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Best of Festivals

Article Published: Dec. 30, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Best of Festivals

Fun was on tap at September's High Country Beer Fest.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

Frank's Picks

1. High Country Beer Fest
Friends, live music and nearly 60 breweries offering hundreds of beers to taste - what better way to spend an autumn afternoon in the High Country? Now in its third year, this homegrown festival only improves with each go-around. Special kudos to Boone resident Andy Mason for his award-winning, homebrewed biere de garde.

2. MusicFest 'n Sugar Grove
The littlest big festival in the High Country, the annual MusicFest offers more than an opportunity to listen to flatpicking legend Doc Watson, but also performances from some of the state's best pickers 'n grinners. Friends and familiar faces abound, as does a homegrown good time.

3. MerleFest
The Big M. A list of festival favorites wouldn't be complete without this musical titan, held annually in Wilkesboro and featuring some of the nation's premier country and bluegrass acts. A personal highlight was standing mere feet from comedian and musician extraordinaire Steve Martin performing "King Tut" with the Steep Canyon Rangers.

4. Peabody's Charity Wine Tasting Expo
Every year, the folks at Peabody's Wine and Beer Merchants dust off their tuxes and host the Charity Wine Tasting Expo, benefiting the Watauga Education Foundation. A fun opportunity to dress up, sample some vino and munch on samples from fine area restaurants, the expo is one of the High Country's favorite - and most popular - events.

5. Music on the Mountaintop
A festival that's grown by the thousands, Boone's own Music on the Mountaintop showcases top-notch talent spanning the genres, from roots to bluegrass to indie to rock. 2010's featured headliners included Railroad Earth, joined by festival stalwart Sam Bush, picking virtuoso Larry Keel, funk epitome Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band and more.

Honorable Mention:

Riverkeeper Festival and Hellbender Appreciation Day
Appalachian Voices found gold in the river, and not by panning. The inaugural Riverkeeper Festival and Hellbender Appreciation Day offered folks a golden opportunity to enjoy fun, fellowship, live music and food, all with a generous helping of environmental awareness. Here's hoping for another in 2011.

Lauren's Picks

1. WHS Last Chance Prom
At a night fueled by nostalgia and goodbyes, lots of stories were told on that May evening. Stories that made me jealous of Watauga High School alumni. It was the last chance for those alumni to say goodbye to that brick building off 105 before saying hello to the new structure: A behemoth off 421, complete with state of the art facilities, but with a lack of memories. Some alumni wore prom dresses of old. Others wore their Sunday best. All, however, wore smiles.

2. Tater Hill Open
The High Country learned to fly again this summer as paragliders and hang-gliders the world over (including yours truly) let the thermals give them the best tour yet of the High Country. An annual event (, the Tater Hill Open brought out the best in spectators, as well as flyers. As for the flying? Not as scary as this reporter thought. Think a breezy, delightful float with the clouds.

3. Martin & Doris Rosen Summer Symposium
As Holocaust survivor Zev Weiss spoke, he wasn't the only one choked up at the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center. This year's program marked more than a memorial to lives lost. To its namesakes, Martin and Doris Rosen, it was about the future.

"It is imperative, really, that it is being talked about," Martin Rosen said.

The more we educate, they said, the more we remember. And the more we remember, the more we can avoid mistakes of the past.

4. Clawson-Burnley Park Ribbon Cutting
July 4 marked the opening of a park a decade in the making: Clawson-Burnley Park, complete with reflective benches overlooking a scenic wetland. It's a far cry from the 30 residential structures and 120-bed nursing home at this spot a decade ago. Flooding forced leaders to make the best of a bad situation, turning the acreage into a park that residents continue to discover. The 1.5 acres of wetland cleans 33 acres of storm water, an innovative approach that, undoubtedly, the High Country isn't alone in watching. It's a space that, hopefully, the community will grow to fully appreciate in the New Year.

5. Music on the Mountaintop Pre-Show
I'm going to be honest. I hated Music on the Mountaintop. No, not the music. No, not the festival. As some of you know (and tease me about relentlessly), I broke my ankle during Music on the Mountaintop. Not dancing, mind you, or eating the assortment of delicious food, but walking. So, I'm not in a position to list MOTM as one of my event favorites (though it was certainly the most memorable). Events leading up to the festival, however, are worthy of mention, in particular the Thursday shows at places like Char, Galileo's and Our Daily Bread. With a performance that rivaled many at the main event, Do it to Julia kicked off a set to remember at ODB. Add in a wine tasting to benefit Appalachian Voices and organizer Jimmy Hunt was onto something. This year's MOTM festival wasn't just about a weekend: It was about a month's worth of anticipation, fueled by good food, great wine and even better opening acts. Here's to hoping it's a tradition Hunt repeats in 2011.

Honorable Mention

Sqworm Fest wriggled its way into Valle Crucis in June with a "Native Sway" and left its attendees, myself included, wanting more. While the Valle Crucis Campgrounds aren't what this reporter thought of as a rocktastic venue, they overshot expectations, with cool breezes and grass dancing. The weather proved the real star, but headliners, Philadelphia-bred Atley Moon (full name: Atley Moon and the Say Something Sound Machine) and Boone rockers The Native Sway didn't disappoint, ending the evening with a jam-packed set that had campers tapping their feet long after the last guitar chord dissipated.

Owl Release
July marked two things at the River House in Ashe County, inspiration for those gathered and freedom for a pair of owls as the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute released them over our heads. In what the audience will agree was an unforgettable display, BRWI spoke of the powerful grace of raptors, a power we experienced for ourselves as the wings beat into the trees.

Blowing Rock Art
On the eve of BRAHM (Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, set to open in fall of 2011), Blowing Rock is stepping up its art appreciation, and it showed, through galleries like Art and Artifacts. Veteran Art-in-the-Parkers Jose Fumero and Herb Cohen (who displayed there over the summer), called the "deans" of art in the High Country, left the mountains for Charlotte but, before the move, they had an estate and art sale, an event to remember in itself. Along the way they recounted their colorful history, a past that has led them to display in places like the Mint Museum of Charlotte. And, while they're now officially Queen City residents, they'll be back when BRAHM opens in the fall, and it will be like they never left.

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