Bele Chere Island is as dense with revels as it is flush with inhabitants, and twice as strange. In the early morning hours during the last weekend in July, downtown becomes a kind of stage, pacific yet ripe for the early afternoon to part the curtains, bringing on a swarm of extras, unified within festival bounds to form the lead character: the crowd.
When your prow skims to a stop on the pebbled curb of the island’s perimeter, navigating the downtown dunes can be a jog in the surf. The compass hands spin, fanning a slight breeze, but providing no direction. If only the sun did have the black shades and calm, attendant grin from the raisin boxes of childhood, it could guide the newly landed with its broad and total view of the events on the ground. (Attempts to reach the sun by phone melted after the second ring.)
Fortunately, through a variety of deep-background sources, extending centuries into the past, and further into the visionary realm, Xpress summoned the counsel of a seasoned islander whose way with words is matched only by his near-fury for merry-making.
A former duke who loves a good page-turner and the merciless vengeance made possible by sorcery and spiritual terror, Prospero knows the ropes and the rigging of summer street festivals. Xpress extrapolated some Bele Chere superlatives from the beach bum whose “every third thought” seems to be of fish tacos. When it comes to island magic, he’s an old salt.
“The very minute bids thee open thine ear,” Prospero said with a voice that was simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. “I’m really excited about this year’s Taste of Asheville,” he said, naming Mamacita’s as a particular interest. “They won Best Burrito and Best Cheap Lunch in the 2010 Xpress Best of WNC poll, right? I boast her off, for thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise.” Mamacita’s is one of 16 local restaurants serving a paper plate at the festival, and Prospero assured Xpress that he would taste them all. “No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall to make this contract grow,” he said. “Just wait. I will eat Ed Boudreaux's Bayou Bar-B-Que out of a waffle cone from Ultimate Ice Cream.”
When it comes to live music, Prospero is no less ardent. “I have been known to raise a storm — have you ever heard the bones of the sea tear from the ligature of the moon’s bond? — but it is nothing compared to the totally ill, funkadelicious grooves that come from the four stages,” he said. “I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do, to work mine end.”
Prospero counted off his favorites: “As my soul prompts it, I’ll definitely check out The Critters on Friday,” he said. “They remind me of a certain boatful of mariners who visited me, years ago, on their way back from a wedding.” The Critters play the Biltmore stage at 5 p.m.
For Saturday, Prospero’s tastes linger on the local. “And deeper than did ever plummet sound, I can’t wait to see Lyric,” who plays from noon to 1 p.m. on the Battery Park stage. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. So I’m going to see Kovacs and the Polar Bear because, why not? All [that] we inherit shall dissolve, and who says emotions aren’t groovy?”
Sunday, Prospero admits, isn’t as easy to plan for. “Sir, I am vex'd. Bear with my weakness; my brain is troubled. Should I see River Whyless (2 p.m., Biltmore stage) or Doc Aquatic (2:15 p.m., Battery Park stage)?” The evening performance seems an even graver dilemma. “Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints with dry convulsions, shorten up their sinews with aged cramps, and more pinch-spotted make them: Papadosio or Hoots and Hellmouth?” Both acts take to the stage — Haywood Street and Coxe Avenue, respectively — at 6:30 p.m. “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine,” Prospero said.
Even a spirit as lithe as Prospero’s can have a hard time keeping up. “For the past few years, the heat has been, well, I’m not what I formerly was,” he said. “It may be because there hasn’t been a Mountain Xpress booth, but I’ve been flagging.”
Prospero admitted that his attitude shifted from “Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” to the same expression “without the article, and with a different noun.” “Miranda always told me, ‘I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of,’ and I am glad of Bele Chere Island. So who’s going to be a fool? Not Prospero.”
Such excitement will put a spell on the most stubborn pessimist — and there isn’t room to host the overtures the man gave for the mist tent. But even Prospero knows not to overdo it. “Do that good mischief which may make this island totally fun,” he said, adding “do not give dalliance too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw to the fire in the blood: be more abstemious, or else, good night your vow!”
In other words, don’t throw any Xpress distribution boxes through any shop windows.
— Jaye Bartell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org