I may have been in the wrong Carolina this weekend, but it sure was the right time to be in the wrong place. My friend and I drove to Asheville for Bele Chere, the largest free festival in the Southeast. (That’s right, I said free.) Rightly named, Bele Chere showed us some “beautiful living” in the Old North State. Chasing the sun through the mountains, my friend and I made our way to the hostel that we designated home for the weekend. Only a few miles west of downtown Asheville, BonPaul and Sharky’s hosted us with open arms. They made us feel like part of a family full of crazy uncles radiating a love for life and adventure and less like a traditional one – pushing you to do your homework and to grow up corporate. We made fast friends with some of the other tenants and collaborated efforts in navigating the street festival. We all operated on a “more the merrier” philosophy in regards to new friends, sites to see, individual concerts to savor, and well, cold beers to drink. Although the weather was similar to being baked, it did not stop us from reveling in the energy that swarmed in with the crowd as the day progressed.
Of the many bands gracing the four stages plotted throughout the streets, there were a few that attracted more attention than others. Friday night Lucero got us in the spirit. Ben Nichols’ raspy lyrics made me want to wash my hair in whiskey, steal my brother’s red Chevy, and drive ‘til I hit Tennessee. But I didn’t. Ben shouted out to the crowd, “This is a really nice festival y’all have here!” Right then I decided my rebel trip would have to wait, so I stayed the night in Asheville on the Star Wars sheets in my bottom bunk. This was the right decision.
Saturday’s highlights included Asheville-based Sanctum Sully, a five piece bluegrass band that was so tight it was easy to tell those mountain stringers were pickin’ veterans. Self proclaimed “traditionally untraditional,” Sanctum Sully’s fast licks and spot on three-part harmonies left us stacked with no other choice but to dance. By the end of the set we figured out how not to spill our drinks while two steppin’.
As we counted down for Dr. Dog we migrated to the Coxe Avenue stage with a mission that was two-fold: first, we wanted to stake our claim near the front so we would be ready for Dr. Dog and second, there was a band playing who was described in our trusty festival guide as funk/jazz, so it seemed like a win-win. And we have never been so right. The band we previously regarded as “the band that goes on before Dr. Dog” exceeded our expectations. Miami’s ArtOfficial was a little jazz, a little hip hop, and a lot of funk. That sax player was incredible. Talk about wailing.
Finally we made it to Dr. Dog and we were right at the front. At one point I turned around to look back at the crowd, which was a big mistake for someone who thinks she always needs an escape route. The crowd had gotten so big it looked like an army had conquered Asheville and made Dr. Dog their gods. But Dr. Dog did not disappoint. There’s nothing like hearing a brigade of people singing along to the same lyrics at once, “we’re all in it together now, as we all fall apart…”
If you missed Bele Chere 2012, I am sorry. Mark your calendars for next year so you can experience some Beautiful Living for free.