Bele Chere is Asheville, North Carolina's own great big street festival. It takes over downtown for three days the last weekend in July. It's arts and crafts, music, commercial interests (of course), food, street performers, and all that jazz. It's been going on now for thirty years and has many supporters and many detractors.
I grew up in Asheville and I was ten years old when the first Bele Chere was held. My Dad was managing editor at the Asheville Citizen-Times, back when the Citizen and the Times were different editions (morning and evening) of the same newspaper. Along with a group of other employees' kids, I was recruited to sell newspapers on the street at that inaugural festival. It was less than half the size it is now, but was simply magical to me then. I carried a canvas bag full of newspapers all around, but sold only a few and those to people who asked me for them, because I was so interested in looking at everything around me.
Since that day I've been to quite a few Bele Chere events. I've seen it grow large and larger still, go from mostly local artists/craftspeople and local bands to artists and bands from all over the southeast and even bigger name entertainers (this year they had Travis Tritt). I've gone from that girl selling newspapers to a teenager hanging with my friends, to a young adult partying into the night, to a mama introducing the festival to my kids.
And you know, I still love it. Can't help it. Despite its drawbacks, I love Bele Chere and I love Asheville. My hometown.
Here are some photos from the day. I'll follow up with some shots we (Paul and I) took around downtown Asheville.
That said, here is my assessment of things this year in particular: The festival didn't actually officially begin until noon Friday, but thinking it opened at 10, I planned for us to be there around 10:30 or so. Parking was easy to find in the Pack Library parking garage (as always; I think most people think they can't get to it or assume it's full), and we started at Haywood Street. Several booths were still setting up, but most were ready to go. Not much in the way of crowds. And the weather was perfect: overcast and cool.
I was disappointed, okay annoyed, that at high noon, the prime lunch hour, several of the food vendors were not ready to open. And that food was so expensive. In fact everything was expensive. I paid $11 for a couple of (delicious) sesame chicken breasts on a stick in a very small pile of lettuce in sesame dressing and a handful of (delicious) handmade chips (made with plantains, sweet potatoes, beets, etc) from the Corner Kitchen. Yummy, but very high.
Then there was the children's section: mostly carnival-like vendors from out of town, with big inflatable things (slides, bounce rooms, a climb-through train), a ferris wheel, and a carousel. Plus some carnival games, lots and lots of junk food (you know, funnel cakes and the like) and then a smaller, out-of-the-way kids' section sponsored by local churches and civic groups. This area had more big bounce rooms, free food samples (hot dogs and burgers) from Food Lion and some free arts and crafts (plus a free, convenient baby-changing area, hooray).
But the children's section--or the carnival part--was so expensive. First you had to buy tickets (as it is with fairs) for $1 each, and then each thing to do cost one or two or as many as four tickets. I guess you're not supposed to remember that each ticket represents one dollar. The carousel was $4! We made Owen cry by saying no to that one on the principle that it cost too much for the two minutes of fun it would provide (plus she never really likes carousels anyway, although she always thinks she's going to).
She wasn't too deprived, don't you fret. We bought three tickets, which she blew on one slide down the big inflatable slide and one crawl through an inflatable train. In other words, she went through all three tickets in two minutes.
After about five minutes of crying (because of the carousel), my parents caved and paid for more tickets so she could spend some time in the Jurassic Park bounce, while Barrett drew on the pavement with chalk in the free zone.
Going as we did on Friday was great with kids because of the lighter crowds, but we missed out on any and all performances (except for a few random street acts). I wished we could have listened to some music, but, again, with the kids, it was okay to miss it.
So all-in-all it was a good Bele Chere for us. A little smaller than previous years, and quite expensive. But good.