The Dogwood Festival has transformed into something more than an annual springtime community celebration. These days, the event that began as a showcase for the city’s downtown is a full-fledged music fair, offering a diverse array of local and national talent. Recent Dogwood Festival music entertainment such as .38 Special, Collective Soul, Ray J, Hootie & The Blowfish and JoJo have helped attract record crowds to downtown and Festival Park for the three-day April event. The 2010 Dogwood Festival continues to up the ante on the event’s growing reputation as a premiere musical happening. The Gin Blossoms, who were chosen to perform through a vote by fans, take the stage at Festival Park on the second night of the festival. The band responsible for hits like “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” will be accompanied on Saturday night by Soul Asylum, a contemporary of the Gin Blossoms in early 1990s alterna-pop. For country music fans, Grammy-nominated star Joe Nichols headlines the first night of the Dogwood Festival on Friday. But the music doesn’t stop when these feature performers are through. Throughout the three-day festival, local musical acts from Fayetteville and all over North Carolina will fill the air with sweet sounds. (See Page 43 for a listing.) That sounds like Nichols’ kind of party. “Performing live in front of an audience is the biggest thrill,” Nichols said during a recent tour stop in Jackson, Miss. “I think that’s probably the No. 1 thing for me. There are a lot of bonuses, but seeing people’s reactions while I’m performing is what it’s all about.” The Gin Blossoms beat out Night Ranger and KC and the Sunshine Band when Dogwood Festival organizers opened up the choice for Saturday night’s entertainment to local fans. It’s not hard to understand why; the Gin Blossoms’ debut LP, 1992’s “New Miserable Experience,” helped define popular music’s sound in that era. The Tempe, Ariz.-based band scored hits with songs such as “Until I Fall Away” and “Follow You Down” by focusing more on accessible melodies and relatable songwriting themes than its grunge-music counterparts also dominating the early 1990s airwaves. “It was definitey the grunge movement,” said Gin Blossoms guitarist Scotty Johnson. “Every magazine had a picture of (Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain) on it or (Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell). It was hard professionally to compete with that. And then we went over to Europe and it was the same thing.” But The Gin Blossoms broke through, leaving an indelible mark on the era’s music scene. The band’s second full-length release, “Congratulations I’m Sorry,” was even more successful than “New Miserable Experience,” selling over 10 million to date. But the album came on the heels of the death of guitarist and primary songwriter Doug Hopkins, who penned the Gin Blossoms’ biggest hits before disagreements over the band’s direction eventually forced him out. The band took nearly 10 years off before releasing its latest offering, “Major Lodge Victory” in 2006. In May of 2009, the Gin Blossoms released a live album featuring many of their memorable songs. The band is planning another album to be released sometime this year. “We don’t want to get stuck in the same groove, but at the same time we do want to get stuck in the same groove,” Johnson said. “We know what we do well , and we know what we like. Generally, we’re not too much into trying to reinvent the wheel.” Soul Asylum enjoyed a near-identical ascent to pop stardom. The band’s 1992 release “Grave Dancers Union” featuring the breakout hit “Runaway Train” turned Soul Asylum into one of the biggest acts in music. That same year, they were invited to play their single at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Soul Asylum would later gain even more notoriety due to lead singer Dave Pirner’s relationship with movie star Winona Ryder.