Amid the crooning, grooving and grinding spilling off the Bele Cher stages, amid the unflagging vocal enthusiasm of certain vendors and the general furor, the voice of everyman inevitably arose from the festival’s joyous milieu.
“Oooh, funnel cakes! Let’s get some funnel cakes!” was one commonly heard cry.
This reporter’s favorite declaration, however, was picked up while passing Outback Kate’s Australian Grill, where grilled alligator was the most popular item: “My aunt fixes that — tastes just like chicken,” quipped the unimpressed festival-goer.
With the rapt and jumbled panache that only Asheville can pull off, Bele Chere brought people together. On Friday and Saturday evenings, they were brought together extremely closely. As body pressed against body in Pack Square on Saturday night, a studied survey of the crowd highlighted two things: an indecisive line threading through the mob, meandering toward no point in particular, and this comment by attendee Chloe George: “It’s a little overwhelming.”
Serena Narbe was more direct: “There’s too many people!”
Slowly, the masses swallowed them both, and they dissolved into the balmy night. Ryan Locklear of Charlotte observed, “I didn’t expect to see such a huge crowd,” but added sportingly, “I’m really enjoying myself.”
Singer/songwriter Annie Lalley welcomes the festival as a kind of extended family reunion — albeit with the addition of a few (hundred thousand) fresh faces to make things interesting.
“For me, [it means] I get to see family and friends and present my music to new people,” she enthused.
Attending a Poetry Alive! event on Friday, Susan Marinoff of Brooklyn had decided to stay for the entire festival.
“[Even] if you come by yourself, people are very warm and open and friendly,” she allowed. “This city, of all cities, is not a threatening place. … There was nobody acting out wild. It was just really a pleasure to be here.
“There’s a lot of diversity in the music,” she continued. “You could hear Richie Havens, or oldies, or rockabilly, or you could dance … shop till you drop, eat till you burst, It was just a whole lot of fun.”
Deana Reid of Buncombe County can also cast her lot with the contented. Reid placed third in the BellSouth Rip & Recycle Rally (which involved manually decimating phone books), facing — among others contestants — the formidable Charlotte-based team of brothers Mark and David Minett.
“It has nothing to do with strength and muscle,” Reid declared. “It’s all strategy.”
Asked if she had made any specific preparations for the contest, Reid allowed that she’d worked “a little bit on Sunday, but I was afraid to waste my energy.”
Her daughter Kayla, 11, was more forthcoming: “She shredded our phone book.”
Kermit Tolley, racecar driver and lifelong resident of Asheville, was found working the streets in conjunction with emergency services. Standing in the noon sun with small beads of sweat studding his brow, he insisted, “I like to do stuff like this.”
Breaking away to answer his walkie-talkie, he eventually continued, “I think it’s going great. … Everybody involved [behind the scenes] is trying to help the public as much as possible.”
Asheville Police Chief Will Annarino leaked this report: “Even though we had more arrests this year, all in all it seemed to be more peaceful. … We issued 210 citations and made 46 physical arrests.”
No major assaults or riots this year, he contended, but rather “just routine, general arrests.
“At Bele Chere, if [miscreants] are arrested, they generally want to be,” he noted, going on to sketch a verbal portrait of one lively offender: ” One guy, you know, officers were trying to work with him and he turned around and spit in an officer’s face. I mean, the guy goes to jail.”
On the brink of taking a few days off himself, Jeff Muller, marketing director for Asheville Parks and Recreation, remarked, “I thought it went spectacularly.” Weary yet still enthusiastic, he concluded, “We couldn’t have asked for better weather. We couldn’t have asked for better entertainers … [and] we couldn’t have asked for better crowds.”
Indeed: Initial estimates mark 2000 as a record year for Bele Chere year, with some 365,000 people thronging our downtown streets.
And while standing in the Mountain Xpress booth, our poet of the hour, NYC’s Susan Marinoff, drafted a verse to further immortalize the festival, which ended in this earnest rap: It is an event that should be announced to the nation. / It is a sensory revelation!