Reflections on Asheville Beer Week: Lamenting the disappearance of activist subculture beneath veil of carnival barking

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

Ashvegas: The City You Love. The News You Want.As Asheville forges ahead with its annual Beer Week celebration, this post stood out to me. It’s written by my friend Eamon, who has generously given me his permission to repost here. The post triggered a long and thoughtful FB comment thread. I’m hoping to extend the conversation here.

Reflections on “Beer Week,” a Testimonial: I have watched Asheville, and my role within it, dramatically shift over a short time. I still love it here, but much of the scene has become more of a predatory, parasitic culture…arrested development of sustained and suspended adolescence preserved in alcohol. Never Neverland. Not all of it, of course. But a substantial chunk of our social fabric. And I’ll be the first to admit that my livelihood is based in part on this sad reality.

But I remember once, not so long ago, a strong activist subculture, numbering in the 1000s that lived and breathed a different lifestyle that demanded a sense of purpose and possibility that often challenged the status quo. And with great pride and joy. We somehow intuitively came together to build an informal network and social infrastructure that spoke to our desire for community, independence, and self-determination. Impressive projects were launched on the backs of volunteers always ready to lend a hand for a good cause, however thankless. New ideas appeared every day. Benefit events for this or that every other day. And Asheville became an underground destination on the national map because of this long before it turned into an aboveground hot spot getaway for trendy, over-hyped food and drink consumerism.

Many newer residents are unaware of this little moment in time, that spirit withered and wilted under the weight of gentrification, economic disenfranchisement and political disillusionment. It is a forfeiture of collective dignity and identity to no small extent for me. We (you know who you are) lost something really precious and wonderful; real “quality of life” stuff.

Today, welcome to Beer City. In a way, these days remind me of the 1970s. But with none of the good stuff. Better beer, perhaps. But behind the carnival barking and economic boosterism of local media crowing for whatever beer-soaked festival is this week, and the week after that, and the week after that, off stage and out of sight, the cultural casualties are being painfully claimed. And with each new city-as-theme park pitch, and every insistent proclamation of progress made through clenched teeth, I smell the growing stench of despair. It is time for reclamation…

Thanks to loyal reader Jen for pointing my attention to Eamon’s original post.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

You Might also Like


  1. J. Cage May 31, 2014


    The lamented subculture is “dissappearing” because it had no backbone to begin with (like most things in Asheville.)

    The Trader Joes,Harris Teeter, Chick-Fil-A box store Mall-if- ication of Asheville goes down without a peep (I did love the TWO people out in front of the Chick-Fill-A protesting “nicely” in Chicken suits- kudos!)

    But the psuedo-“activists” were of course nowhere to be found (still looking for a new place for Firestorm after their middle class college experiment went south where many knew it would go.

    When I first moved to Asheville I sensed a misplaced, post-college angst from these same types- railing at their small bussiness bosses at cafes and restaurants. It all seemed hollow and misguided to someone who has lived in bigger places with bigger wheels and bigger perspective.
    In many cities I have lived in I was involved with Bike activism, marching against the the RNC, flash mobs, and knew people actually DOING and making a difference. Asheville has NONE of this. The city has a “don’t speak up or have any “negative” opinions attitude both from the natives and from transplants that want everything to be “Positive”.

    Change requires OPINION and ACTION.

    Well – The enemy is winning in many corners. The state is cutting funding. GLBT rights are still ignored. There is still no bus service on Sundays – the list goes on.

    There has been improvement in many of these areas recently- (bike lanes etc) but it is from dedicated middle aged politicians(!!!)on many levels. The self important “radicals” always struck me as impotent in this town.

    Ho-hum Asheville. Same story

  2. Vlad Emrick May 28, 2014

    Wow. Talk about navel gazing.

    There’s a number of people who live here who, frankly, just need to get out and see what life is like in other places.

    1. Omphaloskeptic May 28, 2014

      Navel gazing indeed, but thoughtful. Nice to know people are thinking.

  3. Realist May 28, 2014

    I do think there’s still a very strong activist culture here. I see endless opportunities to volunteer, attend a fundraiser, even give free money via crowdfunding. I don’t think any of that has gone away, it may just have trouble standing out amidst all the gentrification in town.

    What I agree with Eamon on is that this town feels very driven by bars and restaurants. 15 years ago you couldn’t swing an old time fiddle player in this town without hitting a yogi, now you swing a pig by it’s tail-to-snout and spill someone’s microbrew. Every week there’s a new brewery opening next to a new farm-to-table fusion-mashup. Every month there’s a new hotel proposed, followed by rumors of another chain store downtown. I understand that these make for a fun place to visit, a bustling town where people are gathering, but it starts to all feel the same. When the day of reckoning comes, is the number of different beers you drank what stands out in your life?

