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5 free things in artsy Asheville, North Carolina

 

FROM: www.kentucky.com

BY: LINDSEY TANNER

Associated Press

 

 

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This undated photo provided by Explore Asheville shows people flying a kite at Max Patch, a meadow at 4,600 feet along the Appalachian trail. The site offers a 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. EXPLORE ASHEVILLE -- AP Photo

 

 

 

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- This gem of a city tucked in the Blue Ridge foothills of western North Carolina attracts artists, musicians, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and a fair share of modern-day hippies, all lured by the beautiful setting and open-minded vibe. Its gorgeous historic buildings downtown, free music venues, Appalachian art center and lofty nearby peaks are all perfect for travelers looking to please their senses without spending a dime.

 

DOWNTOWN

 

The vibrant, compact town center, filled with boutiques, galleries, cafes and cultural attractions, is walkable and perfect for sightseeing. Especially in warm weather, downtown sidewalks are themselves an attraction -- filled with street musicians, performance artists and gawkers.

 

Asheville was once dubbed the "Paris of the South" in part because of the stylish flair of its historic city center. You can't miss the towering eight-story City Hall. Facing the broad lawn of Pack Square Park, the reddish building and its ornate art deco style are a highlight of the city skyline. Other Pack Square Park gems include the 13-story Jackson building, with its neo-gothic castle-like tower, and the Asheville Art Museum, housing an impressive collection of 20th century American art, including works from regional artists. Admission is free on Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

 

Stroll a few blocks and you'll find yourself on North Market Street, in front of a handsome yellow Victorian house -- a former boarding house and boyhood home of author Thomas Wolfe, made famous in his 1929 novel, "Look Homeward, Angel."

 

MUSIC

 

Music is a mainstay of the Asheville scene and not to miss is the Friday night drum circle in Pritchard Park, at Patton Avenue and College Street. Starting around 5 p.m., the triangular-shaped park fills with all manner of musicians, from kids on toy drums to grandpas on bongos. Everyone's welcome to play and watch, and the scene is exhilaratingly communal.

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This June 2011 photo courtesy of Explore Asheville shows a drum circle at Pritchard Park in Asheville, N.C. This gem of a city tucked in the Blue Ridge foothills of western North Carolina attracts artists, musicians, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and a fair share of modern-day hippies, all lured by the beautiful setting and open-minded vibe. EXPLORE ASHEVILLE, IAN CURCIO -- AP Photo

 

 

 

For more free sounds, head down Patton to Jack of the Wood, a Celtic-style pub that features jam sessions several nights a week. Sundays at 5 p.m., local Irish musicians gather informally to play Celtic tunes; Thursday sessions feature bluegrass starting at around 6 p.m., and there's an Old Time jam on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Local craft brews are reasonably priced in case all that music makes you thirsty.

 

Asheville's most famous free music event is the annual Shindig on the Green, on Saturday evenings from late June through August in Pack Square Park. It draws top-notch bluegrass bands, string bands, Appalachian cloggers and storytellers from around the region. The family-friendly event attracts huge crowds; fans spread out on blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy the sights and sounds.

 

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This undated image provided by Explore Asheville shows people gathering at Pack Square Park in Asheville, N.C., near the county courthouse, left, and City Hall on the right. The park is a popular place to stroll or hang out, with live music events on some summer Saturdays and an interactive water fountain. EXPLORE ASHEVILLE -- AP Photo

 

 

 

FOLK ART CENTER

 

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) east of downtown, is a showcase for the rich cultural traditions and contemporary crafting of southern Appalachia. The Folk Art Center houses wares from the Southern Highland Craft Guild, a nine-state group of artisans. Their works are displayed year-round but from March to December, you're liable to catch live demonstrations of old-time broom-making, intricate wood-carving and quilting from felted wool. The center features three galleries, a library, and a Blue Ridge Parkway information desk. Admission is free; an on-site shop sells textiles, pottery, jewelry and other crafts made by guild members.

 

 

 

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This undated file photo courtesy of Michael Booher shows the interior of the Folk Art Center in Asheville, N.C. The Folk Art Center features galleries and a shop with works by southern Appalachian artists. MICHAEL BOOHER -- AP Photo

 

 

 

BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

 

Some of the prettiest stretches of this National Park System roadway rim Asheville and are perfect for leisurely driving or hearty cycling. For hikers, plenty of trails are nearby. A good introduction starts at milepost 389, south of downtown, where the parkway meets Hendersonville Road-U.S. 25. That's the business route from Asheville's airport to downtown, but head onto the parkway and you're instantly transported into a hilly forest of trees and tranquility. Up here, you'd never know a bustling little metropolis was so close. Drive about 15 minutes and you'll reach milepost 382 and the Folk Art Center, where you can descend back into civilization.

 

This Sept. 2007 file photo released by the Explore Asheville shows a motorcyclist on a scenic fall drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, N.C. This gem of a city tucked in the Blue Ridge foothills of western North Carolina attracts artists, musicians, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and a fair share of modern-day hippies, all lured by the beautiful setting and open-minded vibe. EXPLORE ASHEVILLE, VALERIE L. JENKINS -- AP Photo

This Sept. 2007 file photo released by the Explore Asheville shows a motorcyclist on a scenic fall drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, N.C. This gem of a city tucked in the Blue Ridge foothills of western North Carolina attracts artists, musicians, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and a fair share of modern-day hippies, all lured by the beautiful setting and open-minded vibe. EXPLORE ASHEVILLE, VALERIE L. JENKINS -- AP Photo

 

 

Or hike part of the Mountains to Sea trail; look for a marker in the center's lower parking lot. A moderately difficult hike takes you to Lunch Rock, a little over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) each way -- about three hours total. For more of the parkway, keep driving as the road steepens and you'll be treated to breathtaking views of surrounding Blue Ridge peaks. Craggy Gardens Visitors' Center is a winding 18-mile (29-kilometer) drive from the Folk Art Center.

 

MAX PATCH

 

Save part of a day for a trip to Max Patch, a lofty bald meadow along the Appalachian Trail. From this 4,600-foot (1,400-meter) summit, you'll see an awe-inspiring 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge mountains, layers of crests unfolding in every direction. It's 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Asheville, the last stretch up a gravel road, but worth the drive. From the Max Patch parking area it's a fairly easy hike, a little over a mile (1.6 kilometers), to the summit. The Appalachian Trail crosses through the Patch, so hikers can set off in either direction. Those content to feast their eyes will not be disappointed. From Asheville, head west on I-40 to exit 7 (Harmon's Den). Go right on Cold Springs Road to state Route 1182 (Max Patch Road). Turn left for the parking area.

 

 

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