Asheville is the largest city of Western North Carolina, a region predominantly populated by mountains and hilly terrain. In fact, the tallest mountain in North America east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell, towers about an hour up the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway is one of many famous features of this city, as are the local brewing scene, the Biltmore Estate, and the vibrant arts community. However, the music scene within Buncombe County is hard to ignore if you visit or are just passing through on Interstates 26 or 40.
The music scene around Asheville was dominated for decades by the annual Bele Chere festival. In its 35 years of operation, it was the largest free street festival in the Southeast, attracting nearly a third of a million in peak years. It was actually discontinued because it was hurting downtown businesses, which is where much of the modern music Asheville has to offer is found. Considered one of the best brewery cities in the nation, if not the best, virtually every bar and even many restaurants have live music every Friday and Saturday night. Just walking around downtown can mean hearing anything from rock and reggae to possibly having dinner in front of live belly dancing.
While thought of as a ‘small’ city, Asheville does have a number of venues where national acts stop at when passing through. The Civic Center downtown is currently called the U.S. Cellular Center and can seat over 7,000 for most shows and events. Smaller shows often use the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and its 2400-plus seats. Some artists looking for more intimate settings visit the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville, where Lipinsky Auditorium can seat almost 600 folks. One venue that has become somewhat legendary is The Orange Peel. It seats just over a thousand, but has hosted acts that usually play in larger venues, including Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys, 311, Chevelle, and the Smashing Pumpkins.
While Bele Chere seems to be a thing of only history and memory, other smaller annual festivals still populate the calendar. Most are not purely musically-focused, as arts, crafts, and other culture and entertainment are present, but live music is almost always included. The annual Brewgrass Festival is one notable example, a combination of blues and country music along with sampling many local breweries and their selections.
When you’re not at a concert, bar, restaurant, or festival, a number of independent and genre-specific stations across the radio dials provide an eclectic range of music before the ridges around the area block the signal as you leave this cultural hub in your rear view mirror.