A look back at 2012Art, entertainment and cultural events that mattered
Who says things don't change much around here? This year alone, Haywood County saw the addition of a triathlon, jazz festival, two microbreweries and one drag queen-infused musical. Other big deals around here, from the bluegrass of Balsam Range to the popularity of Cataloochee Ski Area, seemed to get even bigger. Here's a rundown of some of the art, entertainment and cultural events that helped shape 2012.
Balsam Range’s banner year
In early spring, Haywood County collectively held its breath as Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton recovered from a devastating accident. While working on his Crabtree farm, the BR crooner and fiddler was hit in the head by a gate kicked by a cow. It was bad, so bad that fans weren’t sure if he’d even make it, let alone get back to music. Well, Melton surprised everyone, including himself, when he returned to the stage about a month later — with his voice sounding as sweet as ever. Since then, Balsam Range has been in overdrive, releasing the acclaimed CD “Papertown” and playing across the country and right here in their home county. Next year looks to be just as busy, with their third Winter Concert Series in Canton lasting through April and shows slated everywhere from Asheville to Arlington, Texas. Sure, they’re getting a little more famous, but these masters of bluegrass are just as friendly and down-home as ever.
Haywood County is famous for its festivals, and this year helped remind us why. New energy was felt (and new faces seen) at many of the countless celebrations. Thousands of folks flocked to everything from the brand-new PlottFest in Maggie to the tried-and-true Folkmoot USA. The 24th Apple Harvest Festival, like many of these beloved shindigs, even attracted record crowds. In 2013, expect more of the same, just punched up a notch, as Apple Harvest will be celebrating 25 years and the always-popular Church Street Art and Craft Show will be turning 30.
If Asheville is “Beer City, USA,” then we’ll have to come up with a clever, sudsy moniker for Waynesville soon. Beer Town? Beer Burg? Beer Boondocks? This year, no fewer than two new microbreweries moved into town, bringing Waynesville’s (and Haywood County’s) total up to three. It might sound crowded, but with such well-regarded (and cutely named) beer flowing from Headwaters Brewing Company, Frog Level Brewing Company and The Tipping Point Tavern’s brewery, there seems to be room for everyone. From Skipping Stone Stout (Headwaters) to Chunky Gal Ale (Tipping Point) to Catcher in the Rye (Frog Level), there are flavors — and potencies — for beer lovers of all kinds.
HART makes history
Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, long known for doing shows a little out of the box, got way out (and proud) this year when it brought “La Cage aux Folles” to WNC for the first time. The musical, which centers on a French family made up a nightclub owner, his cross-dressing husband/stage star and their straight son, was a huge hit with mountain audiences. If that weren’t enough of a pleasant surprise, HART also announced plans to build a second stage in Waynesville. It’s now raising funds for the aptly-named Stage II, which would allow the theater company to run a seamless, packed season. If HART makes its goal (and let’s hope it does), it could be the boost Haywood might just be needing: a true destination theater.
Jazz comes to the mountains
Haywood County is vibrant with virtuosos in many genres of music, from folk to blues to bluegrass. But jazz? Not so much — that is, until Eve Haslam moved to town. This summer, the professional singer and her band, Satin Steel Jazz, hosted the first-ever Fall Jazz Festival at the Classic Wineseller in Waynesville. The four-week fest sold out every time, showing how much locals were in need of a good jazz fix. This coming year, expect Eve and her crew to heed this call and bring several more shows — and maybe even another festival — to these parts.
The cachet of Cataloochee
There aren’t many small-town mountains that people flock to like Cataloochee Ski Area, and this year the little spot proved, once again, that it’s still got it. Though last winter’s snow crop was undeniably disappointing, Cataloochee came out on top, somehow raking in the biggest profit since opening in 1961. This winter, it started its season on Halloween — its second-earliest first day ever. Convenient, friendly and pretty easy on the wallet, Cataloochee remains relevant and sustaining in a time when many tourist draws are straining to still feel cool. Cataloochee is old school and that, apparently, is how we like it.
Haywood keeps healthy
Regardless of how you like to get your heart rate up — through running, biking or swimming — this county now has something for you and your buddies. Brand new this year, September’s King of the Smokies Triathlon was the first ever such event at Lake Junaluska and only the second triathlon in the county. Destined to become a yearly thing, it now joins an ever-growing collection of fairly new local sporting events, many of which had record turnouts in 2012. From the Waynesville Main Street Mile to the Blue Ridge Breakaway bicycle rides, this year showed that keeping fit isn’t a fleeting trend around here — especially when you can do it surrounded by hundreds of your neighbors and friends.
Ghost Town returns
Is Ghost Town in the Sky coming back? After years of “maybe,” Maggie Valley residents were given a resounding “yes” early this year when Alaska Presley bought the historic, hillside amusement park. Though the place didn’t open until summer and there wasn’t much to do except take a ride on a zip line and the spot’s famed chairlift, the park’s reopening brought a little extra hope to Maggie. While most of the “Thank you, Alaska” signs are gone from Soco Road, a deep curiosity still exists about what will happen next. Presley’s talking about reopening the midway and old-time Western town — gun fights and all — soon. After that, she’s got her sights set on adding a Christian-themed zone to the park. Sound interesting? Stay tuned.