    There’s a lot about Asheville that is superficial, and that hasn’t always been the case. However, I do think there are more than enough opportunities to dig in and be a part of a community, hopefully one that stands for something and makes a difference. After bettering yourself, then go enjoy your beers and tapas!

  4. smytty May 28, 2014

    I don’t discount the poster’s reflections, but I saw an impressively large Monsanto protest on… Saturday I believe it was.

  5. Jason W. May 27, 2014

    Even activists at some point have to grow up and get 2 or 3 real jobs to live in Asheville.

  6. D.Dial May 27, 2014

    I call b.s. This city has many qualities that surpass beer, food and tourism. There is a spirit here that cannot be squelched by trends.

  7. Harry May 27, 2014

    There are plenty of activists still around town. You can usually catch them with their signs and banners at the Vance monument. Doing just about anything to avoid actually having to work and make something of themselves.

  8. theOtherBarry May 27, 2014

    I share a lot of Eamon’s feelings expressed here. He was one of the first activists that I connected with when I moved here. I hope that change in Asheville that he describes is a cyclical thing, and not a permanent decline in the culture of activism that made Asheville a place that I and others wanted to settle in. The challenge now may be to figure out how to connect with and energize younger residents, and/or newer residents, to see what is possible and return to that mindset.

    A big part of how that culture thrived in the past was through great local volunteer-run indy media like Eamon’s Asheville Global Report, a small town newspaper that earned multiple national awards from Project Censored, among other places. It served to keep local activists connected, and later evolved to produce radio content for our low-power community station WPVM, and then even TV content for cable providers. I believe its last incarnation was as a regular show on the fledgling online Asheville Free Media. AshevilleFM has received a low-power license from the FAA, and will hopefully be on the air later this year, filling a void in the local scene that was left after ‘PVM went dark.

    This is as good a place as any to segue to my shameless personal plug: another news program that went away when WPVM shut down was Making Progress: News for a Change. The original crew of myself, Veronika Gunter, and David Lynch are excited to announce that we will be reviving that weekly show of news and activism on AshevilleFM(dot)org, Mondays at 6 pm, starting next week June 2nd. Soon, we will be broadcasting at 103.3 FM. There are a lot of great programs currently running there. Check them out.

    Eamon? If you’re feeling discouraged, come on over to AshevilleFM and help reclaim that culture that you were such a vital part of.

    1. indie May 27, 2014

      The thing people here most like to hear whispered in their ear is the word activist. Just a big circle jerk of activists.

      1. theOtherBarry May 27, 2014

        Aha. Crude sexual insult meant to shame us into not doing what we’re doing, or discourage others from joining us. We must be on the right track.

        Thanks for the encouragement, comrade.

        1. indie May 27, 2014

          No, no carry on. You’re changing the world.

      2. luther blissett May 27, 2014

        If you’re so offended by the word “activist”, indie, how about “people who give a shit and do something about it” instead? Or is giving a shit and doing something about it what actually offends you?

      3. Big Al May 28, 2014

        Hell just froze over, cuz I agree with indie on something.

        It just seems so easy to be an “activist” these days. I just hope it doesn’t take too much time away from their waiting tables. I get p.o.’d when my hash browns get cold while someone updates their blog.

        1. theOtherBarry May 28, 2014

          Expressing contempt for people who are sacrificing their time to get involved… you don’t work for King George III, do you?

          The King wanted to “keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse”

          You do know that we won the American Revolution and the right to petition our government, and all that, right? ‘Cause you sound like you think working class people should sit down & shut up.

    2. theOtherBarry May 27, 2014

      Let’s recognize that a part of what has contributed to the reluctance to get involved as much as folks used to, is represented here by ‘indie’. The internet has shifted us away from the sorts of public discourse that used to prevail, where people were somewhat more accountable for their words and actions. It’s empowered the basest and most cowardly among us to squat in the sandbox and anonymously fling pooh at anyone who actually takes a public stand on something.

      I say put on your raincoat and pretend you’re at a Gallagher show.

  9. NFB May 27, 2014

    Please. Anybody who has lived in Asheville for any length of time knows that what is described in this post is nothing new. It’s just affecting the poster’s crowd this go around.

