Orange you glad you had a ball?

“The most fabulous fund-raiser in Asheville — period.” That’s how Adrienne Kort of the Asheville Area Arts Council describes the upcoming Big Orange Ball, happening Saturday, June 7 at assorted downtown venues.

“It’s so great because it appeals to so many different people, and you can be just as outrageous … or just as conservative as you want to be and still manage to support the Arts Council,” she explains.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it works: For $75, participants can choose one of three cocktail parties going on simultaneously in downtown Asheville. After tarrying there from 8-10 p.m., they’ll head over to the Orange Peel (along with 600 other revelers) for the grand finale. And for those who really want to pull out all the stops, $150 buys admission to all the bashes (including a special patron’s party from 6-8 p.m.).

To get the flavor of “Cabaret Risque” at Ion Art Gallery (98 N. Lexington Ave.), think Chicago or Moulin Rouge. The entertainment will be compliments of the Rebelles Burlesque Troupe, Holiday Childress (of the Goodies), and Stephanie Morgan with Chuck Lichtenberger. La Caterina Trattoria and Il Paradiso will provide the food. Dress is orange cocktail attire or “bare as you dare.”

“This is definitely not for our conservative crowd,” notes Kort. “There’s dancers, there’s smoke … ribald comedy, a very sensual party.”

For a different but still splashy event, consider “Work the CatWalk” at City Rugs in the Haywood Park Hotel (1 Battery Park Ave.) This party comes complete with a runway entry, faux paparazzi firing off flashbulbs, and mega-screens capturing your every move. DJ Silent will spin the discs (techno, that is), and the Everyday Gourmet will feed the troops. Dress is anything “maaavelous.”

“This is the ‘high fashion in Asheville’ party,” Kort explains. “You’ll go there and show off an outfit that you’ve had and thought, ‘Am I ever going to get to wear this?'”

And then there’s the more refined “Jazz’n at the Ritz” at The Ritz Club (42 S. Market St.). Think sexy, sultry and sizzling. Dress to impress in sassy, smokin’ cocktail attire and dance the night away to the smooth, stylistic, jazz-inspired sounds of Pic n’ Chip. Food provided by the Southside Cafe.

“[The Ritz] is an amazing exclusive club,” says Kort enthusiastically. But if you’re not a member, here’s your chance to take a peek.

The kickoff patron’s party, “Club Two-To-Tango,” takes place on the rooftop of the Biltmore Building on Pack Square (“A gorgeous setting,” notes Kort). Guests can learn some dance steps, tango to the sounds of Con Clave (a spicy blend of salsa, Afro-Cuban, jazz and contemporary), and sample authentic Argentine cuisine by Savoy Cucina Italiana. Dress is orange cocktail attire or tango-inspired.

All of this will be followed by the biggest bash of all, the Big Orange Ball, at the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.).

“We try and keep as much secret as we can about the party,” cautions Kort, but she does let some teasing hints slip: “It’s this huge, Brazilian-themed party. Everything from go-go dancers to world pop [performed by the Latin band Solazo] to chocolate fondue by the Melting Pot and Cajun food by Thibodaux Jones. It’s the grand finale, and it’s amazing.”

And if $75 sounds like a lot for a night out, Kort emphasizes: “You have first-rate entertainment at all the venues … the most amazing food … [and] your drinks are paid for all night. There’s no way that my husband and I could go out for $75 each and have the kind of time that you’ll have at the Orange Ball.”

And then, of course, there’s the cause. Last year, the Big Blue Ball raised $50,000 for the Arts Council’s Arts-in-Education programs. Based on that success, this year’s goal is $60,000.

For more information or to reserve a ticket, call the Asheville Area Arts Council (258-0710) or visit their Web site (

— Lisa Watters

Casual good works

“We’re pretty good at throwin’ a party,” declares Leigh Dudasik, director of programs and communication for MANNA FoodBank.

