Bele Chere: boon or burden?


It’s just about that time again. In a little over a week, thousands will descend on downtown for Bele Chere, the massive annual street festival with which Asheville enjoys a love-hate relationship.

In my years here, I’ve heard no small amount of local vitriol directed at the three-day event, for reasons economic, cultural and visceral. Locals will grumble, boycott the event or plan their vacations to get the hell out of dodge while it’s going on. I’ve heard local business owners both look forward to the influx of business (especially downtown) and wish Bele Chere died an undignified death and never came back. I’ve known locals who stick around to condemn the event as mostly a gathering place for the most uncouth breed of out-of-towner imaginable, but who still end up taking at least an hour to roam about themselves, if just to grab some chicken on a stick and watch the street preachers argue with their detractors.

An informal poll here in the Xpress office reveals similar splits of opinion, with responses including “burden, definitely burden,” “strong boon,” “depends on the music, not going just for the funnel cake,” and “it helps some businesses in downtown, but really hurts the rest.”

On the interest of civic (if not always civil) discourse, let’s make this an open question. Ashevilleans (and others): What say you? Is Bele Chere a boon or a burden, and why?

Photo by Jonathan Welch from 2009 Bele Chere

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43 thoughts on “Bele Chere: boon or burden?

  1. SuckItMcGee

    I like anything that gives me an excuse to drink good beer. To note: this will be my first bele chere as a local, I cannot wait!

  2. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Bele Chere helps make AVL distinctive, our own little Mardi Gras. Thousands of people come because they like it. Some things might be improved, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s continue to try to keep it varied, to offer something for everyone.

  3. Asheville Native

    I had my share of fun over the years but I have to say unless there’s a band I love playing or my kids are clamoring for it; I’ll happily pass and mow the grass.

  4. Ken Hanke

    A bunch of sweaty drunks with no shirts on is not my idea of desirable. The businesses I know say it hurts them, not helps them and that most of the money goes to people from out of town.

  5. pff

    bele cher is AWESOME if your idea of fun is the atmosphere of a shopping mall, the music of a classic rock station, and the fraternity of, well, fraternities.

    for anyone who loves getting a sunburn on their muffin top while getting in a fistfight and eating boiled grease.

  6. boatrocker

    For having played now 5 Bele Cheres over alternating years, let me espouse:

    1) Don’t like the music? Volunteer (yep for free) for the selection committee to listen to over 800 demos to judge which ones are worthy. At least the committee claims to listen to 800+ demos after charging a $15 fee to apply. I’ve actually met said volunteers when dropping off promo materials in person and I wish I could say they looked happy. Don’t like one hit wonders from whatever decade? The Orange Peel website is open for comments too. At least Bele Chere doesn’t book American Idol contestants and tribute bands.

    2) Don’t complain about Bele Chere line ups after you don’t volunteer to listen to 800+ demos yet your favorite band isn’t included. There’s only so much time set aside to play at said festival.

    3) Yes, it is a great weekend to get out of town if you don’t like it. Many locals do it sucessfully every year.

    4)Thanks Bele Chere for eliminating the paid stage. Dumb idea to start with, you lost money and you finally saw the error of thine ways. Local beers- thumbs up.

    5) Everything posted about South Carolina types with their shirts off screaming “woo hoo!” is true. That’s because South Carolina doesn’t have anything comparable though SC residents love to diss Bele Chere here in an Asheville online forum.

  7. bikeman

    Bele Chere started as an event to draw people back downtown. It has outlived its usefulness.

  8. There is never big money to be made from the walking, drinking crowd. I’ve exhibited there and very few of the craftsmen made any real money…..lucky to meet booth fees & expenses.

    I’d like to see actual figures on what it costs to put on vs. what the producers make on the event. Is it worth it to shut down the whole downtown area? Could it be held elsewhere?

  9. Joseph Barcia

    Exactly, bikeman. I have been told Bele Chere was also different, being more artistic and generally enjoyable, once upon a time.

  10. dankster

    I have lived in Asheville for a good long time and it all way’s makes me laugh how people are against bele~chere and cant wait to get out of town…What’s the problem with you anti people ? It’s nothing but a big block PARTY – party means have a good time and relax – you people should really appreciate the event for what it is a big giant party for the community to come together.not run away.

  11. Last year’s event was an enormous step in the right direction, with its smaller footprint and greater focus on local vendors and music. If the committee continues on this path…definite boon.

  12. dpewen

    I love Bele Chere and am looking forward to the great lineup this year! I live downtown and have a great place to my friends to hang out between sets. All you people who hate Bele Chere can just stay home. We will be having a big time!

