It’s official. Festival season is here, marked by two favorite local spring celebrations. Both show boatloads of love for the French Broad River: RiverLink’s RiverMusic series, which began in 2012, and French Broad River Festival, now in its 18th year of raising river awareness.
French Broad River Festival
Held annually in Hot Springs, this year’s French Broad River Festival takes place Friday-Sunday, May 1-3. Organizers accomplish charitable goals through numerous activities like a raft race, river cleanup, mountain bike race and Paddle with the Pros, a canoe trip with with three-time World Freestyle Rodeo champion Eli Helbert.
And then there’s the music lineup. “Early on, the raft race was the main event, and the music was the after-party,” says Sid Border, a festival co-organizer. “Now, it’s a weekend full of music. But to us it’s still all about getting out and enjoying this beautiful place, whether it’s on the river, the trail or at the campsite with friends.”
New-to-the-festival acts like Big Something, Dead 27s and Rodeo Clown appear on the lineup, but it’s the return of headliners and veterans like Sol Driven Train and Larry Keel that keep music fans dancing. “There are a few bands that have become a mainstay of French Broad River Festival because they love the setting as much as we love having them,” says Border. “They’ve become friends and obviously are great live bands. For me personally, having kids now, Sol Driven Train’s kids show and parade on Saturday is so damn fun.” Locals like Sirius B, Empire Strikes Brass, Black Robin Hero and Lyric round out the roster.
And all this fun is for a good cause. “Our goal has always been to raise awareness of this beautiful scenic river and its use for recreation,” says Border. Proceeds go to conservation nonprofit American Whitewater. As French Broad River Festival has grown, Border adds, “We’ve been able to support others in our community such as The Hot Springs Community Learning Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Eliada, Homeward Bound on WNC and MANNA FoodBank.”
A river cleanup in conjunction with Nantahala Outdoor Center (French Broad outpost), RiverLink and Sierra Nevada takes place on Friday, May 1. Volunteers meet at NOC for a guided river trip that includes lunch, a gift bag and a discount ticket to the festival.
WHAT: French Broad River Festival, frenchbroadriverfestival.com
WHERE: Hot Springs Resort and Spa
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, May 1-3. $100 general admission with primitive camping/$50 campground parking pass/$45 whitewater rafting
RiverLink’s popular free RiverMusic series kicks off on Friday, May 1, with Columbia, S.C. reggae outfit The Movement. In the past, RiverMusic shows have included Americana, bluegrass, funk, Southern rock and more. This year, organizers are aiming for something similar, with reggae added to the mix. “Reggae is something that doesn’t seem to come to Asheville often, so we thought there’d be a draw,” says Dave Russell, director of volunteer services. “The Movement has a good following — the band’s most recent album, Side By Side, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Reggae Chart.” The May show also features local acts Satta Roots and Franklin’s Kite.
“We’ve committed to having three bands each evening and have them start at specific times so our attendees can better plan their evenings,” says Russell. “The music starts at 5:30 p.m., with our second band at 6:45 p.m. and our headliner at 8:15 p.m.” New-to-the-series brewery Twin Leaf will team up with New Belgium, Catawba and Highland to provide beer.
The series continues at the RiverLink Sculpture and Performance Plaza in the River Arts District every second Friday — June 12, July 10, Sept. 11 and Oct. 9. (See sidebar for lineup.) The RiverMusic series aims to get Ashevilleans to the banks of the French Broad to discover its greatness. “It really is a fantastic body of water, and there are too many people who do not know about it, or only know the negative things they have heard,” says Russell. The series also functions as a fundraiser for RiverLink, which has used the monies raised to continue work on area greenways, parks, education and river access.
WHAT: RiverMusic, riverlink.org/experience/rivermusic
WHERE: RiverLink Sculpture and Performance Plaza
WHEN: Friday, May 1, then second Fridays through October. Music starts at 5:30 p.m. Free