What Is the Phrase “Keep Asheville Weird” All About?

Spend enough time in Asheville, North Carolina and you’ll inevitably hear the locals talking about the need to “Keep Asheville Weird.” You’ll see the slogan on bumper stickers, on T-shirts, and in shop windows. But what exactly does this phrase mean?

Quirky, free-wheeling characters

In many ways, “Keep Asheville Weird” is a badge of pride for locals, who see the city as a place where anyone can be whatever they want to be. In fact, one other saying that you might hear in Asheville is, “If you’re too weird for Asheville, you’re too weird.” In other words, anything goes. You can be a doctor during the day, and a craft beer brewer at night. You can be a financial services professional, and still show up to work with colorful tattoos and hippie-era dreadlocks.

And, indeed, you’ll be amazed by some of the characters that you will see in Asheville. For example, one popular character is the so-called “Bicycling Nun.” It’s a bearded man who rides around on a 20-foot bike wearing a nun’s habit and playing folk music. You’re certain to see plenty of people wearing unique outfits anytime you head out to downtown, or in fact, anytime you’re out shopping for groceries. That guy attired in a purple couture ball gown? He might just be a teacher at one of the local schools.

1960’s-era hippie culture

Another popular explanation for the phrase “Keep Asheville Weird” is that it is meant to evoke the 1960’s, when Asheville was a center of hippie culture. Even today, there’s a distinct hippie vibe in the city. Every Friday evening, for example, there’s a Drum Circle, where locals and tourists gather around to dance and sway to the music. Yoga, as one might expect, is big here. As are political protests, another vestige of the 1960’s. In fact, you might even run across Asheville’s famous “topless protestors” – women who show up at protests bare-chested.

A thriving arts scene

Asheville has also established itself as a thriving arts hub, not just in North Carolina, but for the entire Atlantic Seaboard and South. There are seemingly arts and music festivals every weekend, and many of the locals also dabble in the arts. A whole part of the downtown area has been turned into a sprawling arts district, and the locals take quite a bit of pride in their artists and musicians.

An “indie” state of mind

And, finally, “Keep Asheville Weird” is really all about keeping an indie state of mind. Other cities might be filled with chain stores and chain restaurants, but Asheville does its best to keep the city filled with independent shops and small business owners. “Keeping Asheville Weird,” in many ways, is a spirited pushback to the growing wave of suburbanization across the nation. Asheville is proud to be someplace that just feels, well, different.

One thing is certain: “Keep Asheville Weird” really works. It’s like the entire city has bought into a shared vision for what it should be. The slogan is a way of distilling down the values of the city, all in a way that’s bound to make first-time visitors to Asheville re-think what a city really should be. “Weird” is good, and “really weird” is even better.

If you are into “weird”, check out Asheville, NC.