Love will keep us together

Cheers to this: Big Love includes the Just Brew It homebrew competition, along with bands, food and crafts — like these glasses by Asheville-based studio Etchville. PHOTO COURTESY BIG LOVE

“The bottom line is, it’s a love story about Asheville Grown Business Alliance and the Big Crafty loving each other and loving what we do,” says Justin Rabuck. “And truly loving the community with all of our heart and wanting to have a party for everyone who participates.”

Rabuck is the co-creator of twice-yearly indie-craft festival The Big Crafty. He and Franzi Charen, director of Asheville Grown, brainstormed a new kind of festival — one that combined artist and crafter booths from Big Crafty with the independently owned businesses of AGBA, local beer and music. Its name? Big Love.

Since launching The Big Crafty in 2008, Rabuck has been regularly approached by both the community and the crafters to expand the event. (It began in the Grey Eagle and quickly grew to encompass two floors of Pack Place as well as outdoor space, each June and December.)

“Asheville Grown Business Alliance has been supporting independent business and independent micro-enterprises in the community,” says Charen. The two entities seemed a natural match. Locally made ceramics, note cards and bottle-cap earrings aren’t just hobbies, they’re independent businesses. So Charen and Rabuck combined their passions — like chocolate and peanut butter, papier and mâché, Cheech and Chong.

The festival is set for Sunday, May 1, at the Roger McGuire Green of Pack Square Park. It’s got the usual festive components: music, food, beer and family-friendly activities. It’s also got a seriously local theme, starting with the arts and craft booths.

“We have some artists from Greenville and nearby, but with this, Asheville gets priority,” says Rabuck of the planned 90 crafter tents. “Then Buncombe County and Western North Carolina. Really, there are only three or four who are outside of Buncombe County.”

And then there are about 20 local independent business that “either source their items locally or have an activity that visitors can participate in,” says Charen. The idea is to get away from local vendors selling sunglasses made in China. “We’re looking at a handful of restaurants participating that have foods or meals on the menu that are locally sourced. That was one of the stipulations to get into the festival — they had to offer at least one menu item that was sourced locally.”

The local sticking point is more than just a theme: It’s an ideology. A revolution, even. AGBA, the grassroots organization behind the cute “Love Asheville: Buy Local” posters and T-shirts, is far more than a well-designed slogan. (Though Charen does point out that her store Hip Replacements, owned with partner Kip Veno, has sold $8,000 worth of the black, white and red “Buy Local” shirts.) “Asheville Grown Business Alliance has created a starting point for a conversation,” says Charen.

While the campaign is relatively new — it was launched about a year and a half ago — Charen and Rabuck suspect it’s making a difference by raising consumer awareness. “During the winter when it’s usually slower, I was hearing from businesses that they were doing better than usual,” says Rabuck.

In the future, a database will be able to track the progress of AGBA. The organization (which doesn’t currently charge membership fees) boasts a newsletter list of 400, with more than 200 businesses displaying AGBA posters in their windows. A recent survey by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (a national nonprofit research and educational organization) ranks Asheville in the top 15 percent for independent retail activity among more than 360 American metropolitan areas.

“The survey by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance gathered data from 2,768 independent businesses, including retailers, service providers, restaurants and others,” says a press release. “It found that those in places with a ‘buy local’ initiative reported revenue growth of 5.6 percent on average in 2010, compared to 2.1 percent for those elsewhere.”

“The posters in the window and all that — people come in and they know this is a local, independent town. I hear people say, ‘Put your money where your heart is,'” says Charen. That’s another slogan of the campaign, along with “Local is the new black.”

According to Rabuck, Big Crafty is 100-percent micro-businesses. “There’s no super-big-time. There are people who make a living off their art, but it’s face-to-face with the artist.” He’s heard Big Crafty visitors comment on how great it is to meet the artist in person.

Big Love offers another opportunity to meet crafters in person — that’s at the Just Brew It homebrew beer competition. Now in its second year (the inaugural homebrew competition was held outside of Wedge Brewery), the event is a fundraiser for Just Economics (“whose mission is to educate, advocate and organize for a strong and sustainable economy that works for all in Western North Carolina”). The contest brings out some inspired and sublime small-batch beers; awards include “people’s choice” and “brewgasm” (the latter selected by Xpress contributor Anne Fitten Glenn). Anyone interested in tasting the homebrew selection can gain admittance to the special section of Big Love by joining Just Economics in advance of the festival. A $16 membership includes complimentary entry to Just Brew It.

Even without a sample of homebrew (that contest and tasting only takes up a corner of the festival and only accounts for a fraction of the indie businesses involved), there’s plenty to do. The LaZoom bus will provide half-hour comedy tours focusing on stories of Asheville’s sordid past. Gypsy-punk collective Sirius.B joins LaZoom for the evening rides. Musical acts including Floating Action, Kovacs and the Polar Bear, Joshua Carpenter, Mad Tea Party, Red June and Rubber Cushions will provide a soundtrack to the day.

“The goal is to bolster, inspire and incubate small businesses,” says Charen. “Artists and crafters are some of the most skilled people we have [in Asheville]. If somebody’s passionate about what they’re doing, that inspiration is contagious.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Big Love festival
what: A celebration of unchained and independent Asheville, with music from Floating Action, Joshua Carpenter, Mad Tea Party, Kovacs and the Polar Bear, Red June and Rubber Cushions, along with crafters, food and more.
where: Roger McGuire Green at Pack Square Park
when: Sunday, May 1 (1-8 p.m., free for festival. $16 membership to Just Economics required for entry to Just Brew It homebrew tasting area. loveasheville.org.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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