Along comes Liam and pulls up a seat. I’m trying to get some work done, but I notice he’s brought over two cups of coffee — one for him and one for me — so I can’t complain too much. I take a sip of the coffee as I prepare for Liam to launch into one of his philosophical discussions. Something I usually don’t have time for. I don’t enjoy sitting around talking about getting things done — I enjoy being out and about doing them. I’m not a philosophical geek anyway.
Liam’s question for discussion this morning? Is Asheville the only town like it in the country?
My first reaction is to say that yah, Asheville is different than anywhere else in the U.S. Then I get to thinking. Asheville isn’t that different at all.
Think, for a second, about some of the things that people say make Asheville unique.
Thriving Art Scene Nope. While it’s true that Asheville has more artists per capita than any other city — except Santa Fe — there are many towns that have a thriving group of artists. Besides the usual suspects of New York, San Francisco, Florence, Ore., and St. Augustine, Fla., there’s a fairly bustling art scene right down the road in Greenville, S.C. And another one that typically gets missed on the radar screen is Rockbridge Baths up in Virginia. Somewhere else to consider is the Penland School of Crafts — yep, just up the road a piece. So since we’re not unique in art, how about music? Nope, wrong again.
Thriving Music Scene OK, you’re kidding, right? While Asheville does have a great number of musicians, no one can seriously say we’ve cornered that market here either. How about Nashville, Tenn.? Georgetown (tucked right into the Washington, D.C., area) is another place with a bunch of musical folks. If you’ve ever been to Jackson, Miss., then you know about Farrish Street. Farrish Street would put Broadway and Lexington to shame.
I guess you can see where I’m going with this. Name any aspect of Asheville that you feel makes Asheville unique and I’ll show you 10 cities that compete.
The same is true when you compare Asheville to cities in other countries. Asheville is called the “Paris of the South.” Well, I guess that’s another way of saying Asheville is like Paris –— so again, nothing unique. Great architecture? Check out London. Beautiful mountain scenery? Check out the Andes in Chile. Again, you get the idea.
A couple years ago, I had to be in New England to do a series of photographic gigs. I spent a lot of time in Vermont. When I got home, folks asked me how it was up there. I told them that if you take Asheville and the people and the topography and stretch it out — well, that’s Vermont. Identical in almost every aspect. And you know what? More than one person who has experienced both places agreed.
Liam nodded his head. He understood that Asheville isn’t all that different from most other places in the world. He pondered for a moment and smiled. He figured he had come up with the one thing that makes Asheville unique — the people. Nope.
Free thinkers? Check out any number of cities, but start with Hanover, Mass.
Open-minded folks? Guess you’ve never been to Eugene Ore., Boulder, Colo., or Key West.
Weirdos? Visit New Orleans or Dallas.
Religious fanatics? Stop by any small town in Georgia.
Photos by Jerry Nelson
So Asheville isn’t so unique, any more than that 1,001 other towns and cities around the globe. There’s nothing that Asheville does that the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to yet. Why do some people think it’s so special then? Some folks might say it’s that they feel accepted more here in Asheville than anywhere else they’ve lived. That might be true, but I think a person’s attitude might have a lot to do with that.
I sat down the empty coffee cup, told Liam I had to get back to work. As he stood up and put his jacket on, he said, “Well, Asheville has soul. That makes it unique.”
I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment.