High Country Cultural Festival Yields Collateral Benefits

written by CARL DANBURY 

Each summer for the past 33 years, the Office of Arts & Cultural Programs at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, has orchestrated an eclectic celebration of music, dance, theater, visual arts and film programming. The six-week long event, An Appalachian Summer Festival features big city cultural arts in the heart of the mountains. Summertime visitors are drawn to the area for a variety of reasons, including the cooler temperatures in a university town positioned 3,333 feet above sea level and the numerous outdoor activities.  

Director of marketing and public relations, Anna Gaugert, explained how the festival began, evolved and is sustained in this community of fewer than 19,000 residents.

“In 1984, several of the area’s second-home residents came to the university and explained that they were much more accustomed to having entertainment options, particularly in the evenings, than what was then available in Boone and the surrounding area,” Gaugert related. “So, the need for creating a summer performance schedule while teaming up with community sponsors began.”

With the overwhelming majority of university students gone during the summer months, the entertainment lineup in the early years of the festival consisted of chamber and orchestra music, and classical dance. Today, it has expanded for a much broader audience as the demographic of second-home owners and their families has expanded over the years, as has the local community. The festival enhances the cultural activities of the Appalachian community, offers affordable access to its programs and promotes tourism in a meaningful way.

Many of the festival’s Founders Society had no connection to Appalachian State at all, other than the fact they had become residents of the area — typically from May through October every year. The local community didn’t really begin to embrace the festival until the early ‘90s when Denise Ringler, Director of Arts Engagement and Cultural Resources, went looking for answers. She created a focus group with members of the local community and business leaders.

“When Denise first asked them their thoughts about the festival, most said, ‘Oh, that’s the festival for the Floridians,’” Gaugert said. “Denise tried to change that perception and incorporated local business owners to become corporate sponsors, and then created an advisory board from residents, and other local community leaders. Today, half or more are local to the High Country. She truly opened it up to be a community festival.”

Sutton Foster, born in Statesboro, will appear Saturday July 8 at the Schaefer Center at 8 p.m.

The festival’s 2017 lineup includes country music’s Jennifer Nettles, who is likely to sell out the 1,673-seat Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts, An Evening with Sutton Foster, who will perform Broadway hits from those in which she has appeared, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers. The musical finale, “YEStival,” will feature 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee YES, special guest Todd Rundgren, as well as an opening set from Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy honoring the magic of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.

Other musical performances include four programs by the Broyhill Chamber Ensemble, an extraordinary association of internationally acclaimed musicians embracing a diverse repertoire of chamber music works. The Eastern Festival Orchestra presenting memorable symphonic music features internationally renowned violinist Midori, music director Gerard Schwarz and saxophonist Hunter Bockes, first-prize winner of the 2016 Rosen-Schaffel Competition for Young and Emerging Artists.

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers will appear at the Schaefer Center, Thursday July 27 at 8 p.m.

Dance events include MOMIX, a company of dancer-illusionists under the direction of Moses Pendleton. The troop will reprise its “Opus Cactus” featuring the landscape of the American Southwest with Pendleton’s signature illusionistic style creating dynamic images of cactuses, slithering lizards and fire dancers. The Charlotte Ballet’s performance will include two iconic duets and two masterworks.

Theatrical performances include “Maid’s Door,” presented by The National Black Theatre Festival and performed by North Carolina’s only professional black theater company, the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. “Legally Blonde,” which will be performed by Lees-McRae Summer Theatre, will be held in Banner Elk.

Film, visual arts, lectures and workshops round out the festival’s lineup. A total of 27,000 attended the events last summer.

“It’s a rare opportunity to come to a university-town setting, experience that small-town, friendly vibe we have here and combine that with our amazing cool summer temperatures,” Gaugert said. “Witnessing world-renowned performances, at a fraction of the price you might pay in a major city, along with the area’s other positives makes us really unique.” And, don’t forget free parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends!


Photo Credits
Sutton Foster: © Laura Marie Duncan
Bruce Hornsby, et al. © Michael Martin
Scenic, courtesy of Appalachian State University