is a great appreciator of the genre. It seems to be hit or miss, depending on the group’s popularity.

    The OutKast show at the Civic Center in ’01 had a wildly energetic crowd (and I’m guessing Big Boi’s Moogest appearance last year had a similar response) as did Jurassic 5 at the Orange Peel in ’06. However, a great ’05 show at the Peel by NC’s own Little Brother had about 20 in attendance. Still, we’ve attracted Beastie Boys, Lauryn Hill, Goodie Mob, and nearly every member of Wu-Tang.

    So, I dunno… I’m sure Nas or the Roots would attract a huge crowd at Bele Chere or one of the larger venues, but would Kooley High receive much attention? Probably not, and since they’re more in Bele Chere’s price range, the decision-makers are more likely to opt for “safer” choices that also appeal to the common denominator. Unfortunately, hip-hop still offends or disturbs a lot of ears, so there’s less risk in booking another acoustic singer/songwriter (no offense to these musicians) than an equally-talented hip-hop artist. I understand the decision, but I don’t like it.

  14. Lee

    Whoa easy with the use of the phrase ‘the blacks.’

    And to y’all who say that Asheville is just “a tiny mountain town,” the 2000 census reported that 17.6% of Asheville’s population is black: a number that has more than likely increased. So really, there isn’t much of an argument there.

    So why isn’t 17.6% of the talent at Bele Chere and other city festivals SPECIFICALLY catered towards the black community? Well, it would seem that certain members of Parks and Rec are ashamed of Asheville’s diversity and will do their best to keep black folks at home.

    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/37/3702140.html

  15. Highways

    Happy to see this article written and published. Thank you Mr. Smith. Kudos to MX for continuing to shed light on some of the paradoxes of our “diverse” community.

  16. luther blissett

    “Bele Chere is a reflection of Asheville as a hole.”

    Once again, ‘Dweller/Hater is wrong. Bele Chere is aimed at a regional crowd, not a local one, and it takes a lowest common denominator approach. For people like ‘Dweller, really.

    Compare Moogfest, which attracts people from much further away, and had a pretty diverse lineup last year, and looks like doing the same this year.

  17. Cosmicballroom

    “it would seem that certain members of Parks and Rec are ashamed of Asheville’s diversity and will do their best to keep black folks at home.”

    Reverse logic implies that black folks are ashamed to venture outside their comfort zone and embrace the diversity of other cultures.

  18. Democratic_Perversion

    Simple fact, HIP-HOP is very lucrative in business for reasons of rage against the man politics and messages. The lyrics are explicit and warning labels are placed on 90% of HIP-HOP media sold. There would be no way to control explicit lyrics in a live setting. Bele Cheré is a place for families with children, young people, nothing is being said about Bele Chere being for whites only. GET OVER IT, There is no Asian music, No Zydeco, no Bollywood. This was a grass roots festival with value some years ago, in recent years it has become a drunken brawl and unsafe for families and their children. Personally I would love to see some blues, Beale St. in Memphis TN is the best place for the blues and has predominantly African American roots. Why are you not complaining about there being a lack of blues players? This is not a black and white issue and I see no other reason for your article other than creating civil unrest.¿

  19. Democratic_Perversion

    Simple fact, HIP-HOP is very lucrative in business for reasons of rage against the man politics and messages. The lyrics are explicit and warning labels are placed on 90% of HIP-HOP media sold. There would be no way to control explicit lyrics in a live setting. Bele Cheré is a place for families with children, young people, nothing is being said about Bele Chere being for whites only. GET OVER IT, There is no Asian music, No Zydeco, no Bollywood. This was a grass roots festival with value some years ago, in recent years it has become a drunken brawl and unsafe for families and their children. Personally I would love to see some blues, Beale St. in Memphis TN is the best place for the blues and has predominantly African American roots. Why are you not complaining about there being a lack of blues players? This is not a black and white issue and I see no other reason for your article other than creating civil unrest.?

  20. Asheville Dweller

    Its not hate, Bele Chere is supposed to be this Culturaly diverse street party that celebrates Asheville, It does celebrate but its not culturaly diverse.

