On Thursday night the city transformed a nondescript parking lot in downtown Hendersonville into a public space for people, music and beer — especially people.
The people came, they saw. People happily toasted the newness. People said, “Can you believe this?”
If I heard it once I must have heard it a dozen times.
“Can you believe this?” because everyone seemed to be there, which is to say a bunch of local people who hang around, who do business, serve in elected office, lead non-profit agencies, work in the banks. Everyone wasn’t there, of course. That would be 107,000 people.
“We had a lot of compliments,” said city planning director Sue Anderson, who was at a City Council budget workshop Friday morning.
Mayor pro tem Jeff Collis said he heard nearly all positive comments — with the exception of the beer line complaint.
“People said, ‘thank you for doing this. We’ve been going over to Asheville during the week for this kind of thing,’” Collis said.
It felt more like a regular mid-sized city, maybe Greensboro or Greenville, than Asheville, which is so unique that it has no counterpart anywhere in the South. In fact, I heard one person compare our event to a regular outdoor summertime event in Greenville, a small city that has won acclaim for its downtown redevelopment over the past 20 years.
The parking lot, a block long and a half block deep, was filled.
The line for a wrist strap and beer and wine tickets stretched for maybe 50 yards and looked worse than it was.
“Lew was timing it and said it was only eight minutes,” Collis said, referring to Main Street coordinator Lew Holloway.
Before the event, organizers were kind of squirrelly about one theme, which I’ll call fogeyism. I’m not involved so I can say it: we have enough music events with bands that cover all the hits we know and love from Frankie Avalon to Don Henley. And we love them — we being the generation approaching or past retirement age.
Rhythm & Brews is very purposefully bringing in younger bands that perform original music. Councilman Collis told me in an interview on Thursday afternoon, two hours before the concert started, that he hoped the R&B series would show “we’re not as stuffy as people think we are.”
Babs Newton told me that she had addressed the City Council more than a year ago about the need for newer music downtown (she didn’t know then that Music on Main is a county event, put on by the Tourism Development Authority). She became an advisory committee member, and helped nudge the city into the land of the young.
Collis was hanging around the stage end of the Azalea parking lot, watching the people. I asked him if he was a greeter or a bouncer. Collis, who is a probation officer and could bounce if he had to, was drinking it all in with a smile on his face, though no beer in his hand. “I haven’t heard any complaints,” I told him, “that people are unhappy because they don’t know any of these songs.”
“Can you believe this?” was the chorus, too, because of the mildly fortified libation. At long last, the city of Hendersonville is no longer a beer virgin. I didn’t see a single sign of inebriation. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” they say. Well, yeah, except it was never 5 o’clock in downtown Hendersonville, outside, at a public event. No drunkenness and no bad behavior. Instead, people had that 5 o’clock glow.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Sierra Nevada, a lead sponsor of the Rhythm & Brews series, has had a lot to do with our cultural shift. Because the California brewery is such an exciting new addition as an employer and corporate citizen, beer has become not just acceptable but the thing to do. And don’t forget the wine. We’ve got local wine, too.
There are three more Rhythm & Brews concerts. The buzz could hardly be better.
Holloway, the Main Street director, and the Main Street advisory committee deserve credit for having the courage to push this through, and so does the City Council for sanctioning it.
Here is the question that hovered over downtown before the first beer was poured and first note struck:
Can Hendersonville pull off a new event with fresh new music, lively electric guitar and beer and wine?
Asked and answered, your honor.
Can you believe this?