by Leslee Kulba
Wild West blogger
The City of Asheville surprised at least a couple folks when it decided to close its big tourist draw, Bele Chere. The event had been billed for many years as the world’s largest free street festival. It never claimed a theme or masqueraded under a magnanimous cause. It was just a venue for promoting local business.
The city’s decision to close it down seemed odd for two reasons: (1) Asheville government does not have a reputation for saying no to any expenditure, and (2) Asheville government gobbles up anything with the words “economic development” attached. Reasons cited were downtown merchants’ complaints about sagging business during the festival as well as messes left behind by the event’s drunks. In addition, although running up a deficit is nowadays a trigger for more government subsidy, the festival’s overruns were cited as a reason to close it.
Another potential factor scarcely mentioned by the city in press releases was the fighting between LGBT’s and “evangelicals.” Here’s one account. You can equal-time it on your own time. The shouting matches with thronging masses were a polarizing magnet guaranteed to annoy. It could be that professional protesters were luring the city into lawsuits.
But not until today did I consider the closing could have had something to do with turning Asheville and Western North Carolina into a mecca of craft breweries. Bele Chere was heavily sponsored by Big Beer, and today we learn Little Beer, in the form of Sierra Nevada, has just announced a festival for this year. Whereas Bele Chere organizers used beer as a means to their festival’s end, Beer Camp across America claims beer is the end. Food and music will be available, too.