A creative year in review

A look back at top 10 arts-related stories of 2011
By Stina Sieg | Dec 29, 2011
Photo by: Stina Sieg Balsam Range, made up of Haywood County-grown bluegrass stars, had a busy 2011, playing plenty of shows and even winning an IBMA award. Above, the well-known group celebrates their small-town roots as they play Music at the Mill, out at the Francis grist mill on highway 276.

Haywood County is made up of old-timers and newcomers, retirees and young families, just to name a few groups. While it may seem this rich cross section of residents has very little in common, at least one thing brings us together more often than not: the arts. Somehow, many of us have similar tastes in music, dance and visual art. We go to the same galleries, festivals and concerts, and every year it seems that more people from out of town join us. Around here, who doesn’t like bluegrass, clogging or craft shows? Haywood’s vibrant art scene binds us — and gives us one more reason not to step over the county line to find our fun.

Below, in no particular order, are 10 arts and entertainment happenings that made 2011 stand out.

 Balsam Range has banner year

 From the beginning, Balsam Range has been a hometown favorite, but in 2011 the band’s star rose higher than ever. Local bluegrass heroes Buddy Melton, Marc Pruett, Tim Surrett, Caleb Smith and Darren Nicholson were recognized on the national stage, both by heavy Internet radio play and a coveted award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. The group took home an IBMA for “Song of the Year” for “Trains I Missed,” off their album of the same name. At the tail end of the year, the group kicked off its extremely popular Winter Concert Series for the second season with special guest John Wiggins. The sold-out benefit for Meals on Wheels raised more than $10,000 for locals in need.

Like always, the Balsam Range boys were extremely busy, but they still made time for the home folks. They could be seen at all sorts of local festivals and events, from the Haywood County Fair to the Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam.

Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration finds its niche

Who knew that Haywood County, home to countless festivals, was ready for another one? Though our area already had events celebrating everything from apples to art to those foul-smelling ramps, there was no festival that simply honored mountain culture — until this summer. The one-day Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration offered a homey primer on local life, with demonstrations of traditional arts and crafts, storytelling, country vittles and more. The jubilee’s entertainment included none other than David Holt, who’s spent decades preserving the music made in our local mountains. If you missed this day of old-timey fun, no worries. It’s set to return in 2012.

Eateries abound

2011 could have been called the “Year of the Foodie” due to the overwhelming crop of new restaurants that crept into every corner of the county. These new places to nosh ran the gamut from casual hideaways to fancy establishments, and many veered far away from rich county fare. This year, those wanting a taste of the Mediterranean flocked to Frankie’s Italian Trattoria in Maggie Valley, while the town’s Nutmeg Bakery beckoned those with a sweet tooth. In Waynesville, Frog’s Leap Public House made a name for itself with its local ingredients and gourmet dishes, and the Cornerstone Café got famous for its home-style breakfasts. Waynesville’s Gateway Club, formerly a members-only affair, introduced Anthony Wayne’s, a restaurant open to all, and the Bourbon Barrel gave locals a new reason to drive over to Hazelwood. Canton’s Simple Taste Grill became an instant classic, while Blue Rooster Southern Grill in Clyde became a hot spot for lunch.

Waynesvillians with a hankering for Asian dishes were treated to three new spots. In the sushi realm, they were given a choice between South Main Street’s Ganko Sushi and Sake Sushi, which recently re-opened at its new home on Wall Street. Thai Spice, which quickly settled into its Main Street home, lived up to its name by offering dishes infused with both mild heat and the five-alarm variety.

Cataloochee celebrates 50 years

Since 1961, the Cataloochee Ski Area has proved that it doesn’t take glitz and glamour to make an enviable slope. Known as the very first ski area in North Carolina, Cataloochee has built a reputation for itself with its incredibly early opening date, immense snow-making operation and welcoming atmosphere. The homespun mountain kicked off its 51st season this November.

Haywood County on the run

Running fever hit Haywood hard in 2011, and it wasn’t just the jocks and health nuts out huffing and puffing in their high tops. This year not only saw the return of the much loved and feared Maggie Valley Moonlight Run (on hiatus in 2010), but also the second year of the Waynesville Main Street Mile, which once again brought hundreds to downtown. Clyde and Meadowbrook elementary schools also leap into the running scene, each hosting its own friendly, well-attended 5K.

