Archive | Asheville

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

 

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Birding in the Citay!

Urban parks and open spaces provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Urban parks provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Some of the best year-round birding in the area can be found just two miles north of the heart of downtown Asheville. The Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society’s Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary is located on Merrimon Avenue at the southern end of Beaver Lake. A lot of different habitat packed into a little over eight acres offers the chance for a lot of diversity within a small area.

There are conifers and hardwoods, a small pond with marshy edges, wetlands, weedy fields and open water on Beaver Lake. Common nesting species include Gray catbird, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, ruby-throated hummingbird, yellow warbler, yellow-throated warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, red-bellied woodpecker, red-eyed vireo, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, green heron and many more. Some not-so-common nesters that have been documented on a regular basis include warbling vireo, Baltimore oriole, orchard oriole and brown-headed nuthatch.

And of course there’s migration when almost anything is possible. A dozen-warbler morning is not uncommon during migration when you can toss the possibility of chestnut-sided, magnolia, northern parula, palm, blackpoll, northern waterthrush, Canada, hooded, common yellowthroat and many more including golden-winged and blue-winged into the mix alongside the nesting warblers. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks often add their music and color during migration. Fall migration can be just as wild with fallouts that will leave you dizzy. And storm driven waterfowl and/or shorebirds can bring surprises to Beaver Lake during spring or fall migration and throughout the winter. Some recent surprises include red-necked grebe, white ibis, American avocet, lesser and greater yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers and Caspian tern.

This urban birding oasis was destined to simply be an extension of more strip malls along Merrimon Ave. until Elisha Mitchell Audubon raised enough awareness and money to purchase part of the site in 1988. The group owns about half the site and manages the rest through an agreement with the Lake View Park homeowner’s association. Now there are trails and 3/8 of a mile of boardwalk plus the trail alongside Beaver Lake for birders, “butterfliers” and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. There is parking at the entrance to the sanctuary, which is open dawn to dusk. Be sure you pay attention, because the gates open and close automatically. There is a little bit of additional parking available at the Beaver Lake dam on the corner of Merrimon Ave. and Glen Falls Rd.

Add an hour to your commute to work – nothing makes that cubicle more bearable than remembering the gorgeous American redstart you just left foraging for insects at the edge of the pond. And it’s a great place for a “green” birding expedition – just hop on your bike and hit the road.

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Rad Classes in the RAD

River Arts District

The River Arts District’s (RAD) semiannual Studio Strolls are amazing ways to immerse yourself in the Asheville arts scene—whether you’re a local or visitor. But if you only take part in the district through this passive experience, you’re missing out. Hands-on opportunities in painting, drawing, and ceramics abound all year. And if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find some unexpected class options, including chances to…

…Study Sake
at Blue Kudzu Sake Company: 372 Depot Street

Think sake is a distilled product, or a rice wine? Not so fast, says co-owner Mitch Fortune. “Sake is brewed in a totally unique way compared to other alcoholic beverages,” he shares. “It really belongs and is in a whole category of its own.”

Enter the brewery’s education program, taught by Fortune and other Certified Sake Professionals—a title only around 1,000 people hold. Four classes clear up misinformation: Sake 101 covers the basics, Sake 102 explores the brewing process, Sake 103 delves into history, and Sake 104 features an in-depth style exploration. Each costs $35 and includes a tasting flight, handouts, an appetizer sampler, and a 90-minute presentation.

Visit bluekudzusake.com for upcoming class dates, times, and registration info + a look at their tasting room menu. Note: Classes should be taken in succession.

…Tackle Textiles
at Cloth Fiber Workshop: Studio D122 Riverside Drive

Fittingly, this textile arts learning/teaching space is located in Cotton Mill Studios, a warehouse where denim was once produced for Levi Strauss. In other words, there was and is a strong textile culture and community here. “To keep it going, we need to share our knowledge and technique,” says founder and director Barbara Zaretsky.

That’s why Cloth offers classes to all levels, including beginners. This spring and summer, take everything from screen printing to embroidery. For a true Asheville experience, don’t miss their place-based class on dyes: You’ll tour the landscape to discover local dye plants.

Visit clothfiberworkshop.com for upcoming class dates, times, prices, and to register.

…Work on Wellness
at Nourish & Flourish: Suite 201, 347 Depot Street

There’s a wellness class here nearly every day of the week, but not one is run-of-the-mill.

Try “Yoga for the Eyes” on Fridays. The class combines yoga and qigong with the Bates Method, an alt-therapy for improving eyesight. Or sign up for Nia on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, a cardio workout drawing from martial arts, dance, and the healing arts.

Less classes and more not-to-miss events, you can also drop in for kirtan on Tuesdays or Dances of Universal Peace once a month. A Google search will fill you in if you’re not familiar.

Visit nourishflourishnow.com, or call 828-255-2770 for details. Nourish & Flourish is also a Network Care practice and juice/tea bar.

There are many more rad classes in the RAD. For artists offering them, grab a 2014 Studio Guide, or scroll through it online at riverartsdistrict.com. Also visit ashevillerad.com for class info and links to all the businesses in this bustling section of the French Broad River corridor.

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Long May You Run

Vintage postcard circa 1911 ~ Confluence of the Swannanoa & French Broad Rivers.

Postcard circa 1911 ~ Swannanoa & French Broad Rivers.

I first met the French Broad River while section hiking the Appalachian Trail. My companions and I were hiking from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Iron Mountain Gap. Midway through our trip, we traversed the north side of Bluff Mountain down into one of the AT hikers’ favorite towns, Hot Springs. Along the way, we noticed the rushing waters of the French Broad on its last leg before it enters Tennessee. I told them: “This place feels like home!”

A year later, my family and I packed our bags and moved to Asheville. My very first spring here, I paddled the French Broad’s headwaters near Rosman through six counties and two states. Looking back, I realize that I’ve been connected to this Southern Appalachian gem for three decades.

The tranquil section that flows through Asheville affords a variety of recreational opportunities, including fishing, paddling, floating, birding and more. Several parks along its banks attract both residents and visitors. Boat launches, the greenway, a recreation park, dog park and bike routes follow the river’s course along a revitalized city district showcasing local restaurants, craft breweries, art galleries, music halls and outfitters.

If you’re looking for something new to do this spring and summer, get out and explore the river. We’ll be sharing some of our own stories and adventures along the way, and we invite you to do the same.

In All Good Things, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne muses, “All good times, all good friends, all good things got to come to an end.” He even gestures to a river’s end. But for some of us, the river is just a beginning — an open-ended invitation to a lifetime of adventure and understanding. For me, each time I take out, load my gear and secure my canoe, I always walk back down to the river’s edge and look upstream to where I’ve been. Then I look downstream and ponder, “Long may you run!”

Run the same river twice! You might be surprised with the seasonal changes of the river. A winter paddle down the French Broad exposes the industrial era of the river district, while the forested banks of summer encloses her natural beauty.

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