    Memo: Asheville is what it has always been — a tourist town run by and for the local tourist industry headed up by the Chamber of Commerce. Anything new that pops up will eventually be hijacked by said powers that be for the purposes of marketing Asheville to people with money all with the aid of local media powerhouses like WLOS and the Citizen-Times dutifully fulfilling their roles as cheerleaders for the process and those involved in it.

    I’m sorry the poster has had such a rude awakening jolt him out of his little paradise but such is the rhythm of life here. Always has been. Always will be.

    It is also pretty much the rhythm of life everywhere. Places exist off the radar. New people find their Shangra-la, word gets out, said place gets flooded with people and it becomes an “aboveground hot spot getaway for trendy, over-hyped” consumerism. People then move on to the next place on the list and begin the process all over again. Why would anyone have ever thought that Asheville would be immune to this?

    1. orton May 27, 2014

      And we have a winner!

    2. Murphy May 27, 2014

      To call WLOS and the CT “powerhouses” is laughable…

      1. luther blissett May 27, 2014

        “Powerhouse” may be the wrong word, but they’re big fish in a small pond: with the other affiliates focused on GSP, WLOS owns the local TV news market while the C-T (still) owns the local newspaper market, and both of them depend upon local advertisers.

        1. NFB May 28, 2014

          Luther is correct. I only meant the term “powerhouse” in the sense that both WLOS and ACT are far and away the biggest media organizations in town and thus are fully on board with the Chamber of Commerce and other powers that be in town. Neither see their roles as holding anyone’s feet to the fire but in cheer leading for the C of C and tourism industry.

  10. indie May 27, 2014

    I’m pretty sure the world portrayed never existed. If you think Asheville is economically disenfranchised today, what do you think it was like in 1990? 1995? 2000?

  11. Mike May 27, 2014

    well i just wasted 5 minutes of my life……

  12. Curtiss May 27, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this. I would be interested in seeing the original thread with all of the comments (though I anticipate a good bit of flaming / trolling therein.)

    Consciousness and sobriety can be difficult burdens to shoulder, increasingly so in this day and age when the attendant cognitive dissonance of our nation’s economic foundations are meeting with the brutal reality of collective short-sightedness. It is difficult to place a value on activism, dissent and community, let alone consciousness, within the quarterly context of tourism, jobs and local product.

    Once Asheville was referred to as the ‘Paris of the South’, which read as an accolade of sophistication and culture. Nowadays, I see it referred to as the “Playground of the South’, which reads like a cheap brochure blurb, entreating folks from nowhere/anywhere USA to come and treat our city like their ephemeral sandbox.

    Asheville has always been a little different and this quality has attracted its fair share of interest and scorn throughout time. What’s troubling is that while Paris and a playground are both desirable as destinations, I fear that the bar is collectively being lowered in favor of greater approval i.e. ‘economic development’. I would rather our city not be referred to as a ‘playground’, as it tends to forgive and even inspire its visitors to behave as children while they are here.

    Regardless, the activist heart still beats in this city and the light of progress still burns, albeit a little less conspicuously, perhaps. Dissent requires a dose of bravery and the ability to withstand ridicule. Very little is risked by aligning yourself with what is popular and being risk-averse is seemingly more popular than ever. There may be a number of exciting and daring styles of beer to choose from these days, but what could be more predictably popular than beer?

    Which brings me to my point: there will always be a market for socially acceptable forms of escapism. Never underestimate the demand for anything that will allow people to leave their problems behind, even if only for a weekend in the mountains.

    But, while Asheville may function very well as a destination for those wanting to escape, we mustn’t lose sight of its unique ability to attract and give community to those people who dig in and do the dirty work of bringing about change. If Asheville ceases to attract and support these people, its social fabric will be lessened and it will cease to be nearly as interesting or significant.

    1. Jason Sandford May 27, 2014

      Curtiss, Eamon Martin is the author on Facebook. You’ll have to ask him to see the original thread.

      1. Curtiss May 27, 2014

        Thanks Jason.

        Go figure he’d be a Martin 😉


  13. orton May 27, 2014

    If this underground, anarchist fantasy land you describe has truly succumbed to “progress” then you (collectively) have no one to blame other than your own lack of organization, lack of grit and a bad case of myopia. It is not the responsibility of the town’s cultural zeitgeist to evolve unabated in a way only you see fit.

  14. Local May 27, 2014

    Change happens. Work to guide it to your vision and accept the changes you cannot control.

  15. indie May 27, 2014

    The good news is I think there is a pill for what ails ya.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Stories