HART brings Broadway’s best

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, which has long had a reputation for high-quality, locally produced plays, had another stellar season, which included the Haywood County debut of two Broadway musicals. “Gypsy: A Musical Fable,” which tells of the meteoric rise of the planet’s most famous stripper, has been a massive hit the world-round and was a big boon to HART. Featuring the largest cast ever assembled at the company, it gave plum rolls to local actresses Lyn Donley (“Mama Rose”) and Laura Gregory (“Gypsy Rose Lee”).

In the fall, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” proved to be a light and bubbly contrast to that epic power struggle. The show, which centered on the trials and tribulations of several youngsters at a spelling competition, had a whimsical way of dealing with heavy issues and was an easy crowd pleaser. It also heralded a change at HART, as professional actor Regina Fernandez was brought in from Florida to play Mary Park, the play’s smart aleck Asian contestant. HART plans on now being a semi-professional theater, one that draws upon both talented locals and professional performers.

Au revoir, O’Malley’s

A favorite haunt of many for 20 years, O’Malley’s on Main shut its doors this summer as the building’s out-of-town owner faced foreclosure. Though Lisa Bessent, who was leasing the bar and grill, was obviously saddened by the turn of events, she poured energy into the Main Street mainstay right until the end. She and her staff slung pints, grilled burgers and fried pickles until their reserves were completely demolished. Though plenty of great bars have since opened around the county, none have quite replaced O’Malley’s well-worn but comfort vibe, fabulous karaoke or famous $1.50 pint nights.

Music in Maggie takes a hit

The rocky economic climate hit Maggie Valley’s entertainment scene hard this year when both Carolina Nights Dinner Theater and Eaglenest Entertainment shut their doors. Though very different scenes, the two shuttered spots often catered to a similar, family-friendly crowd. Carolina Nights offered people an evening of light musical entertainment, complete with a meal, while Eaglenest brought the likes of Percy Sledge and those piano-playing twins to town. One of the biggest venues in the county, Eaglenest had also hosted Folkmoot USA for several years running. While many suggestions have been tossed around about how to deal with both these buildings, for now they remain dark, empty and silent along Soco Road.

An abundance of art

Everyone knows of Haywood County’s long history of clogging, bluegrass and mountain music, but more and more this spot is also becoming a hotbed of visual art. In 2011, the county — and Waynesville, in particular — continued to support the painters, photographers, weavers, jewelers and the other creatives who help make this place so colorful. Two of Wayneville’s most popular celebrations, the Church Street Art and Craft Show and the Apple Harvest Festival, had an especially local focus and were mobbed by tourists and locals as per usual.

The Haywood County Arts Council continued to support local artists with its downtown exhibition space, Gallery 86. Highlights included shows from Tuscola art teacher Donna Rhodes, painter Luke Allsbrook and L.I.N.T. (Ladies In New Textiles), a group of fiber-minded women.

Other artsy high points from the year included the continuation of Art After Dark, Waynesville’s popular art stroll, and the opening of Gallery Two Six Two. Though it debuted in Frog Level, by the fall it had found a new home on Main Street in the building that had housed Textures for nearly a decade. While Textures’ departure was a sad note for the Waynesville art scene, the gallery hosted a wonderful send-off party, with hundreds of artists and friends in attendance. Textures’ owners, John and Suzanne Gernandt, may not spend their days behind a cash register anymore, but they remain familiar faces on Main Street, and their work can be seen at Gallery Two Six Two, to boot.

Something’s brewing in Waynesville

For generations, the only craft brews coming out of Haywood County were of the bootleg variety. Not any more. The county’s very first brewery and tasting room, Frog Level Brewing Company, opened in December. It looks as though Clark and Jenny Williams’ much-anticipated brew house will be a sign of suds of come, as local brewmeister Kevin Sandefur hopes to open Headwaters Brewing Company in 2012, and the brew-happy folks at the Tipping Point Tavern plan on cranking out their own signature drafts soon. Move over Beer City USA — there are some new brews in these mountains.