"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833
"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845
"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977
"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009
All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.
All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
"Carolina, you could do some good for my soul..."
The lyrics in this blog title are from new (to us) artist, Connor Christian & Southern Gothic, and they really express how we feel today after returning from Asheville, North Carolina, for our yearly jaunt to their downtown Bele Chere Festival. Just like last year, we hemmed and hawed over the decision to go to Bele Chere, and just like last year we were so happy we did afterwards because the mountains of Carolina plus Asheville's laid-back attitude are certainly good for the soul. We had a great trip with decent weather, good food, more great discovered music, and some fantastic scenery.
The ride up was smooth with a bit of heavy traffic. We changed our usual routine this year when we got to downtown Asheville and decided to see how close we could park to the downtown festival instead of riding the shuttle bus in from a perimeter mall. It worked out well as we got in a lot just a few blocks from the festival for just $5. The 31st Annual Bele Chere Festival had a somewhat new layout this year and was slimmed down as well according to their literature for a couple of different reasons: the economy and the fact that some major construction was going on in and around downtown. The crowds were still pretty good, but it did not seem as heavy as last year. We strolled around and our first stop was at the Winehaus - a wine and liquor store downtown that always has great beer deals during the festival. This year was no exception with a fine selection of ice cold quality bottled microbrews and imports for $2 each. The beer went down good because the humidity was up and it was pretty steamy in Asheville despite being nestled in the mountains.
We wondered around the blocked-off downtown streets taking in the sights and sounds of the festival while sipping our beers. The first year we came to Bele Chere was to see a band we really like, Train. But for the last three years, it's been the festival and not the music that draws us here. Yet, we always enjoy most of the music going on at Bele Chere and this year was no exception. We first happened upon GFE (Granola Funk Express), an eclectic group of local rap and hip/hop artists. While this isn't our particualr forte in music, these guys were pretty darn good and their lyrics were clever. Our favorite line was, "I'm tired of 40-ouncers and 20/20 hindsight."Like programmed machines we headed for our next favorite Bele Chere stop, The Laughing Seed Restaurant - a wonderful vegetarian cafe' we discovered by accident during last year's festival. More tasty beer was ordered here as well from the Jack o' the Wood Brewpub located downstairs from the restaurant (for more details on the brew see Rob's beer blog). The food (and the air conditioning) was excellent. After our early dinner we ambled up to the Battery Park Stage and caught some of WSNB (We Sing Nasty Blues?). These guys were more our speed in terms of musical style with a great blend of blues, rock and Americana. Their lead singer, Willie Shane Johnston, has an amazingly powerful voice and could really wail on the mouth harp. We sought out more beer afterwards. Hey, that's what Bele Chere is all about! We then made arrangements to meet a new friend of ours known as Birmingham Steve. We met Steve at the recent Drivin' & Cryin' show in Chattanooga when he recognized Rob's "Blue Rodeo" concert shirt and struck up a conversation since he too is a big fan of the Canadian legends. In fact, Steve is quite the music lover and attends a lot of shows and tapes them to post on You Tube (he's kind of legend with more than a million hits on his posts). Steve had been in South Carolina for a show on Friday night and was driving back through Asheville and knew we were at Bele Chere thanks to Facebook. He recommended a band that was headlining that night before a huge crowd (photo above) on the Battery Park Stage called the Old 97's from Texas (photo below). We trusted Steve's judgement and he did not disappoint. The Old 97's are regional legends in the their own right and their Texas rock/Americana show was right up our alley. Third row vantage points made it even better to really appreciate the band's energy and showmanship. We became instant fans. After the great show we were drained and a little hungry (and ready for more beer. of course). It took a while to find a place that wasn't packed, but we stumbled upon Wasabi, a Japanese sushi bar and grill. The food was superb, the service was great and the chance to sit down for an hour or so was wonderful. Afterwards we bid Steve a good night and thanked him again for meeting us and making such a great recommendation.
We slept in late Sunday morning. Probably too late because by the time we got back downtown to eat brunch at the award-winning Tupelo Honey Cafe', it already had over an hour wait...no thanks...so, we went instead a few doors up College Street to Mayfel's which only had a 20-minute wait. It was worth it. Wonderful food and a street-side table made for a nice wake-up to Asheville. Bele Chere continues on Sunday but not for us...and it wasn't because they don't sell beer on the streets on Sunday...we had another Asheville locale we wanted to check out - the North Carolina Arboretum. This amazing botanical garden set among the already natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway was better than we even expected. For only a $6 parking fee you get immaculate gardens such as the quilt pattern (photo above), numerous wide walking paths and trails, clearly labeled plants and trees and two beautiful buildings that house a visitor center and a learning facility. You could easily spend all day here and we probably would have if it wasn't becoming another steamy afternoon. We plan to come back here in the fall and/or spring again and take more in during cooler weather. We stopped by the nearby Asheville Farmer's Market to snag some huge blackberries that Ashlee had seen a lady with in our hotel earlier that day. We got a call from Steve who was still in the area. We decided to meet at Asheville Pizza and Brewing (yes, more beer) - a quirky little pizza kitchen and microbrewery (photo below). The place is quite unique and the beer they brew is excellent as was the pizza we three designed on our own with wheat crust, pesto sauce, italian sausage, roma tomatoes and banana peppers. Steve was going back to Bele Chere for an afternoon set by Webb Wilder. Did we mention he loves live music even more than we do? We declined the offer to join him since we were a bit zapped from our humid walk through the gardens and still had a 4-hour drive in front of us. The trip home was uneventful as we dodged a few thunderstorms and some slow pokes in the fast lane. Another great trip to Asheville which is definitely on our short-list of places we would like to retire to someday.