  13. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Perhaps the original mission of Bele Chere to bring people downtown should begin to focus more on seeing the festival as a tool for helping recruit business and industry into Buncombe County. Potential employers looking at the area should see Bele Chere as a safe and interesting draw for their own families, including their (gasp!) teenagers.

    Without Bele Chere, Asheville would lose a positive, well known, family friendly function to which recruiters could refer. “Keeping Asheville Weird” might be fun for local adult residents and tourists, but it’s a turn-off for potential new employers with families.

    To relieve the burden on downtown businesses, perhaps the festival could be spread out more, not so concentrated in so small an area, which would also help separate the kinds of events that interest various age groups and special interest groups.

    Bele Chere has served its mission well for several decades and helped revitalize Asheville, but the mission obviously needs to be revisited regularly because Asheville is continually changing.

  14. Maria

    I think my first Bel Chere was ’88, No kidding,’88. Besides the general party feel of the event, I love that it is the one time you can be in downtown Asheville and see that people, other than hipsters, really do live in these hills. It is refreshing to be around a bunch of folks who don’t all share the same opinion on food, war and bicycles. I can imagine for those few days that I do live in a bigger city with diversity and socioeconomics.

  15. dankster

    “Keeping Asheville Weird” to me is way better than being known as “Beer City” which brings a host of all kinds of social ills.
    Spread the festival out more …huh what its a down town event and has worked great that way for years,they down sized last year.
    to all the business owners that whine and say they loose business during the biggest draw of people down town for the whole year … well maybe its truth day and what your selling no body wants to buy! time to think of a new thing to sell/market and believe in.

  16. dankster

    “perhaps the festival could be spread out more, not so concentrated in so small an area, which would also help separate the kinds of events that interest various age groups and special interest groups”.

    It’s a community event so that the community can come together – why would you want to be separated? what the point of that? that plan sure wouldn’t bring the community at large together.

  17. Ken Hanke

    to all the business owners that whine and say they loose business during the biggest draw of people down town for the whole year … well maybe its truth day and what your selling no body wants to buy!

    And maybe it’s the city putting a stage in front of your business and effectively shutting it down. Using a three day event as a barometer for your business is absurd.

  18. penelope

    I’m so over Bele Chere, and I have been for years. I avoid Asheville at all costs during this weekend, which is my birthday weekend. I had contacted two downtown businesses about holding a birthday party, but when I realized it was Bele Chere weekend I quickly changed my mind.

    The festival has gotten too big and too expensive to be fun any more. Once again what was once our town has been surrendered to the tourists!

  19. dankster

    Ken – Thanks for the perspective of the city possibly placing stages in front of a business, I thought to myself and thought of years past then looked at the bele~chere site map from last year and as far as i can see the stages get set up in locations where they are not in front of store fronts,crafter’s and people who have payed for street booth space line the streets yes and that there would be the downtown business owners argument,that these booth spaces that set up along the streets take away from the business that they would be receiving – but you as a festival participant are still able to walk all around them.I totally agree with your last point that – “Using a three day event as a barometer for your business is absurd”.

  20. John r

    It takes me about an hour to get to Asheville, but I usually come into town about once a week. What I enjoyed about Belle Chere is that I can walk around town without dealing with traffic, or feeling rushed. I may not spend much when I am there for the weekend, but I have become a regular customer of businesses that I discovered on my travails.

  21. TokyoTaos

    “Besides the general party feel of the event, I love that it is the one time you can be in downtown Asheville and see that people, other than hipsters, really do live in these hills. It is refreshing to be around a bunch of folks who don’t all share the same opinion on food, war and bicycles. I can imagine for those few days that I do live in a bigger city with diversity and socioeconomics.”

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Maria. I love walking around Bele Chere in the morning and early afternoon (it gets too crowded for me after that) seeing all the different kinds of people (including craftspeople and their work) and experiencing the high energy and excitement. I love diversity and unfortunately I don’t always see enough of it downtown.

    As for it’s impact on businesses … I wonder if while during the festival itself there’s a negative impact but maybe a longer-term positive impact when people who have never been to Asheville before come back because of the taste they did get. Also, Asheville doesn’t belong just to small business owners (although I am grateful for all the wonderful local businesses that there are downtown); it belongs to all of us and if a once-a-year festival makes a significant number of our area’s residents happy then I think it’s a tradition that should continue. And it doesn’t need a purpose to justify it (bringing people downtown for example). it can just be because it’s fun for a lot of folks.

  22. dpewen

    Cranky Ken … what’s the matter? Don’t you look good without a shirt … I do. Don’t be so cranky and enjoy the music and the fun!!

