By Kellie Gentry
Fayetteville will host its 32nd Annual Dogwood Festival on April 25-27. The three-day attraction continues to bring thousands of local residents and tourists to the heart of downtown Fayetteville each year to see artists, vendors, live entertainment and more!
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to see what the city’s spring celebration is all about, picture a fair-like setup in the middle of downtown Fayetteville, complete with colorful tents exuding smells of deep-fried goodness and barbecue, screams of fear and joy coming from thrilling carnival rides and lots of people hanging out and ultimately having a good time.
“I always go to the festival,” said Kristin Matthewson, a Raeford resident of six years. “I like that I can sit on a blanket, listen to good music and enjoy the North Carolina weather.”
The Gin Blossoms, Who Are We and the Nantucket Band have performed on the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival stage, but this year’s act has been a long time coming.
Headlining the stage Friday night will be the Marshall Tucker Band (pictured above), a Southern country rock band that has been performing hits, such as “Can’t You See” and “Heard It In A Love Song,” since the early 70s.
The Marshall Tucker Band plays a blend of rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, country and gospel music that has mesmerized its audience for generations.
The band is led by singer Doug Gray, who is the only original member still playing today. Other current members include B.B. Borden on the drums, Pat Elwood with bass and vocals, Marcus James Henderson playing the keyboard, saxophone and flute as well as singing vocals and Chris Hicks along with Rick Willis on guitar and vocals.
Although the original band has changed its members since its start, they are still able to keep the good times rolling. In fact, the band’s tour schedule is so full of performances that parties looking to book MTB must do so almost a year in advance and has never been available during the festival in years past. Except this year!
But Carrie King, executive director of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, says landing the only available gig during the last weekend in April will cause a change in the festival’s usual live entertainment schedule.
“We normally do country on Friday and Rock on Saturday, but we switched it this year,” she said.
Saturday night’s country music concert will feature John Michael Montgomery (pictured above), a Kentucky native whose heartfelt songs include “Love You Like That” and “Letters from Home.”
“He’s old school, but old school works for us,” King said.
Sunday’s performance will feature beach music with perfect mood-setting tunes to coincide with the day’s relaxed atmosphere.
In addition to live entertainment, the festival will spotlight street vendors, from arts and crafts and commercial goods, to information about local non-profit organizations and event sponsors and all types of food.
Festival patrons in years past have enjoyed wok-fired soba noodles cooked with fresh, seasonal vegetables, and doused in a secret Hawaiian sauce from Island Noodles and piping hot funnel cakes covered in powdered sugar from Tropical Island Concessions. Who’s to say, this year’s lineup will be any less mouth-watering?
Irma Trantham, a resident of the Fayetteville area for many years, has been going to the festival for as long as she can remember.
“Oh, the food is great,” she said, recalling empanadas as her favorite treat.
These meat-filled pastries served at the festival remind Trantham of her Puerto Rican heritage, she said.
“It’s very encouraging to see embrace different cultures,” she said.
One culture that is always prominent at the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival is that of the South.
“If it’s fried, we have it: fried brownies, fried pickles, there’s a little bit of everything,” King laughingly said.
Food vendors might be a top priority for some, but others come for the shopping.
“I am excited about the commercial vendors—the unique boutique stores,” King said. “It’s not the typical things you can find at the mall. I think that is what is exciting about the vendors and what you can shop for at Dogwood. These are specialty items that are unique to the street fair experience.”
Vendors will line the streets: from the Market House down to Hay Street until Huske Hardware House Restaurant and Brewery, curving down Ray Street toward the public library and through the promenade to Festival Park.
In the past, the event has been cash-only. However, this year is expected to be more customer-friendly and participants will be able to use credit/debit cards.
The Fayetteville Dogwood Festival is always packed with entertainment for people of all ages and this year’s event is turning up the intensity.
New to the 400 block, which runs from Huske Hardware to City Hall, will be a multiple ramp bicycle motocross show performed by the athletes of Solution Action Sports.
Some of the best BMX athletes in the world, including Diamondback Bicycles sponsored athletes Rob Armour and Chris Gerber (pictured right), will be performing live in the streets of Fayetteville. And multiple ramps mean multiple opportunities for the athletes to perform jumps and bring a bigger course visual with twice the action.
This thrilling sports team is making some bold statements on and off the ramp.
Solution Action Sports promotes what they call, “education through entertainment,” by using their athletes to teach things like drug awareness, healthy lifestyles, anti-bullying and helmet safety in school assemblies.
