Traveling Bonfires unpacks for Pritchard Park

Pasckie Pascua is a name that's hard to forget. But the man behind the memorable moniker is well-known, too. For nearly a decade, Pascua and his organization, the Traveling Bonfires, have worked to bring all segments of the local community together through music and poetry-centered events. The Bonfires for Peace concert series, now entering its eighth year, kicks off this month.

Bonfires for Peace: Madelyn Lavender performs as part of the free series.

"It's good when people know you and what you do," Pascua says when talking about Asheville and his community initiatives over the past several years. He recently returned to WNC from Los Angeles, Calif., where he relocated in search of work at the beginning of the economic downturn about two years ago.

While Pascua knew that economic effects still lingered here, he decided to head "home" last August. "Asheville is my adopted barrio," he says. "It's where I've created a lot of friends." Soon after his return last summer, those friends began to ask if he planned on reigniting the Bonfires for Peace concerts. So, Pascua set the wheels in motion. 

The first Traveling Bonfires event of sorts began quite a distance from North Carolina, in his true home of the Philippines. During the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship of the 1980s, Pascua covered the government counterinsurgency program as a news correspondent. In response to the dark and cold of typhoon season in Southeast Asia, he built a bonfire in the mountains to warm and gather the counterinsurgent fighters. The goal was simple: have everyone "sit down and share some food, guitar, poetry, and talk," he recalls.

After the change of government, he took his idea down to Manila, where it became more organized. There, Pascua formed a band and traveled to venues all over the Philippines to bring people together (hence the organization's title). Although he's since taken the show on the road to New York and several other U.S. cities, including events during his recent stint in L.A., he's more than happy to be back, living and working, where he believes the community project really found its stride.

"Asheville is very ideal and very perfect for this kind of initiative because the community is very diverse," he says. "The community supports this kind of endeavor. There's a certain vibe and spirit that keeps people together."

Because the Traveling Bonfires is not what Pascua calls a "traditional production outfit," he relies heavily on community members to make its events possible. "I model it with the fiestas in the Philippines," he says, "where people in the community pool resources together." In the past, restaurants donated food for Bonfires for Peace performers, artists donated their talent designing posters, and musicians met before concerts to figure out how to run sound and gather microphones, monitors and speakers.

Local businesses, like Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, have supported both Pascua and his events over the years, and he believes that without the help of Asheville's downtown business owners and his local supporters, there wouldn't be a Traveling Bonfires at all. He also praises the work of Marta Osborne, Bonfires for Peace associate producer; Matthew Moulder, creative consultant; and Chris Malz and Mark Anderson, performers who Pascua says have provide much inspiration for his work.

"That's the reason I love Asheville," he says. "People come to my office and to my house and offer help. It's just amazing."

Pascua hopes to see all of his past supporters again and meet new friends as well when this year's Bonfires for Peace project kicks off in Pritchard Park on April 17. The first free concert will feature musical performances by local fusion bands Peace Jones and Buyaka, as well as singer-songwriter Madelyn Lavender and spoken-word artist Roberto Hess.

The inaugural concert coincides with a Traveling Bonfires' event in the Philippines currently being organized by Pascua's daughter, Donna Phoebe. The goal of the Philippines' concert is to raise awareness and money for underprivileged and at-risk youth in the country.

"People always ask me, what's 'Bonfires for Peace'? Just hearing the word 'peace,' they say it's political. But, it's not," Pascua says. "It's actually a community gathering."

A gathering where there's no time for the fire of political disagreement. "If you have music, if you have food, if you have dancing, you don't have much time to argue," he says. "You just have fun."

And fun is what the Bonfires for Peace community project is all about. "You see 70-year-old couples, men, women, grandchildren, and even cats and dogs dancing at the park," Pascua says. "For me, that's it! That's what we're after."

Maggie Cramer is an Asheville-based freelance writer.

who: Local bands Peace Jones and Buyaka, singer-songwriter Madelyn Lavender, and spoken-word artist Roberto Hess
what: The Traveling Bonfires' Bonfires for Peace music and poetry concert series
where: Pritchard Park
when: Inaugural concert April 17 (4-9 pm, free; concerts also to be held on May 29, June 26, July 17, August 21 and September 18)

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