Not unlike tending those vine-ripening tomatoes, growing the Southeast's biggest street festival takes plenty of planning, careful preparation, some trial and error and a healthy dose of sunshine. Bele Chere 2006, some 28 years in the making, might also be likened to a quarter-century locust invasion: Consider that more than 300,000 extra people will swarm downtown streets this weekend. Records are broken every year.
Hey, perfection takes time, but this summer we're reaping the rewards -- and some beautiful music to boot.
Held over from last year's festival is the Urban Challenge, a reality-TV-inspired quest for fame and fortune (or at least top honors and a lavish prize) in which a dozen pre-selected contestants compete at mental, physical and creative endeavors. These boot-camp inductees spend the weekend at Challenge Island outside City Hall (one feat, no doubt, will be to navigate the construction taking place at City/County Plaza).
For festival-goers who prefer to limit their athletic exploits to snarfing down ice cream and dusting off the Robot move, there are plenty of opportunities for both. Check out A Taste of Asheville presented by PSNC Energy, located at Pack Square, for the best in local restaurant fare. Vegetarians and meat eaters can both get a bellyful before -- or between -- bands.
As usual, there's a healthy crop of reggae, old-time, bluegrass, folk and eclectic acts sure to satisfy any appetite, but what makes this year's event different is a ticketed performance by Top-40 powerhouse Train.
Loved by soccer moms and frat boys alike, this San Francisco-based band climbed the charts in the late '90s with hits like "Meet Virginia" and "Drops of Jupiter," and they're currently on heavy radio rotation with their single "Give Myself to You." Train stops off in Asheville on their tour in support of For Me It's You, and, though front man Pat Monahan shares an uncanny resemblance to '80s nice guy Huey Lewis, he's still the pop star with whom we'd most like to get sweaty in a yoga class.
This year's music roster continues to up the ante with a dynamic collection of festival favorites like Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, hometown heroes Gov't Mule and outlaw-country heir Shooter Jennings.
For the dedicated hip shakers in the crowd, there are an unprecedented number of funk-influenced acts, including New Orleans jam-funk outfit Galactic, Atlanta's stadium-funk collective Cadillac Jones, Boone-based group Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band (they open for Gov't Mule's ticketed show), Rolling Stone-lauded Phat Phunction, Papa Grows Funk (another Crescent City band), and Asheville's own STRUT.
But even with this deluge of funky grooves, rockers don't need to fear extinction. Emotive, feather-haired singer Martin Sexton, blues rocker and unremitting mullet-sporter Tinsley Ellis and local dirty-south act Hollywood Red have that end of the spectrum covered.
And, for the kids, if screaming guitars don't knock their socks off, there are screeching gibbons (of the virtual ilk) at Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour -- not to mention a whole kid-centric arena of inflatables.
In fact, it's a good bet that no one will be complaining of boredom or wondering if it's time to go home yet. The big question is how to pack all the goings-on into one weekend. With that in mind, we present the official guide to Bele Chere 2006: happy harvesting!