Justin Hardin, a representative from Solution Action Sports, said the company uses the athletes as real life examples of hard work and perseverance to inspire starry-eyed kids to achieve their own goals of becoming professional athletes.
Festivalgoers will even get the chance to meet and take a photo with the athletes and receive a free, signed poster in between each show.
King said the show was brought in to bridge the gap for youth too old for the children’s activities, making the Dogwood truly an event fun enough for the whole family.
The Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, a local non-profit organization that provides the support adults need to help children succeed, hosts the Partnerships’ KidStuff activities, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday in Festival Park and it will be a party.
This year’s theme is Celebrating 20 Years Championing Children's First 2,000 Days. Kids, toddler to five years of age, are invited to the big birthday bash that will be complete with birthday hats, games, treats and important information for parents regarding resources for their young children.
The Partnership for Children of Cumberland County is an advocate for developing life-long learners who will grow educationally, socially and emotionally to lead the community in the future.
The Partnership KidStuff has become an exciting part of the festival and continues to provide resources to parents, such as Army Community Service, Cumberland County Library & Public Information Center, Fayetteville Storm Water Services and many child care providers and summer camps, through PNC Bank’s Grow up Great interactive exhibit featured at the festival.
Eva Hansen, President of PFC, and her staff invite parents to come explore these resources to help ensure that their child’s first 2,000 days of life are successful.
The 2014 festival will also include time-honored experiences, like carnival rides, the Lafayette Ford Car Show, the Battle of the Badges and a glimpse of the newly crowned Miss Fayetteville Dogwood Festival queens.
The Lafayette Ford Car Show will take place Sunday for its 16th year in the Dogwood Festival. About 100 classic and vintage cars will be on display in the 400 block of Hay Street, bringing feelings of nostalgia and excitement to viewers.
The Fayetteville police and fire departments will battle it out in the series of crowd-pleasing challenges Saturday afternoon.
Young ladies six to 22-years-old will compete in the Miss Fayetteville Dogwood Festival pageant in mid-April to serve as representatives of the city and its festival throughout the Southeastern region. Community service is also recognized at the pageant by the J.L. Dawkins Community Spirit Award, named for the late Mayor J.L. Dawkins.
All in all, King said she is proud of what the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival has become.
“We still stay true to our roots, which means highlighting and showcasing artists and vendors in our community, all with the backdrop of celebrating the arrival of spring,” King said, “but over the years, I think it has blossomed into something bigger. We’re a leader in the industry.”
Both King and Bryan Moore, the 2014 chairman of the Dogwood Festival board, remember the “farmer’s market feel” of the event in the early years and recognize the now-extravagant event as a result of the hard work staff and volunteers put into it all year round.
Moore started his involvement with the festival as a voluntold, a term the festival staff has coined to name the family members and friends of the board who volunteer because they are told to do so.
“Whatever my mom told me to do, I had to do,” Moore admitted. His mother, Ramona Moore, has been on the festival board for too many years to count, he said.
“It’s an honor to, because my mom has been on the board for so long,” he said.
Moore and his family started participating in the event by cooking pigs to feed the festival volunteers, and now sell hot dogs and hamburgers during the event—time he said he is grateful to spend with his family.
Families come from all over to enjoy the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival.
“It used to be that ‘relax, come stroll downtown feel, and now it’s a destination,” King said.
“The city building Festival Park took a lot of insight on their part, to be able to see how it could enhance our community and specifically, our event. It’s named Festival Park for a reason. It’s really enhanced what we do.”
Festival Park, located at the corner of Ray Avenue and Rowan Street in downtown, opened in the spring of 2007 and has been a welcoming space for this and other defining events in the Fayetteville community.
Although the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival seemingly contains the perfect combination of food, entertainment and nostalgia, remaining a free event while maintaining the quality has been a struggle with the economy, King said.
“We are fortunate to have the support of our sponsors and our community.”
According to King and Moore, volunteers make the event a success each year. If you are interested in volunteering for the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the www.faydogwoodfestival.com for more information.
While she doesn’t foresee the event growing larger in size, King’s vision for the future of the event is to continue to give a quality experience.
“We want our patrons to walk away satisfied and with a great experience,” King said.
The festival will run April 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., April 26 from noon to 10:00 p.m. and April 27 from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission is free. Please visit www.faydogwoodfestival.com for updates on the event.