    Asheville has a very small comfort zone, if you dont walk the Asheville trendy line then its not wanted, would think differently of a city that projects itself as so open minded. Which for the most part its not.

    It goes beyond the lack of a certain kind of music, lots of good points were brought up already of the rap acts that Asheville attracts, no wait thats the Orange Peel attracts.

    Why isnt the Asian/Pacific Culture of Asheville represented?

    Why isnt the South American/Mexican culture of Asheville represented.

    Why isnt the African American culture of Asheville Represented.

    Why is the local Applachian southern culture where Asheville sits is celebrated?

    I could keep going on with this but its clear that Asheville only supports one culture and its not even a culture.

    Bele Chere is just one giant downtown carnival with a food court. I remember when it did celebrated these cultures.

    Its not its this Faux Hippy/Hipster image which is a rubber stamp from other towns thats celebrated at Bele Chere.

  21. Lee Coleman

    “Why isn’t the Asian/Pacific Culture of Asheville represented”

    Well, 1 out of every 5 people in Asheville isn’t asian. When there are that many of us here, I will have the EXACT same issues I’m having right now.

    “The lyrics are explicit and warning labels are placed on 90% of HIP-HOP media sold.”

    That is an arbitrary number pulled out of thin air. And so you know, DJ Kool was one of the hip hop artists rejected from the festivities: a family-friendly old-school DJ in his 60’s.

  22. The music scene is diverse in Asheville, just look at who is selling out the clubs and Civic Center. It’s just that Parks and Rec doesn’t look at who is selling out the clubs.

    Who’s coming to T Model Ford Sunday?

  23. dpewen

    I agree Orbit and I will be attending the show … wonder if Mr. Smith will be … no wait it is not black music, just a black musician

  24. dpewen

    On a side note … DJs are not musicians … just knob turners!

  25. Asheville Dweller

    It was an example but go ahead and strawman the argument since you cant discuss the total message.

  26. I went through the lineup and I actually learned about some artist playing that sounded worth a shot.

    Mamarazzi sounded pretty funky to me, but there is a white guy or 2 so I’m not sure they count (haha)

    Cedric Burnside Project – The Blues is traditionally a very black genre.

    Rebirth Brass Band – New Orleans Brass Band

    There are some other bands that I think black people will like, but they are white guys playing funk so I did not include them.

    I would not be opposed to having a hip-hop artist on the lineup, but to insinuate that not having one is racist; is silly. Some black people may prefer blues to hip hop!

  27. Lee

    Agreed. Some black people may prefer blues to hip hop. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that the ONLY genre of musicians not represented at Bele Chere are hip hop. Out of all the acts, the ONLY one who actually came down from DC to be questioned and eventually rejected was a hip hop musician, thought to bring ‘the wrong type of crowd.’

    Keep in mind, this had nothing to do with the Bele Chere selection committee and was solely a decision made by the Parks and Rec department.

    I encourage everyone to ask around and gather more information on this. The more you learn, the more you’ll be upset.

  28. luther blissett

    “Bele Chere is supposed to be this Culturaly diverse street party that celebrates Asheville”

    Says who? You’re the strawman-beater with the permanently scrunched up face, ‘Dweller.

  29. Jeff

    This past weekend I went to the most amazing entertainment event I have ever seen and there’s none of that here. Why no Transformus music? More whacked out WHUMP! I would love to see Asheville’s own Wondrous Temple Of Boom there. And, ooooh! — bring your Knoxville friend with that AMAZING lazer art projector! You cats would turn Bele Chere on it’s head.

  30. dpewen

    I consider the crowd at a hip-hop show similar to a country show … drunken rednecks who just want to raise hell and could are less about real music.
    Actually just like jam band fans too … WSP fans are the worst!

  31. On a side note … DJs are not musicians … just knob turners!

    Uh-oh, you just pissed off everyone in town that are DJs… about 75% of the population.

  32. Asheville Dweller

    Luther get a clue, another person afraid to attack the message so attack the messenger.

    Classy . . .

