Last hurrah

Eat, drink and be merry: For this may be the final Bele Chere. The 35-year-old street festival will no longer receive city funding. Photo by Max Cooper

It’s a strange thing to be ramping up for a festival that’s in the process of winding down. Not that Bele Chere, which began in 1979, won’t be as crowded/colorful/overwhelming/noisy/jubilant/arty/street food-y/dance-y as ever. But there’s a very good chance that 2013 marks not only firsts (will septuagenarian rockabilly songstress Wanda Jackson and Baltimore-based electronic musician/Moogfest alum Dan Deacon jam together?), but lasts. As in the last Bele Chere.

Thirty-five years is “a really, really long run for any event, and for a free festival it’s almost unheard of,” says Sandra Travis, the program supervisor for Asheville Parks and Recreation’s festivals. So when City Council pulled the plug on the festival’s budget in June, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise. And, while there’s a chance that a private festival planner could take over, Travis says it would be a difficult undertaking for another organization.

While there is no special programming planned to commemorate this final festival, Travis does think there might be some after-the-fact commemoration online.

Including this Bele Chere, Travis has worked on 26 iterations of the summer street fête. She served as a volunteer for 18 of those years and joined the city staff in 2005. She says she’ll miss the teamwork and the people she connects with each year, such as certain vendors who’ve worked Bele Chere for three decades.

Some of the entertainment has that sort of history, too: Both old-time band David Holt and the Lightning Bolts and bluegrass outfit Balsam Range appeared at early Bele Chere festivals. It seemed fitting to Travis to include them in what’s likely the final lineup. Plus, “They’re both local Grammy winners,” says Travis.

Another returning favorite is Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, who formed in 2002 and have missed few Bele Cheres since. Travis says that it’s been her intention (with the festival music bookers) to shake up the lineup from year to year. The summer that she didn’t add the Booty Band to the roster, though, “Apparently I was breaking some kind of huge tradition that I was not aware of!” she jokes. “I got more emails over that than I have for any other entertainment-related thing, ever.”

So, favorite bands are returning, but new ones will take the stage, too. This year’s lineup is more than half local, a ratio Travis says the festival has worked to maintain for many years. In fact, the schedule has been reconfigured to allow for more music slots (an increase from 42 last year to 47 this year). There is also a new graphic denoting local organizations, artists, vendors and merchants at Bele Chere. It will appear online and in signage. “I want people to recognize just how many different local individuals and organizations are involved in the festival,” says Travis.

What is the program supervisor most looking forward to this year? She says there’s always a sense of excitement that comes with set up on Thursday night. “It’s like building a city within a city,” she says. And this year, for the first time (since it’s her last chance), Travis wants to “go listen to a band for more than five minutes. And I’m going to shop.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

what: Bele Chere
where: Downtown Asheville
when: Friday-Sunday, July 26-28 (music run 4:30-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday. Free.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She 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

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.