Toe-tappin’ unity (plus yummy desserts)

The inaugural edition of One Planet Cafe offers a mere taste of what’s to come, hints Lynn Rosser of the lovingly conceived project she terms “a service to the greater community.”

The cafe will be held in Asheville’s Baha’i Center, but it’s a determinedly nondenominational project, she contends. That’s not to say that the mission isn’t spiritual, like the Baha’i faith’s goal of promoting the unity of major world religions — which undergirds One Planet Cafe’s vision of bringing together different parts of the community.

But One Planet is hitching its spiritual wagon firmly behind an entertainment horse. “People are not going to feel like they’re being pushed [toward] a religion,” affirms Rosser. What they will feel, she hopes, is thoroughly entertained. The cafe will be road-tested this month to generate start-up money, and then, beginning in the spring, be held monthly, featuring live theater and the croonings of popular local singer/songwriters. The nonprofit project is intended to promote “unity in diversity” and excellence in the arts, says Carrie Gerstmann, another event facilitator.

The spiritually altruistic coordinators have practical intentions, too: Proceeds from the cafe’s victuals (which include gourmet desserts by local chef Jane Wilson) will go to Manna Food Bank.

Musical benefits are not unusual in a place like Asheville, Gerstmann acknowledges, but she views One Planet Cafe in a different light. “There’s nothing quite like this [in Asheville] for developing a sense of community pride,” she points out.

“If there’s a goal, it’s to build a bridge between different communities, bring people from various communities together, [and] engender fellowship and a spirit of community in a larger sense,” Rosser elaborates.

The women (both of whom are themselves singer/songwriters, when they’re not helping promote community spirit) are amazed at the — for lack of a better term — good karma that shaped this project.

“Lynn and I conceived the idea at the same time and were in complete agreement [about its function],” reports Gerstmann, with satisfaction.

“The cafe wanted to [happen],” adds Rosser. “It practically organized itself.”

It’s the city, thinks Gerstmann. “My own work has developed beyond what I had ever dreamed since moving here,” says the Chicago native, who admits her initial reluctance in relocating to the Asheville area. “And the people we wanted most to perform [at the cafe] are the people who said ‘yes.’ … The community here is so alive,” she continues, still pleased by the revelation.

Gerstmann hopes the One Planet Cafe will be “a kind of [intellectual] salon” in which discussion and idea-swapping will follow the entertainment — at which point, Rosser adds that it will be a kid-friendly, all-ages occasion and, to that end, the setting will be smoke-and-alcohol-free.

For its virgin endeavor, the One Planet playbill includes: the stylings of popular balladeer and recycled-instrument strummer Billy Jonas (“his work, [which] conveys a sense of worth in every human being, fits in with our mission,” says Gerstmann) along with local songstresses Anne Lalley and Mary Davis; Asheville poet and National Poetry Slam first-prize winner Glenis Redmond; and Playback Theater, a local troupe whose dramatics creatively recreate and/or exorcise audience members’ memories and daily dilemmas.

Rosser hopes that the cafe will attract an even wider array of talent, in time. Sure, diversity is the project’s overwhelming focus, she insists — but not before pointing out that Jane Wilson’s decadent cheesecakes and tarts are strong contenders, too.

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