Heat: Lost. Fun: Found

The kids are all right: Find shelter at the Children’s Area, with its bevy of games and activities, located at the air-conditioned Civic Center. Photo by Halima Flynt

More doughtily than any other narrative formula, the stranded-on-a-desert-island theme has lurked around children’s stories like a vulture over a shipwreck, waiting patiently for the tradewinds to shift and resuscitate the concept in some fresh form. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was steered by everyone from civil-rights titan James Baldwin to surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel to Walt Disney to Pierce Brosnan: the story tends to gain and lose its cannibals depending on the intended audience.

In 1980 there was the parody-ripe film Blue Lagoon, featuring a budding Brooke Shields (a story perhaps for older children). Tipping the better end of the dignity scale is the classic, down-tempo YA novel Island of the Blue Dolphins — a Newbery Award winner that still makes elementary-school reading lists 50 years after its first print run. (Every Tween girl who gets hold of this one aches to become orphaned, self-sufficient Karana, blithely taming birds, otters and savage island dogs armed with little more than her suspiciously well-conditioned, waist-length hair.)

Best to skip over Lord of the Flies in today’s bully-thick milieu; the story has simply lost its exotic flair. Which leaves more room for Where the Wild Things Are, the most recent redux of the kid-escaping-parental-control-to-land-unfettered-in-paradise motif. Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ arty movie scored high critical marks for its unexpectedly dark treatment of Maurice Sendak’s immortal picture book, although anyone under age 10 or so left the theater with a double cache of CGI and animatronic fodder for nightmares.

“You can still walk around in your flip-flops”

A couple of years ago, Bele Chere coordinators apparently decided that the festival’s Children’s Area, long located at a shadeless junction of College and Market streets, had gotten kind of scary, too. The heat, the noise, the long lines to access the few attractions that fit in the space, the family-photo-contest entries that got ruined in an apocalyptic thunderstorm — all of the above suggested a need to make the kids’ section an island onto itself, as it were. 

And thus, since 2008, it’s been tethered in the fluorescent-lighted bowels of the Civic Center Arena. The mega-ceilings there allow for a deluxe collection of sky-high “inflatables” — supersized versions of the bounce houses you see at smaller events. Stranded away from the sweat and bustle of the rest of the festival, the Children’s Area loses any sense of street-party excitement.

But a majority of parents are more than happy to trade in atmosphere in return for climate control and flush toilets.

“It’s perfect,” says Asheville dad Scott Fowler. “No sun, cool temp and you can still walk around in your flip-flops.”

Diane Ruggiero, the city’s superintendent of cultural arts, confirms Fowler’s assessment.

“The response to having it in there has been very positive from festival goers,” she says. “Parents seem to enjoy having an air-conditioned space to bring the kids, and the kids enjoy all of the activities, crafts and performances.”

She admits that “the biggest hits are the rides and inflatables,” but expresses more excitement at the increase of live acts that can be reliably scheduled when the fun happens inside. “So many great groups are coming back this year, including the Mountain Thunder Cloggers, who have been with us a long time.”

The desert-island theme has been with us a long time, too. So knock back a rum-free daiquiri and toast the positives of isolation.

BOX WITH HOURS & ACTS

The Bele Chere Children’s Area is located on the arena level of Asheville Civic Center (87 Haywood St.) and maintains the same hours as the festival (except that it closes 30 minutes prior). Alcohol is prohibited in this area.

Entertainment Program

Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do

Asheville Dance Revolution

YWCA of Asheville- Children’s Chorus

Mountain Thunder Cloggers

Asheville Fire Department Pals

Hula Hoop Performer

Western North Carolina Nature Center

Kids Drumming

Other:
• Diaper changing Station and Nursing Area — Facilitated by Biltmore Baptist Association
Crafts:
• Highland Christian Church
Girl Scouts of the Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont

Schedule

Friday, July 29

1:15-1:45 p.m.
Music Together Singalongs
2-2:45 p.m.
YWCA Children’s Choir
3-3:45 p.m.
WNC Nature Center
4-4:45 p.m.
Roots of Rhythm Kids Drumming
5-5:45 p.m.
Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do
6-6:45 p.m.
Asheville Dance Revolution

Saturday, July 30

10:30 a.m.
Music Together Singalongs
12:15 p.m.
WNC Nature Center
1-1:45 p.m.
Asheville Dance Revolution
2-2:45 p.m.
Hula Hoop Demonstration with Steph McDowell
3-3:45 p.m.
Mountain Thunder Cloggers
4-4:45 p.m.
Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do
5-5:45 p.m.
Roots of Rhythm Kids Drumming

Sunday, July 31

Noon
WNC Nature Center
1-1:45 p.m.
Hula Hoop Demonstration with Steph McDowell
2-2:45 p.m.
Asheville Fire Department
3-3:45 p.m.
Asheville Fire Department

— Melanie McGee Bianchi is an Asheville-based poet and home-and-garden writer. She was happy that the Children’s Area moved inside after her third-prize-winning family photo was cropped by hail during a Bele Chere storm.

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