Every year Fayettevillians look forward to the Dogwood Festival. I know that at CityView we begin anticipating after Christmas about the festival and one of our big questions is always, “Who’s playing this year?” We wait for Carrie King’s announcement at the Dogwood Media Day. We wonder who the big country acts will be and which longhaired rockers from the 1980s and 1990s will be reliving their glory days on the Festival Park stage.
This year we have young newcomer Mo Pitney who has played the Grand Ole Opry stage and top 10 country crooner Craig Campbell on Friday night and glam rock headbangers Quiet Riot and Warrant on Saturday.
As a newcomer (still) to Fayetteville, I did think to myself one day at my desk, How did the Dogwood Festival come to fruition? Who started it? Why? And to answer that question, I was pointed in the direction of former Mayor Bill Hurley.
“In 1982, the city was beautiful and we were looking for ways to promote Fayetteville,” explained Hurley. Wilmington’s Azalea Festival was popular, so the All-America city’s leaders were looking for ways to show off as well. But forget the azalea flowers, Fayetteville’s dogwoods heralded much more “bite” as the gorgeous arbors are prevalent around the city and county.
The first Dogwood Festival took a little less than a year to plan. Many different garden clubs, charities and other organizations held their annual events during the first Dogwood Festival, which was a weeklong extravaganza in 1983. Famed comedian Red Skelton was the first celebrity to grace the Dogwood Festival and he was most gracious in the fact that he signed, “ what must have been over 1,000 autographs” according to Hurley.
And of course, being a comedian, there was an ever-present sense of humor with Red. “During a press conference, a reporter asked how he slept, Red replied, ‘Not well. Those trees. They barked all night,’” Hurley remembered with a slight chuckle.
The First Father of Dogwood
As explained previously, Mayor Bill Hurley tapped downtown commercial real estate developer John Malzone in 1982 to lead the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival effort. “Oh Bill… he’s a prince,” emphasized Malzone when asked about his thoughts on Hurley. Both men were visionaries who were able to make the festival a reality, even in light of the decrepit and debaucherous state of downtown Fayetteville in those days (for those who remember). “Bill saw beyond that. It took so much courage to build downtown. Most people wanted to just bulldoze,” said Malzone.
“In those days, a lot of people did not feel good about Fayetteville. The Dogwood Festival’s intent was to make people realize that our city is a great place and in the springtime… one of the most beautiful places in the country,” said Malzone.
The Vietnam veteran turned real estate professional and event and community organizer explained that the Dogwood Festival started out with a board of over 25 movers and shakers in the community, led by a smaller board made up of Mayor Hurley, Malzone, the chairman of our Chamber, and the commanders of Pope Air Force Base and the 18th Airborne Corps teamed with the then-head of the county commission. “So with that we could do just about anything we wanted to,” Malzone humble bragged.
The Dogwood Festival began with no budget, aside from only $3,000 donated by Clyde Sullivan. In 2015, the budget is now in the hundreds of thousands. Monies that Carrie King and now Jackie Tuckey put to use in attracting hundreds of thousands of revelers to our city during the last weekend in April.
The Dogwood Festival may have started with a few founding fathers, but it’s now led by a duo of fabulous females.
Carrie King has been executive director of the festival since 2006 and longtime volunteer and City of Fayetteville Public Relations employee Jackie Tuckey is making her debut in 2015 as chair of the board.
Tuckey originated the vendor chair position with Dogwood Festival leadership. “Back when Sharon Moyer was executive director, I noticed that she would run around to all the different vendors, checking on things, the day of the event. I said ‘Sharon, you don’t have to take all of this on. I can do it…’ so that’s when I learned how to be the vendor chair,” said Tuckey. “My favorite part is getting all the vendors in, we’ve built a relationship with them over the years… we feel like family with a lot of them. We know them. We take care of them. And I think that’s really important.”
A 15-year volunteer with the Dogwood Festival, Tuckey enjoys logistics and ensuring the three-day event runs smoothly, much to King’s satisfaction. And she also makes it a family affair. “My son and daughter both grew up at the festival, working the soft drink booths when they were in high school. Now, my daughter lives in Halifax County, but she will be back this year… in my former position as the vendor chair,” explained Tuckey. “I think she’s looking forward to not having me in her hair, contrary to when she was helping as a teen.”
After the exhausting yet fulfilling and fun Dogwood Festival, King, Tuckey and the rest of the team meet to debrief, then take a summer break (aside from Fayetteville After 5). “But we hit the ground running again in September!” said Tuckey.
“I like to pull people together, make people happy and just have a good time.” And that sums up what the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival is truly all about.