Harry McDaniels is walking in front of the Asheville Art Museum carrying a stack of Bele Chere schedules to deliver to one of the festival’s information booths. It’s details like that, large and small, that Bele Chere Area Managers have to keep on their radars for three days to make sure the festival’s moving parts operate properly.
There are approximately 15 area managers at this year’s festival, though some are doubled up for training purposes. McDaniels isn’t one of the trainees; he has been an active Bele Chere manager since its beginning more than 30 years ago. He and Gladys McDaniel (no ”s” and no relation to Harry) are two of the festival’s longest-serving managers. “I can remember when it was nothing but a couple of streets,” McDaniels says. A payroll accountant with the City of Asheville for the past thee decades, McDaniels says the festival used to be put together and staffed entirely by city employees.
Now, despite the festival’s growth, McDaniels is still running the ship around the Vance Monument and adjoining streets. Area managers are responsible for making sure set up and tear down go smoothly, checking and confirming that booths are in the spaces they are supposed to be in. They also make sure vendors stop selling when they are supposed to and don’t pack up before the festival is over.
But they also give support on the finer details, like making sure the information booth has enough schedules. “We make sure everybody has everything they need,” McDaniels says. “And they communicate to us any problems.”
Armed with a radios, area managers convey important information like incoming weather conditions to vendors, but also work as extra eyes on the street for the Asheville Police Department and Fire and Rescue, and can call in codes to the proper station in case of a problem.
“We are like the eyes and ears,” McDaniels says. “If we cannot resolve a situation, we know who can,” he says. However, McDaniels continues, there is one thing managers have in common with anyone and everyone else at Bele Chere: “We do a lot of walking.”