While Bele Chere officially kicks off Friday afternoon, Saturday is when the festival hits its stride. Music cranks up at noon and doesn't end until 10 p.m. (and then there are the afterparties in local venues, in case you like your Saturday to spill into Sunday).
This year, from the opening notes of Leeda "Lyric" Jones (known for emotive and powerful busking performances on Asheville's streets), it's apparent that this is a different sort of Bele Chere Saturday. Take Bele Chere Saturday, 2009: It was a day of funk, reggae and blues acts. Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band headlined, as did two very different country acts — alt-country/Americana band Old 97’s and country/hip-hop artist Colt Ford. While the combo may not have made sense on a playlist, the individual acts sure got the crowds moving.
This year's Saturday crowd will be moving to a different drummer. Literally. The day reveals a couple of electronic bands. It's not just the clubs and Moogfest that are seeing the electronica light, but street festivals as well. Local acts Paper Tiger and RBTS WIN (both Moogfest 2010 alumni) perform. Then it's eclectic, exotic sounds with The Billy Sea and Sirius.B (both local, the former playing worldbeat, the latter a mash-up of Gypsy, funk, punk, jazz and rock) and Mamarazzi, a Brooklyn-based jazz/hip-hop collective.
And finally, there's country. Only it's country done differently. Kelley & the Cowboys opens the day on the Rock N’ Kiss stage with rockabilly and Western swing. Clouds of Greer, a brand-new local Americana act, performs early on the Haywood Street Stage, and nationally touring country-rock-noir singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield has a prime evening spot on the U.S. Cellular Stage on Biltmore Avenue. Look for other Americana and alt-country artists, as well as indie-rock acts, throughout the festival. This year brings a turn both to the rootsy and the modern.
What's up with the headliners?
Bele Chere has tried a lot of different angles with headliners. Remember the ticketed shows? (Train.) Remember the '90s bands? (Blues Traveler, Rusted Root.) Remember the mainstream country? (Travis Tritt.) There have been some big names that excited and then disappointed by not showing up (De La Soul) and others who had that one hit … a really long time ago (Fog Hat).
This year's headliner is neither a blast from the past nor a has-been nor a major hitter on the pop charts, but Railroad Earth does have a dedicated fan base. And, guessing by the group's frequent Orange Peel stops, many of those fans live in Asheville. The New Jersey-based sextet combines bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, jazz and Celtic sounds for its own spin on Americana. The band name comes from Jack Kerouac's short story, "October in the Railroad Earth."
Big Gigantic headlines on the U.S. Cellular Stage on Biltmore Avenue. The Colorado-based band lists its interest as "Bringing It Hard!" which certainly can't hurt on stage. Interestingly (considering that the group's name is Big Gigantic and all), the electronica/hardcore/hip-hop duo is just that: a duo. Dominic Lalli is on production and saxophone, Jeremy Salken plays drums.
On the other hand, New Orleans institution Rebirth Brass Band is nine members strong and nearly 30 years old. Brothers Philip Frazier and Keith Frazier formed the band along with Kermit Ruffins in 1982, with help from friends in their high school marching band. The band still has that marching band swagger and thump, but without the silly polyester uniforms or John Phillip Sousa repertoire. Expect to be transported to the French Quarter in an infectious, horn-fueled, snare-driven dancing frenzy.
Who we’d want to be stranded on a desert island with
Though this Saturday's lineup may look pretty different than Bele Chere Saturdays of yore, there's still likely to be a band to suit nearly every musical taste. And if you plan it right (we suggest a map and a highlighter, and making use of shortcuts like Church Street, Hilliard Avenue and Commerce Street) you can catch 10-15 minutes of each act.
If you don't want to set a Guinness record for most bands seen in one day, consider catching Cedric Burnside Project at 2:15 p.m. at the U.S. Cellular Stage on Biltmore Avenue. Why? First, this kind of authentic down-and-dirty north Mississippi blues might never play a Bele Chere stage again. Burnside, the grandson of blues legend R. L. Burnside, cut his teeth playing drums for his grandfather ("Big Daddy") at age 13. According to Cedric's bio, he's been "playing music all his life, developing a relentless, highly rhythmic charged style with strong hip-hop and funk influences." He has the arms to prove it: powerful muscle and sinew arms that look apt to pummel his drum kit into rubble. For a time, Cedric toured with bluesman Lightnin' Malcolm as the Juke Joint Duo, but recently he formed his own band in which he plays drums, guitar and sings. Cedric's younger brother, Cody Burnside, contributes rap and vocals; producer/multi-instrumentalist Jesse Hiatt plays guitar and drums.
Also leave room on your dance card for the 6:30 p.m. slot at the Haywood Street Stage. That's when Kovacs & The Polar Bear plays, and this local band has been having a banner year. It was only 15 months ago that the shy indie rockers were attempting the move from small club to small festival at Asheville's first All Go West Fest. They quickly won hearts and fans and more local festival slots. This spring, Kovacs played a standout set at the inaugural Big Love Festival and won the audience choice prize at the Asheville Music Video Awards. Want to catch a local band on the rise? Here's your chance.
Rock N' Kiss Stage on Coxe Avenue
Kelley & the Cowboys (country) 12:30-2 p.m.
Paper Tiger (lounge) 2:30-4 p.m.
Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers (rock) 4:30-6 p.m.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (rock) 6:30-8 p.m.
Railroad Earth (Americana) 8:30-10 p.m.
U.S. Cellular Stage on Biltmore Avenue
The Vertigo Jazz Project (jazz) 12:15-1:45 p.m.
Cedric Burnside Project (blues) 2:15-3:45 p.m.
RBTS WIN (electronica) 4:15-5:45 p.m.
Jessica Lea Mayfield (Americana) 6:15-7:45 p.m.
Big Gigantic (electronica) 8:15-9:45 p.m.
Battery Park Stage
Lyric (soul) noon-1:30 p.m.
The Billy Sea (world beat) 2-3:30 p.m.
Sirius.B (Gypsy fusion) 4-5:30 p.m.
Kids These Days (hip-hop) 6-7:30 p.m.
Rebirth Brass Band (jazz) 8-9:30 p.m.
Haywood Street Stage
Clouds of Greer (Americana) 12:15-1:45 p.m.
Mamarazzi (jazz/hip-hop) 2:15-3:45 p.m.
Deep Fried Five (retro soul) 4:14-5:45 p.m.
Kovacs & The Polar Bear (indie rock) 6:30-8 p.m.