How do you pack up a three-day festival in about six hours? After some 30 years of wrapping the Bele Chere festival, City of Asheville and festival staff have the system down to a sort of frenzied science. Multiple city departments, festival vendors and private companies all interact to make Bele Chere disappear overnight. With three main stages, hundreds of tents and thousands of attendees, the logistics involved are as detailed as putting on the festival itself.
“It truly is a massive effort,” said Diane Ruggiero, the city’s Superintendent of Cultural Arts, at a meeting to prep festival staff and volunteers for the task on Bele Chere’s final day.
By the time the festival ends on Sunday, event officials and staff have begun packing up the command center that has been located in the Exposition level of the Asheville Civic Center since Thursday. But the first thing festival goers will see coming down are the main performance stages. As soon as Sunday’s final musical acts finish their last songs, crews begin removing and packing the sound equipment, making room for the stage companies to break down the stage itself. Once reduced to their shells, the stages fold up and are hauled away like tractor trailers by the companies contracted to supply them.
“There will still be vendors packing by the time we leave,” said Production Manager Bill Clark, helping festival stage crews lower PA speakers from the Haywood Street stage.
As soon as 6 p.m. rolls around, many things begin happening at once. Vendors begin to pack up. Both food and arts vendors are well-practiced at breaking down their own booths, but festival Area Managers roam their specific sections making sure that everyone has quit selling their products and are on track to be off the streets by 8 p.m.
Almost immediately after the close of the festival, officials are piloting a fleet of golf carts through the streets to make sure all the pieces are in place for a break down that is safe and as efficient as possible. “We also want to make ourselves present and available if any problems come up,” said festival director Sandra Travis, motoring down Biltmore Avenue.