So party hearty, Asheville: MANNA’s fourth annual Blue Jean Ball will run 7 p.m.-midnight on Saturday, June 7, at the nonprofit help organization’s warehouse (627 Swannanoa River Road).

As its name suggests, the Blue Jean Ball is all about relaxed atmosphere, says Dudasik.

“We’re a blue-jean kind of place,” she adds. “We’re movin’ millions of pounds of food around [here].”

But most of what’s typically stored in MANNA’s 25,000-square-foot warehouse is being temporarily relocated to a Swannanoa facility to make way for the soiree.

Once that’s done, the sprucing up begins, with decorations that play into this year’s theme, “Color Your World — Showcasing Culture and Cuisine in Western North Carolina.”

The spotlight, says Dudasik, is on diversity.

Ballgoers can sample Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Slavic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Mexican, deep-dish Southern cuisine and more. The list of participating vendors is extensive: Biltmore Estate; Bistro 1896; Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Que; Chez Nous Confections; The Colorful Palate; Empire Distributors of North Carolina; the Great Smokies Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort; The Highland Lake Inn; Ice Sensations; La Paz; Pomodoros Greek & Italian Cafe; Rezaz Mediterranean Cuisine; the Richmond Hill Inn; Savoy Cucina Italiana; SYSCO (of Charlotte); Trevi Pasta, Seafood & Pizza; Trillium Bistro; the Tupelo Honey Cafe; and The Ultimate Ice Cream Co.

The music, too, will be wearing travelin’ shoes: Chuck Beattie & Blues by Design (with the affable Ashevillean putting his danceable spin on Chicago-style blues-rock), Dazuluzad (Middle Eastern-styled, with an oud and a saxophone), Half-Nine (Celtic), The Daniel Barber Trio (Latin styles, complete with congas), and members of the Tried Stone Baptist Church Praise Team (gospel).

For a breath of fresh air, the entertainment will be happening both inside the warehouse and out.

The ball also includes a silent auction featuring about 125 items, many donated by local craftspeople.

And the warehouse setting will hopefully remind patrons of where their contributions are going, Dudasik suggests.

MANNA operates in 17 WNC counties, delivering and distributing food to about 350 charitable groups that serve a combined 51,000 meals per day, according to the agency’s Web site.

The group collects food from local supermarkets and individuals, food processors and distributors, state and federal agriculture agencies, America’s Second Harvest, and a national network of food banks, as well as various food drives.

In the early days, MANNA (launched in 1982) distributed about 1 million pounds of food each year, says Dudasik, one of six original employees. The agency now shuttles about 4-1/2 million pounds of food to member agencies annually (another 2-1/2 million pounds goes to other food banks in the eastern United States).

“We’re a logistics kind of organization,” Dudasik explains.

Despite having a paid staff of 25 and racking up about 2,000 volunteer work hours per month, MANNA receives no direct government money other than some state funds to buy food for emergency-service agencies, Dudasik reports.

According to the MANNA Web site, 42 percent of the organization’s food budget comes from fund-raisers and private donations (another 40 percent is from member agencies and other food banks; the remaining 18 percent is compliments of the United Way).

The Blue Jean Ball is one of the organization’s two big annual fund-raisers (the other is the Ingles Giving Tree). Tickets, which cover both food and drink, are $50 each ($70 for reserved seating; tables of 10 or more go for $600). The event typically sells out.

But MANNA is hardly taking that fact for granted, Dudasik says.

The 2002 ball brought in $73,000, she notes. The goal this year is a stripped-back $70,000.

Money is getting tight out there, Dudasik observes.

“This has not been an easy year for us,” she reveals. “We’re starting to feel [the economic crunch] now.”

Yet when ball patrons come through that warehouse door, the spirit will be all optimism — on a casual level, of course.

Among the many colorful decorations, Dudasik notes, will be “thousands and thousands of pairs of blue jeans.

“You walk in here and you say, ‘I can’t believe this is a food bank!'”