  23. HD

    I have been coming to Bele Chere from Knoxville for 20+ years. Only missed one year and it was after the year they closed up at 8pm. We always stay downtown so we don’t have to drive anywhere. We look forward to it every year. We always have a good time. Some years are better than others. We love all the crafts, almost always are suprised by at least one or two music acts we would have never seen before, like the Chickasway Mudpuppys (blew me away), the Cigar Store Indians the first time they were there and others. I don’t like it so much smaller now and one less stage but we still come. I always have to get at least one “chicken on a stick with rice”. Keep Bele Chere going and eclectic.

  24. Ken Hanke

    Don’t you look good without a shirt …

    No, I don’t. The difference is I have the sense to know it. That is not something I can say of a lot of people, especially at Bele Chere.

  25. Kriss

    bikeman wrote:
    Bele Chere started as an event to draw people back downtown. It has outlived its usefulness.

    No, it hasn’t. It’s “usefulness” is a time and place for people to get together and have fun. It needs no other purpose or justification.

    TokyoTaos wrote:
    …Asheville doesn’t belong just to small business owners…; it belongs to all of us and if a once-a-year festival makes a significant number of our area’s residents happy then I think it’s a tradition that should continue. And it doesn’t need a purpose to justify it (bringing people downtown for example). it can just be because it’s fun for a lot of folks.

    Well said. Bele Chere doesn’t have to promote anything – other than a great opportunity to associate with all kinds of people most of us would ordinarily never see in our regular lives and listen to some great, free music that most of us would never ordinarily get a chance to do.

    I love Bele Chere. I love the people watching, I love the music and the opportunity to dance in the streets, and I love the food. It’s one of the best things about Asheville, IMO, and I look forward to it every year.

  26. Don’t like the music? Volunteer (yep for free) for the selection committee to listen to over 800 demos to judge which ones are worthy. At least the committee claims to listen to 800+ demos after charging a $15 fee to apply. I’ve actually met said volunteers when dropping off promo materials in person and I wish I could say they looked happy. Don’t like one hit wonders from whatever decade? The Orange Peel website is open for comments too. At least Bele Chere doesn’t book American Idol contestants and tribute bands.

    I have known several people on the committee over the years and all have given up in disgust. It’s too political and there is no logic.

    I think that the largest complaint is valid, that the music sucks overall. It is not a fair representation of the people living here. Do you book old dinosaur acts or up and coming acts? I’m pretty sure Wilco would have cost the same or less than Train.

  27. And maybe it’s the city putting a stage in front of your business and effectively shutting it down. Using a three day event as a barometer for your business is absurd

    We’ve kept TV Eye open every Bele Chere now. The first year was excruciating, but after that we get a lot of business from those working at a restaurant or downtown residents. I feel like we are an oasis from the madness.

  28. Mark Felice

    For all you cry babies, yes please get out of town and keep your big fat yappers Shut. I have lived in a number of “cool” cities around the country and Ashevilles’ Belle Chere is way above most of the Festivals I have attended. Yes it would be a good thing to spread it out more. More chance for the local business’ to draw in more customers, as they,”The attendies” are not packed in like sardines. That does indeed cut down on customers for the local shop owners as people tend to disreguard the locals when they are so tightly packed up in the alotted space. Spread them out more and how can they resist all the wonderful shops we have downtown.

  29. Matthew

    Belle Chere would be improved dramatically if it were 100% LOCAL!!

    All local food and beer and none of this fried crap from a vendor that travels all over the country selling fried grease products. All local music…I mean come on this is a no brainer. If your band calls home more than 100 miles away, then sorry, your not local.

    Being 100% local would actually benefit downtown merchants, restaurants, and artists. More people would be aware of what is actually down town (isn’t that the point of Belle Chere anyways?)

    Belle Chere has turned into a redneck embarassement spectacle. It’s a poor reflection of Asheville.

  30. Bele Chere is generally worth it, and frankly, I don’t think the music is as bad as some of the other commenters. Couldn’t there be a poll to allow locals some input to the musical acts? I’m looking forward the The Trainwrecks, Toubab Krewe, Town Mountain, Laura Reed, and Mad Tea Party, all of which are great local bands. As far as drinks, I want the bars to be able to sell liquor to go and beer to go, with the street vendors selling the crappy domestics. The paid shows were completely asinine, and I hope they never return. I don’t buy food or drink from the fried grease street vendors, but I am sure to spend my food and drink money in local establishments. I have heard from some business that Bele Chere might be more of a boon if it was moved to a slower time of year as the tourists are already here in droves, and my husband’s employer’s busiest weekend every year is this weekend with the surrounding weekends being pretty comparable.

