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Published: 2012/08/16
by Robin Tolleson

Bele Chere Festival, Asheville, NC- 7/27-29

Bele Chere enthusiasts are accustomed to dodging the stray thunderstorm or noisy street preacher – neither could dampen the spirits of 2012 festival-goers enjoying four downtown stages.

Friday night under the Battery Park lights, veteran New Orleans quartet Papa Grows Funk brought its road-tested syncopations to a footloose crowd, led by John Gros’ tasty organ solos, the psychedelic guitar work of June Yamagishi and locked-in drums and bass (“Jellybean” Alexander and Marc Pero).

Later on Biltmore Avenue, bluegrass and roots ruled as guitarist/vocalist Larry Keel & his band Natural Bridge (mandolinist Mark Schimick, Will Lee on banjo, and bassist Jenny Keel) mixed world-class picking with crowd pleasers about downhome living. Lucero followed with an interesting mix of country soul and punk, blending Memphis horns into its songs about Texas, mothers, and love.

Waving the banner of Southern rock with twin lead guitars, Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke provided the Coxe Avenue stage a Friday highlight. Charismatic vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr sang through a wide smile, “It’s a crazy thing the way I roll / I ain’t changing, I’m a Southern man / So can you love me like I am.” “Six Ways To Sunday” illustrated the combo’s tight but relaxed feel, Brit Turner pounding the groove on a vintage drum kit alongside his brother Richard on bass.

Venezuelan pop-rock band Los Amigos Invisibles fused funk, traditional Latin rhythms and lounge music late Friday at Battery Park. The group flavors its disco with country, salsa, and humor, and in a town that loves quirky, exhuberant frontman Julio Bricéno fit right in.

Unique street acts add to the Bele Chere mix – Big Nasty’s throwback ragtime sound, and SolStar’s modern fusion of ethnocentric grooves, world dance, and good vibrations both attracted groups of appreciative onlookers.

Miami hip hop troupe ArtOfficial won hearts at the Coxe stage on Saturday night. Bassist Ralph Valencia was a beast, digging into his fiery solos with equal parts melody and percussion. Irrepressible saxman Keith Cooper flanked frontmen Newsense and Logics, helping with accents on verses, blowing double leads and trading fours with Valencia. The band quoted Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile,” and added tributes to Radiohead and The Beastie Boys.

Highly anticipated Philadelphia alt-rockers Dr. Dog mixed techno (“Why You Wanna Go Now”) and Beatle-esque hooks and harmony (“Will You Do The Trick”). Drummer Eric Slick led with big funky beats, and when he kicked into double time on “Old Black Hole” the crowd flipped. Sporting a three-guitar frontline on “What Does It Take To Be Lonesome,” the group welcomed Asheville’s Seth Kaufmann (Floating Action) to the stage.

Sunday afternoon’s Haywood stage was cooled by Asheville favorites Stephanie’s Id. Armed with extra horns (Michael Buble trumpeter Justin Ray and saxman Jacob Rodriguez among them), and brightly colored squirt guns, they soaked the happy, hot crowd.

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