Archive | May, 2014

A Summer of Music By the River

 

RiverMusic

Tonight’s the night: the kickoff of RiverMusic, a free summer concert series set against the backdrop of our French Broad. The event, entering its third year, is hosted by local nonprofit RiverLink. The organization works tirelessly to revitalize the river and bring people to its banks and waters to live, work, and play.

Of course, RiverMusic is about the latter. Not only does it feature live entertainment from well-known national and local acts, but it also offers countless food trucks and beer merchants hawking delicious drinks and dishes. New this year, vendors will work together to create food/beer pairings.

To get the full scoop, I caught up with RiverLink’s Dave Russell as he was preparing for opening night.

MC: Why did RiverLink begin the concert series? Why music?!
DR:
RiverMusic is staged to get folks down to enjoy the splendor of the French Broad River and discover the River Arts District. For years, neither the river nor the district were destinations for anyone, and we’re hoping to change that. It’s also a fundraiser to assist us in working for more parks and green space in our community. We chose music because nothing gets Asheville out more than beer, fresh air, and music.

MC: You encourage folks not to drive to the concerts, since parking is limited. What will you have set up for cyclists and river rats?
DR: We’ll have Asheville on Bikes for bike storage. Folks can put in at Bent Creek, Asheville Outdoor Center, Carrier Park, French Broad River Park, or Hominy Creek Park and float down to the venue if they want. Our river access consists of a set of stairs down to the water that allows folks to easily get their boats up to the event. We don’t have any special infrastructure for storing boats and tubes, but we can always find a spot for them.

MC: Seen any unexpected alternative modes of transportation over the years?
DR:
At our very first concert, a man galloped up on a horse!

MC: What’s the feeling you hope folks leave each event with about the French Broad?
DR: We want folks to leave feeling like the setting was perfect, the entertainment great, and that the river is a place they want to return to. We want them to come back not only for the concerts, but to tube and canoe and fish and to spend time in the River Arts District perusing the awesome studios.

Must-Know Info

Who/What: RiverLink’s RiverMusic free concert series
When: Kickoff is Friday, May 30, 5-10 pm featuring headliners Orgone, with additional dates through September; click for a full lineup of musical acts, two of which have river in their band name!
Where: At RiverLink Sculpture and Performance Plaza in the River Arts District
How: Entrance to the event is free, but bring money for refreshments; click for details about parking, pets, and more

Read another Asheville Pocket Guide blog post about the River Arts District.

0

Dinosaurs on the River

Great Blue Heron Burg Ransom photo

Great Blue Heron Burg Ransom photo

The early morning sun is a fuzzy red ball in the dense fog. It’s hard to tell where the fog stops and the water starts. Your eyes strain to pick out the next rock or riffle before you’re upon it. The boat glides silently on the water; the only sound is the water dripping off your paddle as you scan the river.

Gggrrrruuuaaannnkkk! The bellow shatters the silence, followed by loud splashes, then the rhythmic thuds of large wings in the foggy abyss; a dark shadow approaches in the fog. The archaeopteryx – oh, wait, that can’t be an archaeopteryx – it’s much too large! It can only be one thing – a great blue heron.

This modern-day avian dinosaur, which can reach a height of four feet, is more than twice as large as its eons-old ancestor the archaeopteryx and in flight the great blue might evoke images of that other flying lizard the pterodactyl, with it’s slow deep wingbeats, long trailing legs and it’s big-headed appearance. The heron gets that exaggerated head look because it flies with its head close to its body, its long neck curved “S” like. Cranes, on the other hand fly with their necks extended.

This large blue-gray wader with its black and white head can frequently be seen stalking the shallow waters of the French Broad looking for prey. Prey could be anything from frogs, to insects, to small mammals and/or reptiles to fish. The heron has a long, strong, sharp beak. It will grab smaller prey in its mandibles but it often uses its spear-like beak to impale larger fish. Great blue herons nest in the area and can be see year round on the French Broad.

Green Heron Burg Ransom photo

Green Heron Burg Ransom photo

Its smaller cousin, the green heron, may be seen along the French Broad from late spring till early fall. Green herons nest in the region but they overwinter from South Florida all the way to northern South America. This crow-sized little heron might, if stretched, reach two feet tall. The adult’s back is a rich teal color and its neck and face are a rich chestnut – the throat is white and it has a dark cap.