  31. omrhythm

    As a local shop owner and operator of a tent space as well, I can say that Bele Chere is one of our most successful weekends all year long. It was more lucrative and more convenient when there was a stage at the bottom of Lexington, but we understand the downsize and roll with the punches.

    Yes, it can be a pain in the butt….long hours, no parking, dealing with the riff raff and drunken crowd. But it is worth it for us. I know some business owners do not see it as profitable. A low Price point is key, as is the signature retail phrase, location location location!

    Bele Chere is not as intimate and local as say LAAFF, but it is not just for locals! I think Asheville would be foolish to get rid of it. I agree, the acts this year are not very desireable, but the beer is! So drink a few extra and sing along with the one hit wonders!

  32. coursepate

    Bel Chere shouldn’t be smaller. It should burn down the mountain !!!! I get to enjoy a cocktail or two and watch Laura Reed, Big Fat Booty Band, Toubab Krewe all for free … I want the miscreants from all over attending … I am sure we are all miscreants when we go elsewhere … how about we all just take advantage of a good time and quit searching for what isn’t working and enjoy what is …. lets band together and laugh and dance and share some mead … or a beer or a mayfelade

  33. Native Girl

    We love Bele Cher and think it went really well before the big changes… the charging for concerts etc. I liked it better when it was more spread out through downtown. I do like the focus on local businesses rather than the food vendors that make every festival in the country type businesses. I really don’t care if someone has their shirt off but I do care that a drunk kept passing out on the sidewalk in front of my children and fell on one of them when a police officer saw it and did nothing but tell him to get up and walk away or he would arrest him… ( when it was apparent that he couldn’t walk) That isn’t the festivals fault it is the law enforcements fault. I don’t buy from the crafts vendors we go for the music and dancing in the streets and people watching and local food and I think they shouldn’t charge the booth vendors so much b/c they never really make it worth their effort unless they sell food or booze. It is a festival that should continue it is part of Asheville and what makes it Asheville the diversity of it…

  34. Josh Benson

    I agree with Matthew that it would be better if Bele Cher only represented local businesses and artisans/artists. It might also be worthwhile to concentrate the booths and stages in Pack Square and at the ends of major routes like Patton, College, Biltmore/Broadway, so that folks are encouraged to walk through downtown and past our local stores, without those stores being hidden behind an impenetrable wall of vendor stalls. I think Bele Cher could be a valuable and fun event for tourists and locals alike, but as it stands right now it’s heavily reminiscent of a cheap carnival put on by people who don’t know anything about our town, and certainly don’t respect it.

  35. Bele Chere is amazing, that’s one of the things that makes Asheville unique, but then again it’s not for everyone! I think it’s funny how the majority of people on here are misspelling “Bele Chere.” It’s just like watching the people at Bele Chere, Can’t wait to have a blast!

  36. scavengersgreen

    Dear Belle,
    I thought we had something special. Friends told me you were perfect for me. So,I gave you a try. I liked you after our initial meeting,and decided you were worthy of my time. So, I made plans. I thought of you. Yes you are expensive, but you are popular many reasons.

    We have been together for 3 years now, and there have been some rough patches for us,( you kicked me out twice,remember?) but most of your friends and family have accepted me and shown lots of love. They seem to appreciate my efforts ro help you be what you say you want to be. Why can’t you see that I want the best for you and everyone?

    Of course I want something from you.Guys typically do.But, I make no demands of you. I accept you as you are. I pay my own way every time, and only ask for a few aluminum crumbs(cans) that your guests toss away carelessly. You still get all of those that are given to you. I don’t steal from you, please know that!
    Maybe you don’t like my old truck. It was free and headed for an early grave, so I rescued it. Maybe some day I will build a new vehicle- one with shiny stainless panels and a wrought iron frame. I know you appreciate that style.

    If there is any way I would like to continue with you. Our lawyer has said that you have no legal grounds for the treatment you have served me with, but I want to be in your life until you get clean. I have always been your friend, even when you hated me.

    I am going to take some time to think about us. I am going to spend Labor Day with my old friends Flea and Gun in Hillsville,Va. I need to see them after this weekend. They always build me back up after you have beat me down. Good people up there. I may visit the Waldensians too,in August.

    Well, so long for now. I’ll be in touch with your people, if you want to work this out.

    Scav

  37. mommalis

    The last BC I attended smelled like wee (intensely) and we decided not to ever go to another one when a drunken brawl broke out in the street in front of us as we were leaving. It was really out of hand and it made me sad that such a thing was happening at Bele Chere. We haven’t visited Asheville nearly as much as we used to since then. It just feels so dirty now. Asheville has a beautiful heart and a lot of dirt. I would love to move back but the dirt will keep me away. Much love to Asheville. I hope it gets a bit cleaner while retaining the free spirit!

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