Asheville Gets Too Much Of A Good Thing With Bele Chere

This appeared in Yes Weekly - May 15, 2007

Asheville, our smaller and more glamorous mountain cousin, hosts the best free street music festival on our roster.

The festival was launched in 1979 to help revive the city's then-moribund downtown, explains Sandra Travis, event coordinator for the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Bele Chere is now touted as the biggest free outdoor music festival in the Southeast.

If you've visited Asheville in the last decade or so, you might know that the city's downtown is no longer struggling. Its decorous architecture and pedestrian-friendly streets teem with art galleries, saloons, bookstores and cafes. Life can be so agreeable that I once came to the conclusion with some friends that the city's main downside was that it lulled us into complacency.

They like to keep things small and homegrown in Asheville.

Marty Stuart may have the best hair in country music. It's a gloriously teased mullet - part Elvis, party Twiggy and part Porter Wagoner. All the music superstars have great hair, don't they?

The Mississippi-born renaissance man, like his mentor Johnny Cash, has balanced the scales between battling personal demons and praising the Lord through most of his career. He swept onto the Nashville scene with his 1989 album Hillbilly Rock in 1989, but he was a working musician in bluegrass giant Lester Flatt's band before he turned 15.

A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Stuart is a creative compatriot of Travis Tritt and Steve Earle. He's a poet of threadbare, murky visions of lost America and an impressionistic photographer praised by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton. He's even been the subject of a Marvel comic book called Marty Party In Space.

Stuart's 2005 gospel album Souls' Chapel is an exquisite piece of Delta country soul that features a duet with Mavis Staples. As for ties to North Carolina, Stuart has also collaborated with the legendary Doc Watson and the upstart Old Crow Medicine Show.

By Jordan Green

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