Isle behave myself

The surf is roaring — or maybe it’s the clamor of thousands of landed buccaneers, flooding the city of many hills that, for one weekend a year, becomes Bele Chere Island. At least according to Xpress, your blanket on the sand, the sail on your skiff, the parrot on your shoulder. In other words, welcome to Asheville’s biggest street festival. Whether you want to hear some music, spy some cool art, eat some delicious food or entertain the kids, Bele Chere Island is the place. Let the Xpress be your map and compass. It’s better than a coconut and easier to open.

What, when and where is Bele Chere?
It’s an archipelago of art, music, food, beverages, street performers, a drum circle, children’s entertainment and more, held in Asheville’s central downtown business area. Bele Chere is always the last full weekend in July, although many agree that, while you can sail away at any time, you can never leave.

This year’s dates and hours: Friday, July 29, noon to 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, July 31, noon to 6 p.m.

What is the history of Bele Chere?
Bele Chere started in 1979 and celebrates its 33rd festival this weekend. About 300,000 people attend over the three days, according to festival statistics. Bele Chere may mean “beautiful living” in an ancient Scottish dialect, but in Island dialect, it describes waking dreams of flying with no wings.

How do I get there?
Consider biking, walking or taking the shuttle, as the festival is quite crowded. Two festival shuttles run every 20-30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The East route starts from the back of Asheville Mall on Tunnel Road, and runs to Market Street between College Street and South Pack Square (near the Taste of Asheville). The West route starts from the K-Mart Plaza on Patton Avenue, and runs to the Civic Center (across from the Basilica and behind the Haywood Street stage). Cost is $2 roundtrip.

Asheville on Bikes will offer a bike corral at the corner of South Lexington and Patton avenues.

Where can I park?
All the downtown city parking decks (Civic Center, Rankin Avenue, Wall Street and Pack Place) are open. Several surface lots will also be open (a special-events fee will apply). Handicapped parking is available on the first level of the Rankin garage.

For help and more info:
Information Booths are located at key intersections. Also look for roving info-tendants, festival and staff wearing official Bele Chere T-shirts and carrying signs.

First Aid tents are located at Pritchard Park, the Children’s Area (inside the Civic Center) and on Lexington near College Street.

Where can I find an ATM?
ATMs are located at the following downtown locations: Asheville Savings Bank, Patton Avenue at Arts Park; Bank of America, 162 College St. and 68 Patton Ave.; BB&T, 1 West Pack Square; First Citizens Bank, 108 Patton Ave.; Premier Credit Union, Haywood Street at the Civic Center; Wachovia, 1 Haywood St.

Can I bring my dog?
No. Pets are strictly prohibited inside of the festival boundaries. Animal Compassion Network offers a cool, clean and friendly place to house your pet for an hourly fee. Doggie Jail will be located in front of City Hall. 

Where’s the beer?
You must have a $2 wristband to carry alcohol on the streets during Bele Chere. Wristbands are available from select downtown merchants or from vendors located adjacent to beverage booths. Be prepared to show your picture ID when buying alcohol, as the wristband itself is not proof of age. Wristband colors change every day. A wristband is not required to drink in downtown pubs — only on the streets.

When and where can I drink beer?
Just remember: No alcohol on the streets after 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. No alcohol in the Children’s Area. No alcohol will be sold anywhere in the streets on Sunday.

And remember:
No coolers. No bicycles, blades, skates or skateboards. Let the islomania commence.

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