Dear Asheville, we still love you

Making big love: Asheville Grown + Big Crafty + all-local vendors + YOU = one fine independent festival.

In a do-it-yourself city comes a festival that celebrates the do-it-yourself spirit.

“Big Love Fest: Unchained and Independent” sort of sounds like an indie film. It’s actually an indie festival that wraps a big hug around Asheville’s independent businesses. The free festival, with two stages for bands, showcases the city’s vast network of entrepreneurs, musicians, craftspeople, craft-beer makers, artists and others.

“Asheville has a thriving independent spirit, which is hard to find in small towns,” says festival co-coordinator Franzi Charen, co-founder of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance. The AGBA’s Love Asheville posters, T-shirts and stickers are in more than 400 Asheville-area independent shops.

“We’re far richer in resources than many communities are, like fertile ground and clean water,” Charen says. And she includes creativity among those valuable resources.

She cites the example of Carolina Ground, a flour mill in Asheville whose founding organization, the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, wants to provide links among farmers, bakers and millers in the state.

Asheville is full of that kind of creative thinking, Charen says. She makes a good argument for patronizing a local restaurant where the food is fresh and unique, as opposed to a chain restaurant whose food may be formulaic and uninspiring.

She also argues that, by spending their money locally, independent providers and business owners make Asheville stronger. They’re staying here and raising children, unlike outside companies who pull profits and send them elsewhere. 

“In our culture, the larger, publicly traded corporations have so much more access to resources,” Charen says. They get many more subsidies and tax breaks than small independent businesses. Making Asheville more aware of the vast goods and services available here “levels the playing field,” says Justin Rabuck, festival co-organizer.

He’s also co-founder of The Big Crafty, a mostly local crafts event in Asheville. Big Love Fest came into being after he approached Charen last year about having a strictly Asheville festival, with local food, bands and shops. All support services, like waste management, should also be local.

“The big, important thing is to think local first,” Rabuck says. “If we all did this, it would be stepping in the right direction on a whole lot of levels.”

Additionally, festivalgoers who see local businesses might be inspired to pursue their own dreams of creating and running a business that contributes to the area, Charen says.

The Asheville Grown Business Alliance is taking the “buy local” idea even further, encouraging its members to buy local as well, getting services and raw materials from area suppliers and makers. Many restaurants here do that already, buying food grown on farms in the mountains.

Last year’s festival showed how far local residents have gone — and can go — in supporting each other, Charen says.

“It was inspiring to see the all the immense variety of what we have to offer,” she said. “To see all these aspects (of local businesses) coming together, the diversity in such a small community, it was just beautiful.”

— Paul Clark can be reached at paulgclark@charter.net.

what: Big Love Festival
where: Pack Square Park, downtown Asheville
when: 1-8 p.m. May 6

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