Asheville remembers Bele Chere

Whether you mourned the loss or celebrated its final days, Bele Chere has now been packed up and laid to rest after 35 years. Earlier this year, members of Asheville City Council announced that the city could no longer pay the $450,000 required to finance the summer street festival after this year — marking the death of the festival as we know it. Despite rumors, there are no plans at this time for the festival to continue, according to the City of Asheville.

To help with the grieving process, Xpress asked the community to share how they felt about Bele Chere’s final chapter. Below, are some of the parting words, pictures, videos and more for the summer street festival. Didn’t get a chance to say your goodbyes? Feel free to add them as a comment at the bottom of the page.  (Refresh this page if you can’t see the Storify post below.)

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A full obituary from Xpress arts reporter Kyle Sherard can be found at this link. Here’s a sampling:
“But while many residents will join hands and remember the dark period that stained the last weekend of July for 35 years in a row, for many, fonder memories will persist.

If you can find an Asheville resident that was around over 30 years ago, an increasingly rare task, he or she may wax on about kinder days with smaller, calmer crowds and a relaxing yet bountiful atmosphere of local arts and crafts. They may tell of gospel singers in the early ‘80s, Motown on Wall Street and a time when people actually danced instead of just gyrating in place. Or maybe they’ll lull you with tale of John Hartford’s elusively-infamous performance from the 1981 festival. They might describe the clack of his heels on a stack of wooden boards and the slowed down, drawn out hums-turned-sighs just before leaning back into a chorus.”

Xpress cartoonist and illustrator Brent Brown:
“I may have gone a few times as a semi-local when the kids were small, but other than participating in a few event-themed 5K races, the one real involvement with the festival circa 1989 when I was a paid vendor.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth in front of what is now Pack Square Park.

Back then, the booth fee was around $500 and I sold caricatures. Unfortunately, unlike having an inventory of goods that can sell as fast as customers demand, I could only draw so many people at one time, no matter how many (or few) showed up to partake in this service/art form. At $6 each, I would need to convince about 83.333333333 people to have one done before breaking even on the booth fee alone … Once I started doing a weekly cartoon about Asheville and Asheville-related things, I kind of had to address the Bele Chere festival each year. By this time, the festival had outlived the original need for it. The downtown of Asheville had now become a vibrant, booming and hip place to be. The boarded-up, seedy city center that once needed an injection of life was long gone. Eateries, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, touristy shops and performance spaces were doing a booming business downtown all year round now. Except for when Bele Chere would happen. Now that influx of out-of-town vendors and unruly, sometimes inebriated crowds (along with an influx of professional street-preaching instigators to mock them) would turn up and crowd out the market and space to the downtown business owners who now felt the festival was something to endure, rather than embrace each year.” (His full post can be found here.)

John Kelleher:
“Bele Chere had been suffering slowly and painfully since its birth in the late 1970’s. It finally died this year by assisted suicide, specifically from a sharp blow of the City Council gavel. Throughout its life, it often disguised itself as fun-loving and beneficial to the economy. However, regionally, it caused more frowns than smiles, not to mention absolute misery to the local businesses. It is fair to say that Bele Chere hijacked the city once a year by the simple observation that locals avoided downtown like the plague.  But anyone who suffered through the stupid oversized pretzels, the relentless tornadoes of trash, and the absurd religious comedians with bullhorns, has to admit to having at least one magical moment. For example, hearing Richie Havens sing Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away,” A capella style. As far as funeral arrangements go, we are just chucking Bele Chere in the grave and laying dead flowers next to the headstone. But it’s epitaph should be somewhat sympathetic. How about “Wanted to be loved, couldn’t be hated, but severely disliked”.  No surviving relatives, thank God.”

William A Weeks:
“Having lived in Asheville for all the years of Bele Chere I enjoyed the first two or three and happily joined the residents of Asheville who used it as a great reason to leave town for a few days. Asheville is hot and humid and at it’s least comfortable in late July, add tourist drivers, road closures and coupons and you’ve got a great reason to get out of Dodge. I will miss the convenient advertising that signaled me to plan our mid summer getaway. The beauty of Asheville is the pace that we go about our everyday lives, Bele Chere seemed like a Chamber of Commerce construct that never quite got that.”

Lisa Milner Creasman:
“Good riddance Bele Chere!! I won’t miss you.”

Choya Harden:
“Honestly glad its dying. #RIPBeleChere”

John-Paul Miller:
“I have been living in Asheville for 7 years now and been going to Bele Chere since 2000, driving down from Boone before I was a resident. Many of the locals get annoyed with Bele Chere. I have always found it to be an amusing display of arts, music and the creative, ecclectic and wild locals that inhabit our city. Sure, people have a little too much to drink….ever been to a music festival or another downtown event in a different city? Sheesh! We are beer city USA after all. Do the local artisans and musicians not appreciate all the out of town dollars that are spent downtown and all the exposure they are getting with folks from other cities and states??? What about all the restaurants that make 2-4 times what they make on a normal weekend??? The traffic is horrible….suck it up Asheville, it’s only one weekend a year. We should embrace the fact that we were blessed to have an amazing opportunity to be a part of an awesome event that exhibited Asheville culture for 35 years. I will be sad to see it go.”

Anita Adams:
“It was a wonderful idea and for many years an enjoyable event that my children and I looked forward to. It became too big and with so many people drinking and not behaving, not as pleasant. It will seem very strange not to have it, but, I do believe it’s time. And I hope that if an event like this begins to grow again that it will be a much smaller venue and more geared toward the #Arts and #Music of #Asheville – NOT the Drink.”

Elizabeth Hickman Shepherd:
“It’s a shame…good times and good memories.”

Miguel Angel Miquel
“It is not for certain this will be the last one , the city is just not putting it on anymore!!! I’ll be the first to help raise funds to keep this going as a privately funded affair. festivals are profitable , very profitable. anybody who does not like bele chere does not know life before it and how it saved AVL!!!”

Brandon Matey:
“Last year was our first and last Bele Chere. Had a great time.”

Douglas P Ewen:
“We will miss you … great music!”

Teresa Sorbilli:
“Good riddance”

Ben Plunket:
“Thank God it’s ending, and to the rumors I hear of outside companies, breweries, etc, reviving it in the future….Don’t, get some effing originality and start something new….Bele Chere had its time and grew into an ugly monster, despised by most locals (that I know at least)….”

Xpress username Lamont Cranston:
“It overstayed its’ welcome, and now must go. We avoid Asheville that weekend and know that many of our friends that are downtown merchants can’t stand it either. Not R.I.P…But good riddance.”

Xpress username Mary:
“I love Bele Chere. I have lived here many years and gone every year for all three days. I go for the music; I don’t go out to night clubs or bars so this is a way for me to hear good music.

I find the street preachers and opponents to be good theater. I had a friend here last year from Austin and she could have spent the entire festival at Pritchard Park watching the show. They don’t have that in Austin, and it is a lot weirder than Asheville. She thought it was funny and entertaining. Get over yourself, people; enjoy life for a change.

I think the snobs on City Council will figure out how much money this festival is bringing into the city only after it is gone.”

Xpress username Boatrocker:
“At least Bele Chere was old enough to run for president (35 yrs old) and rent a car in North Carolina. Weird music choices aside, which remaining music festival/s is/are still megaphone friendly? Let’s take it back from the Westoboro visitors. Maybe the few remaining local music festivals learn from economic crash landings. It’s about the music, not the ‘scene.’”




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