After a topsy-turvy year in 2020 that severely affected businesses, especially the entertainment industry, virtually every usual festival hosted in the High Country was forced to suspend activities in the era of COVID-19.
Following a difficult year of gathering restrictions and heeding health protocols, light is perhaps seen at the end of the tunnel as the proliferation of vaccines and the reopening of counties and states provide hope for festival venues and activities to resume with some level of normalcy.
Traditionally, festivals throughout the High Country are filled with revelers and activities that range from bluegrass and Celtic music to fine arts and symphonies, from hand-created artwork to varieties of performing arts through drama, dance and more. A number of the long-standing festival events look to make their return amid safe guidelines in the summer of 2021.
The following is a listing and brief descriptions of events that are scheduled as of press time to occur during the summer season. As with any public events taking place in the current climate, events can be subject to change, so it’s recommended to consult event websites and area chambers of commerce to the most up-to-date details, including confirmation that the events are taking place, any pandemic-related restrictions in place related to the event, and any additional information to guide your visit.
Blowing Rock Art in the Park (May 22 , June 12, July 17, Aug. 14, Sept. 11, and Oct. 2)
Art in the Park was created in 1962 by a handful of area artists and craftspeople to showcase local talent. Today, Art in the Park is host to dozens of fine art and craft vendors at each show. Some of the best local and regional artists and craftspeople showcase their handcrafted jewelry, pottery, fiber, glass, photography, painting and more.
Art in the Park’s high standards and professional jury attract artisans from all over the Southeast to exhibit in a series of six shows, May through October. The quality of work exhibited draws thousands to the area each month.
Art in the Park is planned and administered by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, who noted that there will be a reduced number of vendors to allow for social distancing and that the parking shuttle will be available during each show this year.
Enjoy arts and crafts from award-winning and acclaimed artisans. Artists are jury-selected and each show features a different set of artists, curated to present a wide variety of mediums. Find gifts and works for personal collections, functional beauties like furniture and cutlery, and wearable art like handcrafted jewelry and textiles. Artists’ tents line Park Avenue right in downtown Blowing Rock so attendees can enjoy proximity to other shopping, as well as dining options and local parks.
Artist tents extend along Park Avenue, from Main Street to Wallingford Street in downtown Blowing Rock.
Free shuttle for parking is available by taking the Art in the Park Shuttle to save the time and effort looking for a downtown parking space. The free shuttle runs from plentiful free parking at Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway right to the Art in the Park entrance. The shuttle has the same hours as the show: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s only a few minutes ride and the shuttle runs continuously. Look for the red trolley!
Free parking is also available in the Maple Street lot and in the parking decks on Wallingford St. and at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum. Some lots, like Rumple Church and Blowing Rock School, charge a small charity fee for parking.
For updated schedule of artists and more information, click to blowingrock.com/artinthepark or call (828) 295-7851.
Art on the Greene - Banner Elk (May 29-30, July 3-4, Aug. 7-8 and Sept. 4-5)
Visitors are invited to shop the many fine regional and national artists, enjoy good food and experience the welcoming town of Banner Elk. During holiday weekends in the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, the courtyard outside the Cultural Arts Center at Historic Banner Elk School in downtown Banner Elk comes alive with dozens of vendors plying myriad media of crafts and art at the Art on the Greene event.
Master craftsmen from all over the eastern U.S. will be demonstrating and selling their work, as a wide variety of mediums will be represented, including jewelry, pottery, fiber, clothing, dogs carriers and clothing, fused glass, carving, furniture, watercolor, photography, woodworking, handmade soap and fresh goat cheese.
Art on the Greene is located on Azalea Circle in downtown Banner Elk. For more information, click to www.townofbannerelk.org/beshows or call (828) 898-8395.
Boone Bike Rally (June 4 and 5)
Gear heads are encouraged to get their motors running to attend the Boone Bike Rally on the weekend of Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5, at High Country Fairgrounds, located at 748 Roby Greene Rd. in Boone. The rally includes bike contests, live music from several classic rock-and-roll bands, swap meet, burnout pit and more. For more information, click to www.boonebikerally.com.
