New day for old fairgrounds
Johnson Entertainment of Linville has assumed a long-term lease of the former High Country Fairgrounds east of Boone and plans to breathe new life into what has long been considered a premier venue for special events.
On behalf of Johnson Entertainment, Kenny Johnson, a lifelong Avery County resident who hails from a musical family that has helped define entertainment at its best, said, "We are really excited about the future of this site and have already tested the waters to know it's a perfect location that will draw the crowds."
Johnson's sideline business has hosted the High Country Blue Grass Festival on the fairgrounds property for three years, bringing highly acclaimed music acts to the area, as well as their entourage of fans, including Dailey and Vincent the year before they first claimed the title of International Bluegrass Music's Entertainers of the Year.
Others, including Doyle Lawson and Quick Silver, Blue Highway, etc., have shared the same stage at Johnson's invitation.
Many area residents may remember the "glory days," of the High Country Fairgrounds, especially in the early 1980s when it brought a huge fair to town with such acts as George Jones, George Strait and others.
Through the years, the grounds have attracted small circuses, various races and gospel, bluegrass and rock music festivals.
With his hands on the reins, Johnson has high hopes to steer the property in the direction in which it was destined to go. He has been approached by numerous parties expressing interest in renting the grounds for events such as bike rallies, rodeos, races, reunions, weddings/receptions, flea markets, and, of course, music festivals.
Johnson said that now is the right time to put a new name and face to his signature festival, as well as the grounds.
Known previously as the High Country Bluegrass Festival, the event will now be called High Country MusicFest beginning in July, with hopes of attracting a more diverse audience for an eclectic mix of bluegrass, country, rock and folk.
Johnson will also refer to the site as Boone Fairgrounds.
Steeped in a rich family heritage where traditional mountain music ruled the day, Johnson is all about preserving music and promoting local heritage.
In fact, Johnson's father, the legendary fiddler Bruce Johnson of the Newland area, along with his multitalented sons, was featured in this month's Our State Magazine, which has drawn rave reviews from near and far.
As postal clerk by day, entertainment 'bookie" by night, the younger Johnson has surrounded himself with big names in the music industry and has an impressive pool from which to draw performers and fans.
He has arranged private parties in local resort areas featuring acts such as Travis Tritt, Asleep at the Wheel, Dan Tyminski and others.
With his outgoing personality, a constant smile, endless energy and a love for what he does, Johnson has a will to succeed and plans to turn the former fairgrounds into a destination, pure and simple.
"I want to bring money into the local economy, and I've already established relationships with business owners who are jumping on board to help sponsor and promote our endeavors," he said.
"It's a win-win situation for everyone involved," Johnson added.
Interested parties have also inquired about hosting corporate picnics, school/family reunions, etc. - something he will make available, he said, "at reasonable rates."
Johnson is also looking into a request to promote ASU home football games with Friday night bonfires.
Confirmed public events for the summer include the High Country MusicFest (July 17), featuring John Cowan, Balsam Range and numerous other local and regionally acclaimed bands;
Boone Bike Rally (motorcycles) (Aug. 13-14); and the increasingly popular Music on the Mountaintop (Aug. 27- 28), which in its third year, was recently named one of the nation's top music festivals by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
"This place needs some TLC, but we've begun to make improvements. We keep it mowed and want it to be a great place for the community to enjoy. We are open to ideas and invite everyone to feel a part of a new day at the fairgrounds," Johnson said.
"I'm getting a lot of support, and it's a good feeling to have the confidence of the local people. I'm going to do everything I can to make this a great place for everyone involved."
He knows that Mother Nature can always put a twist in anyone's outdoor plans and said the weather is out of his control, but he will do everything else he can to make someone's special event a time to remember.
Campsites with electrical hook-ups are also available on site.
For more information, contact Johnson at (828) 733-8060 or visit his current website at http://www.highcountrybluegrassfestival.com.