The green heron, formerly “little green heron” is also known by a couple of descriptive colloquial names, both related to calls. Skeow is one and relates to its loud “skkeooww” alarm call. To the Cajuns of South Louisiana the green heron is known as “kop – kop” for another common call it makes when flushed from its marshy habitat.

The green heron is an expert fisherbird. It will use baits, both live (insects, earthworms) and artificial (twigs, feathers) to attract fish, which it either grabs or spears. The green heron feeds in very shallow water (four inches or so) and feeds on crustaceans, amphibians, fish, reptiles and insects.

Either or both of these avian dinosaurs may be found along the French Broad. To enhance your chances of seeing one or both try hitting the water in the early morning or evening when these stalkers are more active.

0

A Paddler’s Paradise: Explore the French Broad on a SUP

Paddling and standing on the French Broad. (Photo: Effort, Inc.)

Paddling and standing on the French Broad. (Photo: Effort, Inc.)

 

For David Donnell, the perks of cruising down the French Broad River on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) are all about the vantage. But then again he’s always seen Asheville’s chief waterway from a different angle.

When Donnell opened the Asheville Outdoor Center in 1992, the river oozed just about everything but charm.

“Back then the river had a stigma as a nasty body of water; there was no emphasis on making the riverfront pretty, but it was a great location for my business,” says Donnell. Three years after opening, he pioneered the recreational development of the riverside by transforming a former sand company on three acres into a sanctuary to promote his devotion to river sports.

Donnell says that it took a while for visitors to warm up to “calm water” paddling in the mountains—then, the thrill of whitewater was the principle lure to the region’s rivers. But in the last few years, boaters, anglers, and tubers have become a common site on the French Broad.

And lately, so too have paddlers on SUPs—especially Donnell.

As a whitewater boater, he was accustomed to standing in his canoe to anticipate challenges downstream, so the transition to navigating a rivercraft on two feet came easy.

Anna Levesque, the owner of Girls at Play and former member of the Canadian Freestyle Whitewater Kayak team, is also a devotee of the growing sport and appreciates the versatility of a SUP. “You can sit on the board, kneel, do yoga, or stand up. You can also vary the intensity; even when you’re going out for an easy float, you’re still activating and toning your muscles just by balancing on the board,” says Levesque, whose business offers SUP lessons and SUP yoga classes.

Both say the natural character of the river—its mellow tempo, the lack of obstructions, and occasional waves—make it a perfect venue for the sport.

Despite the relatively placid current, Donnell, a certified paddleboard instructor, stresses the inherent dangers of moving water, and says that knowing the risks and having the proper equipment are vital. Levesque agrees and suggests that instruction to develop skills, such as a strong forward stroke, can help paddlers stay out of trouble and get the most from the experience: staying focused on the views of the river that may be missed if sitting on your fanny.

“You can get lost and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and still be in the center of Asheville,” says Donnell. “So many folks experience a moment of peace and come off the river totally recharged. It’s a great release.”

0

River Rendezvous

Urban infill, greener pastures and Elvis sightings were discussed during the monthly RiverLink bus tour.

Urban infill, greener pastures and Elvis sightings were discussed during the monthly RiverLink bus tour.

A dozen or so curious guests and I spent the first full day of spring touring the river district—an adventure I highly suggest you sign up for (details below).  Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, guided us along the informative bus tour, which featured the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. Even though I’ve lived here for nearly 25 years, I soon discovered several new chapters about the local history, recent riverside developments and future plans along the corridor.

Cragnolin shared intriguing stories ranging from a mystery bystander named Rockefeller to a close encounter with Elvis. In between these tales, we learned news about the bridge-to-bridge development of New Belgium Brewery, crossed over a stream with no name, and heard about a trolley era transportation system that was once powered by a hydroelectric plant on Hominy Creek.

The French Broad has a life of its own, and there are many ways to interpret the people, places and events along its historic past. It was fascinating to connect Asheville landmarks with their origins. When we dig a little deeper into the past, we better understand the present world we live in. The way we historically move people is a stellar example.

The first street railway in Asheville operated in 1898 and ran from Depot Street to the Public Square (Pack Square). In its heyday, the expanded operations carried over three million passengers annually along 18 miles of tracks in 43 streetcars. Once, the trolley lines extended west of town as far as the present location of The Asheville School. Eventually, around 1934, buses replaced streetcars.