Roan Mountain (Tenn.) Rhododendron Festival (June 19 and 20)
Just across the state line near the high-altitude apex of Roan Mountain comes the annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival. Coinciding with the beautiful blooms of the rhododendrons dotting the landscape of the mountain, the festival began in June 1947, conceived and carried out by the Roan Mountain Citizens Club as a two-day celebration to memorialize and perpetuate the most gorgeous display of natural beauty on the North American continent.
Originally the festival was held at the top of Roan Mountain, and in recent years the festival is held in Roan Mountain State Park, located at the foot of Roan Mountain on Hwy. 143 and features handmade crafts, food, and a variety of traditional music, plus an array of old-time folkway demonstrations.
An Appalachian Summer Festival - Boone (month of July)
Appalachian State University’s annual summer arts attraction, An Appalachian Summer Festival proudly celebrates its 37th season.
This month-long whirlwind of music, dance, theatre, visual arts and film programming has emerged as one of the nation’s leading regional arts festivals. After last summer’s transition to all-virtual programming, the festival is pleased to return to a full schedule of events featuring a variety of in-person outdoor and indoor performances, along with additional live-streaming and virtual options. AASF will feature nearly 30 days of live, in-person, socially distanced and COVID-compliant performances starting July 2.
The season will be staged across two outdoor venues, including Kidd Brewer Stadium and the State Farm Road Concert Lot, a university-owned space adjacent to the Greenway Trail, which will be outfitted as an outdoor theatrical stage with pod seating to ensure a fun, festive and safe concert setting. The Schaefer Center will host several limited-attendance events, including performances that offer two different show times and livestream options. The 35th Anniversary Rosen Walk, Turchin Center exhibition openings, and a variety of virtual offerings round out the festival's diverse arts menu this summer.
For more information, click to www.appsummer.org or call the box office at (828) 262-4046.
Grandfather Mountain Highland Games - Linville (July 8 to 11)
The annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games will be held from July 8 to 11 on Grandfather Mountain near Linville. The Highland Games is the largest Scottish festival in the nation and features more than 100 represented clans, live Celtic and various displays of Celtic culture.
The Games features events such as the turning of the caber, the Scottish hammer throw, and the tossing of the sheaf. People can also enjoy bagpipe, fiddle and pipe and drum contests, sheep herding, workshops and tracing their Scottish ancestry.
General ticket prices to attend GMHG this year are as follows:
- Four-day advanced pass with shuttle: $75 (age 13 and older); $30 (5 to 12 years old)
- Four-day advanced pass without shuttle: $55 (age 13 and older); $20 (5 to 12 years old)
- Thursday evening session (4 to 11 p.m.): $15 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Friday all-day session (9 a.m. to 11 p.m.): $20 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Friday evening session only (7 to 11 p.m.): $15 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Saturday all day session (8 a.m. to 11 p.m.): $30 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Saturday evening session only (6:30 to 11 p.m.): $15 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Sunday session (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $15 (age 13 and older); $5 (5 to 12 years old)
- Sunday Family Pass (up to two adults and two kids): $75
To purchase tickets, an events guide or for more information, click to www.gmhg.org or call (828) 733-1333.
Fine Arts and Master Crafts Festivals - Sugar Mountain (July 16-18 and Aug. 13-15)
Sugar Mountain Resort plays host to a pair of Fine Arts and Master Crafts Festivals in the months of July and August.
The juried festivals feature an eclectic gathering of unique handcrafted wares from fine artists and master crafters. Fine art examples are photography, paintings, jewelry , sculpture, pottery, weaving, glass art, wood crafts, wood furniture, specialty candles, body care & soaps and many more. The Avery Fine Art & Master Crafts Festival benefits the Avery County Chamber of Commerce.
Hours of the festival are 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and admission is free.
For more information, click to averycounty.com/chamber-events/fine-art-master-crafts-festivals.
Chetola Symphony by the Lake - Blowing Rock (July 21)
Experience a moving performance by the Symphony of the Mountains, surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge. Take your seat on the grass by Chetola Lake, under the evening sky. Bring a picnic to enjoy with friends and family, or purchase meals from caterers at the event. The performance ends with a spectacular fireworks show.
