The art of summer fun

Even the calendar admits that summer’s nearly here — that paradisal time when thoughts turn to swimming, cycling, hiking, camping and other outdoor pleasures. But why not sprinkle a little music, theater and dance, and perhaps a summer festival or two, amid that heady agenda? What follows is a sampling of summer arts events for everyone — and many of them are held, you guessed it, in the great outdoors.

• Downtown After Five. Sponsored by the Asheville Downtown Association, these four free summer concerts are just the thing for weary workers at the end of a rough week. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on select Friday evenings (June 26, July 10, Aug. 14 and Sept. 11) and held outdoors at Pack Square, each Downtown After Five event features a popular, high-energy band and lots of food and drink. (Coming up: Donna the Buffalo and the Reggae Cowboys.) Call 251-9973 for more info.

• Shindig on the Green. Now entering its 31st year, Shindig is Asheville’s longest-running outdoor event. Held every summer Saturday evening (except July 25, when Bele Chere takes precedence) at City/County Plaza, Shindig features old-time and bluegrass music, plus mountain dance, square dance and clogging. The festivities start around 7 p.m., and it’s all free. Bring your family and your lawn chairs and blankets, plop down on the grass, and enjoy — it’s all free. Call 258-6107 to learn more.

• Flat Rock Playhouse. The historic Flat Rock Playhouse (2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock), home to the Vagabond School of Drama, features a delectable array of offerings this summer, ranging from comedy to drama to musicals. Take a gander at the summer schedule: The Sound of Music (June 10-21); The Affections of May (July 1-11); The Will Rogers Follies (July 15-26); The Perfect Wedding (Aug. 5-15); Annie Get Your Gun (Aug. 19-30); and To Kill A Mockingbird (Sept. 9-20). Plays usually run Wednesday through Sunday at 8:15 p.m., with matinees on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Call 693-0731 for ticket prices and more info.

• Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre. Western North Carolina’s award-winning professional theatre company, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART), kicks off its 24th season on June 17 with the hilarious A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This zany production combines slapstick humor with memorable music, and has been pleasing crowds for decades. The play runs through June 28. Other highlights of the SART summer season include: Shirley Valentine (July 1-5); Blessed Assurance (July 8-12); The Little Prince (July 15-26); Only Child (July 29-August 2); Radio Mystery Classics (August 5-9); and The Young Man From Atlanta (August 12-16). Performances are held Wednesday through Sunday at 8:15 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. SART is located in Mars Hill, N.C. Call (828) 689-1239 for tickets and more info.

• Concerts on the Quad. UNCA’s free summer concerts, held on the campus quadrangle every Monday through July 18, run from 7-8:30 p.m. This year’s lineup includes: Nashville recording artist Roger Day and African storyteller Obakunle Akinlana on June 15; jazz vocalist Beth Chorneau on June 22; the 1940s-swing-meets-1990s-pop sounds of BadaBing BadaBoom on June 29; folk fusion group Molasses Creek on July 6; and folkloric dance-and-vocal ensemble Doina Timisului on July 13. Call 251-6584 for details.

• An Appalachian Summer Festival. Named one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, An Appalachian Summer Festival is still going strong after more than a decade. This year’s edition gets under way on and around the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone on July 5 and runs through Aug. 1, featuring the usual dazzling array of music, dance, theater and visual-arts presentations. This year, the partial lineup includes: Willie Nelson, David Holt, Andre Watts, the North Carolina Symphony Pops, and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. A full pass (which guarantees the best seats available) for the entire festival costs $300. Individual performance tickets range from $2 to $25. Call (828) 262-4046 or (800) 841-ARTS for tickets and more info.

• Asheville Community Theatre. The city’s premiere play-viewing venue offers the finest in community theater year-round. This summer (ACT’s 52nd summer season), don’t miss Beau Jest, running weekends June 5-21; a Reader’s Theatre production of Nuts (June 27-28); a Youth Theatre Summer Camp production of The Great Cross Country Race (a.k.a. The Turtle and the Hare) at Diana Wortham Theatre, (July 18 and 19); and Alice in Wonderland, (Aug. 7-9 and 14-16). Call 253-4931 or 254-1320 to find out more.

• Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. The 71st edition of this venerable event happens July 2-4, primarily at City/County Plaza (select performances will also be held at Asheville Community Theatre and Diana Wortham Theatre). Called “the granddaddy of festivals” and named as one of the American Bus Tour Association’s top 100 events in 1997, the festival — founded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford (“the minstrel of the Appalachians”) in 1927 — is the oldest continuous celebration of mountain music and dance in the country. Some 400-plus performers are chosen each year from the cream of the crop in the Southern Appalachian region and beyond. The festival runs each day from noon to 10 p.m. Tickets are $6 for indoor performances. All outdoor performances are free. Call 626-FOLK for more info.

• Brevard Music Festival. The Brevard Music Festival is nothing short of a classical-music lover’s heaven (and there’s even some pop and jazz — not to mention a smidgen of Shakespeare and Broadway — thrown in for good measure). Held at the Brevard Music Center, this summer-long extravaganza (June 26 through Aug. 9) includes these highlights: popular singer Maureen McGovern; jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant; opera star Rene Fleming; and productions of Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cinderella and Guys and Dolls. Season tickets, which provide reserved seating at all festival events, cost $250. Individual concert tickets range from $7 to $25. A variety of weekend packages are also available, running from $46 to $53. Children and students pay $5 for all events. Call (828) 884-2019 for tickets and details.

• Montford Park Players. Under the direction of founder Hazel Robinson, this venerable group (in existence since the early ’70s) aims to make Shakespeare free and accessible to everyone (especially young people). They’ve accomplished both those aims since their early years, when the group performed in Montford Park. These days, they’ve moved to the spacious Montford Amphitheater, just off Pearson Drive. But nothing else has changed (except maybe a few faces): The plays are still presented in an informal manner, and they’re still free. Check out As You Like It through June 28, and King Lear July 10-August 9. Performances are held every Friday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Call 254-4540 to learn more.

• Bele Chere. Bele Chere celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, July 24-26 — and what a long, strange trip it’s been. When the festival was established in 1979, it covered a couple of city blocks, featured a few local bands, and attracted less than 10,000 people. Since then, Bele Chere has become the largest free outdoor festival in the Southeast, with stages and activities spread throughout the entire downtown area, and featuring legendary performers. Last year’s attendance was estimated at 365,000 people. Plus, some of the Southeast’s finest artisans sell their wares, culinary delicacies from ethnic to traditional abound, and there are tons of activities for kids. For more info about Bele Chere, call 259-5800.

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