During the tour I noticed our present-day system, an Asheville Redefines Transit bus, as we turned down Clingman Ave., passed the RiverLink office, and headed into the River Arts District (RAD). As we entered the RAD, Cragnolin reminisced about the district’s vacant buildings and warehouses when she first moved to Asheville. Today, she shared, the district includes one of the highest densities of artist-owned properties in the country.

Current riverside development features the shipping container architecture of The Smoky Park Supper Club.

Current riverside development features the shipping container architecture of The Smoky Park Supper Club.

The tour included historic sites as well as unsightly scenes along the riverfront. Abandoned warehouses, brownfields, steep slope development and former landfills became part of the discussion. She pointed out that our river faces ongoing challenges including poorly managed steep slope development, habitat degradation and urban runoff. RiverLink’s  “Forever Option” guides the nonprofit’s long-term land-use strategy and conservation efforts. These conservation easements permanently protect riparian corridors and water quality along waterways.

The tour continued with an eastbound journey along the Swannanoa River, a major tributary of the French Broad. The river’s course meanders 22 miles through Buncombe County, with land uses along it ranging from antique warehouses to a reclaimed recreational park. As we traveled near the WNC Nature Center, Cragnolin revealed that Thomas Wolfe often retreated nearby to a rustic cabin on a knoll above the river. Asheville’s native son maybe best known for looking homeward, but he also wrote a sequel to the classic entitled Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man’s Hunger in His Youth.

Today, we enjoyed our time along the river. The Asheville Pocket Guide is all about connecting you to these unique places and stories, both old and new! Take a tip from us and experience the river up front and personally. Connect with your hometown river and the French Broad watershed on these monthly two-hour guided tours of the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan. $/Members Free. For more info, visit: riverlink.org.

0

Chatting Cocktails with King Daddy’s (Recipe Included)

King Daddy's Sorghum Old Fashioned

This town is, as you undoubtedly know, a great place to order up a round of local beers—from saisons to stouts. But don’t count out its cocktails. Case in point: the badass bar menu from the newly opened King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle, a stone’s throw from the river on Haywood Road in West Asheville.

Front-of-house manager and drink dreamer-upper Clint Thorman recently let us pick his brain about the restaurant’s cocktail choices. “My goal with the drink list was to be simple, not intimidating at all, and to definitely draw from the classics,” he shared—many of their recipes date back to the 1800s.

Focusing on the classics, he hopes, will keep folks happy with what they’re served. “Too often you pay $12 or more for something that ends up being disappointing for the price,” he said, citing the over-the-top direction the craft cocktail/mixology movement appears to be heading. To make the standards, bartenders use only fresh, quality ingredients: fresh-squeezed juices and no sour mix.

Serving Up Asheville

It was especially important to Clint when designing the list that the drinks “get along with the food.” That’s why there are options like Milk Punch (a milk-based brandy concoction favored in New Orleans as a hangover cure) and other breakfast-friendly and Southern-leaning beverages, like those made with orange and grapefruit juice, coffee, sweet tea, and sorghum (more on the sweet syrup in a minute).

But it was equally imperative to him and owners Julie and John Stehling—the folks behind downtown’s Early Girl Eatery—that the offerings represent home: Asheville. Order up their Knickerbocker, a raspberry rum drink made with raspberry syrup from legendary local berry grower and jam maker Imladris Farm. Also try their Stone Fence, a mix of rum and hard cider from Asheville’s Noble Cider, which is made with local apples.

Menu Musts

The chicken and waffles are all a la carte at King Daddy’s, so you can have fun mixing and matching. If you go for the traditional combo of a Belgian waffle with fried chicken, Clint suggests you pair it with one of their six sparkling wine cocktails.

And don’t miss the Sorghum Old-Fashioned, a Southern twist on the staple—it’s quickly becoming their best seller. Find the recipe below to make at home.

PS:If you’re out and about sampling Asheville’s cocktail culture at other bars and eateries, Clint passed along some words of wisdom: “Dive right in!” Don’t be afraid of combinations that seem like they might not work. In cocktails, unusual often leads to just right.

PPS:The above links for King Daddy’s take you to their website and online bar menu; you can also find them on Facebook.

King Daddy’s Sorghum Old-Fashioned
Recipe courtesy of Clint Thorman

Ingredients:
2 ounces of bourbon (like Evan Williams)
1 bar spoon (or teaspoon) of sorghum syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Lemon twist

Instructions:
Stir together the first three ingredients. Serve with ice, and garnish with the lemon twist!

 

0