To order tickets to the Blue Jean Ball, or to learn more about MANNA FoodBank, call 299-3663, or visit the organization’s Web site (

— Frank Rabey

Choosing cleaner air

HENDERSONVILLE — “So often, people think there’s nothing they can do to help clean our air in the mountains,” observes Mary Jones, president of the Environmental and Conservation Organization. ECO is coordinating the “Good Growth Makes Good Sense” panel-discussion series.

Jones is hoping the next program, titled “Clear the Air — Travel into the Future,” will help correct that misconception. Scheduled for Thursday, June 5, 7 p.m. in the Henderson County Library auditorium, the program will feature speakers from a wide range of agencies. They’ll discuss how individuals can help improve Western North Carolina’s air quality through personal choices in transportation.

Kay T. Prince of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will describe the voluntary programs her agency has developed to encourage ride-sharing and other ways to reduce air impacts from cars. Prince heads up the Air Planning Branch in the EPA’s Atlanta office.

Air Quality Policy Engineer David Hyder of the N.C. Department of Transportation will speak about how automobiles contribute to air pollution and explain how the state plans to implement auto-emissions testing.

Taking things to the local level, Henderson County Commissioner Bill Moyer will discuss the county’s comprehensive transportation planning and participation in the “early-action compact” (a group of five counties — Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania — working together to curb air pollution).

Finally, Haywood Knolls resident Mary Borowski will discuss her active approach to influencing transportation decisions that affect her neighborhood.

A Q&A period will wrap up the evening.

For more information, call ECO at 692-0385.

— Lisa Watters

Clinical trials test new asthma medication

Most of us have to pay to see a doctor. But a global research initiative with a local component is offering eligible asthma sufferers free care plus financial incentives. The Take A Breath Clinical Trials, now under way, are evaluating a nonsteroid, oral medication for treatment of persistent, mild-to-moderate asthma.

Regional Allergy & Asthma Consultants of Asheville is one of the sites for the trials.

“Participating in a research study is really a wonderful opportunity for patients with asthma to learn a great deal about their disease, while receiving very intense and focused specialty care,” notes Dr. David Cypcar, the principal investigator for the local trials.

To be eligible, patients must currently be taking inhaled steroid medications (such as Flovent, Aerobid, Azmacort or Pulmicort) and be between 18 and 70 years old. The 16-week study entails 11 visits to Regional Allergy’s Asheville office. All study medication and study-related medical care (including breathing tests, lab work and EKGs) are provided free of charge, and patients will be compensated up to $430 for their time and effort.

About 10 percent of North Carolinians have been told by their physician that they have asthma, according to the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.

“My gut feeling is that North Carolina figure is pretty much in line with the national average,” says Cypcar. “But … the prevalence rate in the U.S. and other developed countries as [recently] as 10, 15 years ago was only 5 percent.”

There are several theories as to why the rate is increasing “despite more research and the availability of several good asthma medications,” Cypcar explains. Some think it’s related to the fact that we live in “tighter” homes and thus are exposed to more indoor allergens, he says. Others believe it has more to do with air pollution.

But the leading theory today, reports Cypcar, is what’s called the “hygiene hypothesis.”

“A young child’s immune system can be stimulated either by infections or allergens,” he explains, “and there seems to be an inverse relationship between these two triggers — i.e., when infections are stimulating the immune system, responses to allergens get put on the back burner.

“The thinking is that, as a whole, we live in a much healthier and cleaner society today than we did several years ago, in part due to vaccinations, good medications, etc. As a consequence, there are fewer infections driving the immune system, thereby permitting allergens to serve a more primary role.”

Cypcar adds, “I think there is definitely some credibility to this theory, as the prevalence rate of allergies and asthma in underdeveloped countries is minimal.”

Physicians treating patients who are eligible to participate in the study may contact Cypcar at 253-3382. Anyone with mild-to-moderate asthma who’s interested in learning more can call Dina Greene at the same number, or visit the Take A Breath Clinical Trials Web site (

— Lisa Watters

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