Officials encourage attendees to park at one of the parking decks/areas in Blowing Rock and also at Tweetsie Railroad and ride the shuttle to the event. In an effort to alleviate traffic at the symphony, all the shuttles will unload and load at the back entrance to Chetola at Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway beside the Polo Outlet. Please save the Food Lion parking area for the handicapped and mobility challenged.
Those handicapped or mobility challenged can catch the shuttle at the Food Lion Parking Lot, and is the only shuttle that will unload and load on the symphony lawn at Chetola.
General Admission tickets for the symphony are $40 for adults in advance/$50 day of show, and $15 for children under 12 years of age. A small section located just in front of the symphony tent will be fenced off with reserved seats and shared side tables, a charcuterie box (meats, cheeses, fruit and olives) with two beverage tickets and water. This Audiophile section is limited to 100 seats, with tickets available for $100.
Tickets are available online or in person at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, and may be purchased from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with no refunds on tickets.
For more information, click to symphonybythelake.com or call (828) 295-7851.
NC Mineral and Gem Festival - Spruce Pine (July 29-Aug. 1)
The North Carolina Mineral and Gem Festival is celebrating its 61st year as one of the oldest and most popular mineral and gem shows in the country from July 29 to Aug. 1. The festival takes place in the area of Spruce Pine, and features gem, jewelry and mineral dealers from across the country showcasing various merchandise. The event also offers mine tours.
The festival takes place Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 12:30 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Festival admission tickets are sold at the door on the day of the event. Admission is $4 for adults, children 10 and under are free, and tickets are only $2 on Thursday for senior citizens.
For more information, click to www.ncgemfest.com or call (828) 765-9033.
Ashe County Studio Tour (Aug. 7-8)
The Ashe County Arts Council will sponsor the Ashe County Studio Tour, a two-day, self-guided, free event in which Ashe County artists open their studios to the public on Aug. 7 and 8.
Tour participants will discover art studios located all over the county – in and around West Jefferson, Jefferson, Crumpler, Laurel Springs, Todd, Creston, Warrensville and Lansing. Most of the studios are not usually open to the public, so this is a rare opportunity for people to see where these artists work and at select locations, to watch them as they create their art. And it doesn’t hurt that getting there takes you through some of the most beautiful mountain countryside the High Country has to offer!
For more information, click to ashecountyarts.org/studio-tour or call (336) 846-2787.
Mile-High Kite Festival - Beech Mountain (Labor Day weekend)
On Labor Day weekend, children of all ages are invited to cover Beech Mountain’s blue skies with kites of all shapes and colors. Located at more than 5,000 feet in elevation, the meadow behind Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria makes it easy to sail kites more than a mile above sea level.
This free, family friendly event features craft and food vendors, music and contests with prizes awarded for the biggest kite, smallest kite and best decorated. Other activities include races with kids pulling parachute kites, face painting and kite-flying demonstrations given by the professional kite flying clubs.
Don’t have a kite? Fret not. Kites are available for sale, and the first 150 kids (age 12 and under) each day receive a free one. For more information, click to beechmountainresort.com or call (828) 387-9283.
MerleFest - Wilkesboro (Sept. 16-19)
For one year only, the annual music festival will be held in the late summer, this year from September 16 to 19.
MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, serves as an annual homecoming for musicians and music fans. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson.
MerleFest is a celebration of ‘traditional plus’ music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts numerous artists, performing on 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
Tickets for MerleFest 2021 go on sale Thursday, June 10, at the following prices:
- Four-day reserved seating (rows 1-35) (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) - Early Bird (purchased June 10 to Sept. 15): $270 (plus taxes and fees)
- Four-day reserved seating (rows 36-56) - Early Bird (purchased June 10 to Sept. 15): $245 (plus taxes and fees)
- Four-day patio seating: $400 (plus taxes and fees)
- Four-day General Admission - Early Bird (purchased June 10 to Sept. 15): $190 (plus taxes and fees)
- Three-day General Admission (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) - Early Bird (purchased June 10 to Sept. 15): $170 (plus taxes and fees)