  33. WNC Bad wolf

    Bele Chere is not about diversity, it has always been about celebrating what the current trend is in Asheville, it is about bringing together hippies & hipsters, vegetarians & vegans, lesbians & man hating feminists. A festival where people can walk the streets with a drink in their hand & buy anything they could every want that is organic, all natural & holistic. All the beer & wine you could ever want, ugly homemade clothing, Appalachian made furniture & art, all done by people who never lived in the Appalachian mountains until they came to Asheville. Bele Chere has never been a festival to represent diversity. It has always been a festival that represents only one side of Asheville’s population.

  34. slycos

    “Considering that Asheville promotes itself as a diverse city,…”

    Asheville “diversity,” in an ethnic/cultural sense, is a total ruse. This city is one of the whitest around. In reality diversity in Asheville refers to the white spectrum of our local freaks, goths, hippies, yuppies and senior citizens. That is our diversity. According to the 2000 census, Asheville was 78% white. That was a long time ago, but I doubt there’s been significant change.

    So if this town would just stop touting itself as diverse, the problem is solved. Just kidding on that last part. I know it’s not that simple.

  35. Betty Cloer Wallace

    WNC Bad Wolf is correct when he (she?) says: Bele Chere is not about diversity, it has always been about celebrating what the current trend is in Asheville, it is about bringing together (people)…”

    When Bele Chere was started in the 1970s by downtown business people, the sole intent was to revitalize downtown with some “good cheer,” as in the salutation “be of good cheer.”

    The term “bele chere” (Middle English, Celtic origin) was carefully chosen to describe the event as a local summer street festival with no motive other than to have a good time. It wasn’t meant to celebrate or showcase any particular thing.

    Also, the ambiguous term was intended to prevent any kind of connotation or manipulation by special interest groups (as is happening in this thread).

    The Bele Chere organizers now say the term means “good living” and that it is of Scottish origin, which is playing to the national reputation of Asheville as a good place to live, which is, of course, a slight misrepresentation of the original intent.

    The festival has always been open to the spirit of the moment and will lose its vitality if any one discrete group ever manages to claim ownership of it or to force prescribed ethnic or cultural ratios and restrictions onto it, for whatever reason.

  36. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Bele Chere almost lost its local flavor, which is ever-changing, when it grew too large and began catering to tourists from far away, bringing in outside music groups and wayfaring street preachers who do the festival circuits, and actually harming local businesses.

    Perhaps reducing the footprint and returning the festival back to its local roots will keep it cheerful.

  37. dpewen

    Mat, yea … crazy definition indeed.
    Betty, LAAFF is my favorite actually although I do enjoy much about Bele Chere.
    But one question … how far away is far away?

  38. Betty Cloer Wallace

    … how far away is far away?

    Perhaps measured more in attitude than in miles?

    Many tourists come from surrounding states only for Bele Chere but do not come here at any other time of year, sort of like an annual vacation at Dollywood, etc.

    As for music, lesser-known musicians based in WNC regularly complain that they are rejected in favor of groups with national reputations.

    As for street preachers, many of them travel across the country doing festivals from coast to coast as a missionary way of life. I sometimes wonder if any of them live here, since all the ones I have asked did not.

  39. dpewen

    nice … seems like many of the locals avoid Bele Chere … I would call that “attitude”

  40. Chronic Whiner

    Why are there no tejano, Tex-Mex conjunto, norteno, reggaeton, thrash metal, speed metal, hardcore, grindcore, death metal, disco, western swing, Dixieland jazz, country rap, ska, New Wave, punk, acid rock, doo-wop, zydeco, Cajun or polka bands at Bele Chere? The only answer has to be racism!

  41. Big Al

    This local went once, and that was enough for this lifetime. Thank goodnes for the Folkmoot street festival in Waynesville. Much better.

  42. boatrocker

    Just wondering how long Chronic Whiner has lived here. Does the above mentioned poster actually listen to said listed forms of music or not? For this year, not so much of your music listed. For the past oh say 3 to 4 Bele Cheres- not counting the 15 of 17 Bele Cheres I’ve attended/played and can attest to said music being present:

    Cajun-check
    Zydeco-check
    Western swing-check
    Dixieland- not at the festival but ummm every Xmas parade or Mardi Gras gig in town
    Norteno- try East ASheville music clubs
    Thrash/speed/hardcore- try East Asheville on a Sunday night
    country rap- ewww- buy a Kid Rock album instead
    punk-it’s not dead, but it smells bad and kids grow out of it by age 25-its supposedly everywhere here if you don’t count Green Day as an influence
    Polka- try the restaurant in Black Mountain

    My point being, go find it here in town vs. whining about it not being at an arguably very limited (in terms of genres) music festival. I’ll add (again) that every Bele Chere has a different music selection committee that can’t possibly be as enlightened as a poster on the main page (ahem).

