Every year, they come for Bele Chere.
The peddlers of plastic shoes, cheap jewelry and $3 magnets. The bunched-up teens in too-small skirts. The sellers of turkey legs, gyros and the funnel cakes. The schreeching street preachers. The zombie-fied tourists, shuffling through the streets of Asheville, sucking down too much beer and soaking up too much sun.
And the bands. Don’t forget the bands. They range from Nikki Talley and Stephanie’s Id and Laura Blackley to Original P Funk and Snake Oil Medicine Show and the Grascals. For three days, on six stages, they play to the teeming masses for free. There are two ticketed shows at Memorial Stadium this year—Third World and The Wailers on Friday, July 25, and Steve Azar and Travis Tritt on Saturday.
If you’re looking for a break from the crowds, though, and your tastes run more toward metal, rock or punk, then look for the Anti-Bele Chere concert on Saturday at Stella Blue.
“It’s about rock bands that don’t get a shot at playing Bele Chere because it’s more corporate, mainstream, bluegrass-oriented,” says Billy Velvet, bass player for local “sleaze rock” outfit Crank County Daredevils. “It’s us as a rock band going against having to submit” music to the festival and get approval, he said.
For at least the past five years, various downtown venues have played host to the concert, born out of a love of metal and rock music and a frustration with Bele Chere officialdom.
Velvet makes his point by noting that his band recently spent a month playing about 25 gigs in six European countries, “but we still can’t get love from Bele Chere.” The band’s been written up in Metal Edge and Classic Rock magazines, “and we still can’t get into Bele Chere,” he says, adding that the band has applied unsuccessfully in the past.
Thirty years ago, Bele Chere began as a tiny festival aimed at bringing people into a stagnant downtown. Local entertainment starred, but as the festival grew, it began reaching out to bigger acts. The majority of the music has always been free, but over the last four years, the festival has added ticketed events aimed at higher-level talent.
The Asheville Parks and Recreation Department uses a booking agent to hire those acts, while a committee of local volunteers asks for and screens submissions for all the free music on the street.
“You can see a million hippie jam bands in Asheville,” says Joey Cain, a co-owner of Image 420 screen-printers and a member of the metal band Ironside. “They’re all great musicians in those bands, but this place has become a mecca for that kind of stuff.”
The Anti-Bele Chere concert “sets up a place for the metal or rock bands to have their outlet,” Cain says. “It’s a scene that gets neglected.”
The latest version of the band has been together about eight months and is looking forward to playing for an appreciative audience. “We’re getting ready to record and try to kick some ass and get people to listen to this kind of music,” Cain says.
Not every band that’s lined up to play the show has a political point to make. Moe Lassiz, lead singer for the Charlotte-based Lamb Handler, says his band will play any concert with the word “anti” in it. And Justin Blitonen, singer and guitarist with The Campaign 1984, says “it just seemed like fun” to play the gig.
For Velvet and the Crank County Daredevils, though, the Anti-Bele Chere concert rates as the show for anyone tired of the same old scene on the tourist-crowded streets of Asheville during the last weekend in July.
“People are like cattle—they have to be told what to like,” Velvet says. “If you want to go see something more energetic, more alive and more independent-minded,” Velvet says, then “go see Anti-Bele Chere.”
who: Anti-Bele Chere concert featuring Waiting to Bleed, Black Headz, Lamb Handler, Keeping up with the Joneses, Blitch, The Campaign 1984, Dissent, Ironside and Dead Girl
what: Metal, punk and hard rock music for those sick and tired of Bele Chere’s offerings
where: Stella Blue
when: Saturday, July 26 (2 p.m. www.myspace.com/stellabluelive or 236-2424)