Many Ashevilleans take pride in treating every day as though it's Earth Day. But on Saturday, those scattered individuals will come together as one in Martin Luther King Jr. Park to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day with music, food, crafts and community.
The free event originally began in the Greenlife parking lot, but has grown into a citywide celebration since moving to the park three years ago. Last year, organizers estimate that more than 4,000 people attended, and weather permitting, this year they hope to top those numbers.
The move was designed to maximize the potential of Earth Day in such an environmentally conscious community, says event director Benton Wharton of AMJam Productions.
"There were a lot of spread-out efforts to do gatherings in Asheville, but it didn't seem like there was a community effort to put all the eggs in one basket and create an event where everyone could come together," he says. "And also, as a larger group, create more attention for the community of Asheville, which probably deserves more attention as far as per-capita consciousness that we see in the everyday lifestyles of citizens."
Music will take center stage at the event — seven acts, ranging from local favorites like The Afromotive and Acoustic Syndicate to U.K. funk outfit The New Mastersounds, are scheduled to perform throughout the day — but Wharton says the entire park is essentially "one big eco-village."
"We almost use the entire place as one large, all-inclusive event area," he says. "We'll probably have somewhere around 40 vendors participating, whether they be local crafts, local food or local beer, but mainly nonprofit and for-profit companies in the green community that are trying to further educate the community about their initiatives."
Those vendors will include companies like Sundance Power Systems, which will provide a solar generator to power the stage, nonprofits like the WNC Alliance and Peace is Possible, and local food and drinks from Green Light Café, Pisgah Brewing Company and Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, among others.
The beauty of having an "all-encompassing area," explains Wharton, is that participants can browse tabling by local and national organizations, chat with representatives about environmental concerns and strategies and enjoy some of the best local eats and drinks, all while taking in a global offering of musical stylings. The experience, he says, is carefully designed to be entertaining and educational.
"Really, we're just trying to create a venue and an avenue for these people to come forth and come together to unite our voices a little bit in educating the community. The nonprofit displays, they are free, so that brings just about anyone out of the woodwork.
"While people will obviously be able to go to each booth and get in-depth, topic related conversation," he adds, "we also have educational speakers between all of our music changes. We have people from different organizations, and actually, a couple of the speakers are people who were at the very first Earth Day 40 years ago."
Of course, parents are encouraged to bring their children along for the fun as well. This year organizers elaborated upon previous efforts to cater to the youngsters by creating a full-blown Kids Village, complete with face painting, entertainment from an Indonesian dance troupe, hula-hoopers and an interactive, recycled art project that will utilize everything from fabric scraps to plastic bottles. Wharton notes that the community is encouraged to be creative with what they donate; a box of old VHS tapes, for example, provided the hair for a recycled-art statue at last year's celebration.
The area will also be supervised by a manager and several onsite volunteers, so parents can feel comfortable letting their children explore the attractions.
"The Kids Village idea is designed to ensure that while the parents are trying to educate themselves, the kids will always have something to do to remain both entertained and educated throughout the day," Wharton says. "The art project actually produced some pretty cool displays last year, so we're looking forward to seeing what they come up with."
And in the spirit of community and philanthropy, organizers are donating all proceeds from beer wristband sales to LEAF in Schools and Streets, an organization dedicated to providing free art and music programs to low-income areas. The nonprofit was last year's beneficiary as well, and Wharton says the impact was inspiring.
"A lot of programs like it have had a couple of tough fiscal years in this slowing economy," he notes, "We were very pleased to have a positive effect last year and we're excited to be partnering with them again."
So as the weather warms and the mountains wake from winter rest, come out and enjoy the beauty of our community and learn a little about how we can preserve it.
Sidebar: Recycle your old cell phones and you could win prizes!
More than 1 billion out-of-use cellphones are sitting gathering dust in the United States. Less than 10 percent of these cellphones get recycled.
Cell phones contain lead, nickel, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and zinc, some of which are known carcinogens and linked to birth defects. Rock the Earth, an international environmental advocacy group, has put together a program to recondition or properly recycle these unused cellphones.
Xpress is asking people to bring their old cell phones in any condition to donate to the cause at Asheville Earth Day to be entered to win great prizes including passes to the French Broad River Festival, LEAF and Bonnaroo. Can't come out to Earth Day celebrations? No problem! Come stop by the Mountain Xpress Headquarters at 2 Wall St. and drop off your old cellphones here.
Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and Smashing Pumpkins are all part of the cause — be cool and join them in this great recycling initiative!
— Marissa Williams
who: The New Mastersounds, Acoustic Syndicate, Afromotive, Salvador Santana, The Shane Pruitt Band, Pond Farm Pickers, Evergreen Marimba Band
what: Asheville Earth Day
where: Martin Luther King Jr. Park
when: Saturday, April 17 (11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free)