    Careful, you might have to actually pay a cover to hear the music you like. Sorry for using the “C” word on the forums (cover).

  43. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Look at the entry for “belle” and you’ll see a Chaucer “bele chere” quote in Middle English from the Shipman’s Tale meaning “good entertainment, good cheer”:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=U_FOAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA515&lpg=PA515&dq=bele+chere+middle+english&source=bl&ots=m1Zp8SaPM_&sig=l9iuihM1k-T2qQ1SJU9QYw2VGvs&hl=en&ei=tjApTrOIFMnLgQegqPSOCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=bele chere middle english&f=false

    And also:

    To doon ther-with myn honour and my prow,
    For cosinage, and eek for bele chere
    That he hath had ful ofte tymes here.

    And here’s one from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in Middle English spoken in a cheerful greeting:

    As to honour his hous on þat hy?e tyde,?
    And enbelyse his bur? with his bele chere:?
    ‘Iwysse sir, quyl I leue, me worþez þe better?
    Þat Gawayn hatz ben my gest at Goddez awen fest.’

  44. headnugg

    simple answer: Bele Chere doesn’t represent Asheville. Period. And it’s not diverse.

  45. Ashevegasjoe

    I want to know why there isn’t any bluegrass at Goombay??? Banjos are from Africa.

  46. boatrocker

    Um, Ashevegas Joe, because bluegrass since the mid 1970’s has been co-opted by the Christian right, gospel music, Nashville, the so called “Carolina Sound”, Dennis Jones and poseurs like T-Bone Burnett as producers. I do hear what you’re saying for the record. Good luck trying to tell anyone in WNC that the banjo was born in Mama Africa. You’ll get a lot of blank stares.

  47. [b]I want to know why there isn’t any bluegrass at Goombay??? Banjos are from Africa.[/b]

    Why don’t you find out? I’m sure there are some music history texts out there that you could use.

    It might be an interesting read.

  48. Ashevegasjoe

    boatrocker,
    I would argue since the early eighties bluegrass has been co-opted by hippies. See, Garcia/Grisman, Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon. More recently String Cheese, and if you’ve ever been to the worlds largest bluegrass festival, it is by no means steeped in religion. Sure, they play traditional gospel songs, after drinking moonshine and taking acid.

    matt,
    Reading is just a tool used by liberal elitists to make you engage in critical thought, thus blinding you to your inherent racism.

    Carolina Chocolate Drops for Goombay!

  49. Video store clerks are so cool… wow

    What? Did I offend?

    It’s hard to be sarcastic when that statement is true.

  50. Bjorn

    I’ve often wondered that myself Mr. Smith. I believe diversity in this case simply means having a lot of the same acts that please the taste, of those people who choose them. Which means we could all be subjected to three days of bad taste? Guess with enough been even the worst busker is tolerable for 15 minutes, unless if you’re having dinner or lunch you paid for yourself.

    Let the community vote which acts it’d like to hear!

  51. T100C-1970

    Maybe because the organizers felt like rants about itches, hoes, hotels, and cop killing were not family friendly???

  52. bill smith

    [i]the organizers felt like rants about itches, hoes, hotels, and cop killing were not family friendly??? [/i]

    And where in the repertoire of “DJ KOOL”” do you find those references?

  53. where's the love?

    If Asheville’s so diverse, why isn’t the Big Love Fest? Just had a fun game of Where’s Waldo searching for any people of color in the photos. Walked through in mid-event and seems it was half attendance from previous years. The music couldn’t have gotten much whiter. I’m white, by the way. And matters of ethnicity and musical taste aside, seems the whole thing is becoming one big rerun. We should celebrate “local” but local is more than just the same old circle of the same folks.

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