For those of you who aren’t aware of Asheville’s Bele Chere festival, it’s very much like many street festivals across the world. There are vendor booths, activities for kids, tons of food (with heavy emphasis on local eateries in recent years) and several stages of live music. The only major differences between Bele Chere and most street festivals in mid-size cities is that Bele Chere is fairly large (officially claimed to be around 350,000 visitors per year, but that number has always struck me as wildly inflated) and that it doesn’t actually celebrate anything specific. The name “Bele Chere” sounds like poorly spell-checked French, and
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These days, the last thing downtown Asheville lacks is tourists, and the festival itself has had something of an identity crisis because of this. Even the downtown merchants (the people for whom the original festival was started to benefit) overwhelmingly dislike the festival (80% said it was bad for business in a 2007 survey). But that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. A big part of that popularity is the free live music, with dozens of notable headlining acts rubbing elbows with regional and local bands.
And while there are plenty of good acts on those stages, it’s the street-level busking that draws my attention. This year, there were plenty of great acts playing for tips.