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Appalachian Theatre announces opening; first concert is Oct. 14
Tickets on sale Oct. 7

BOONE — The leadership team at the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country announced that the final phase of construction has been completed and that the newly renovated 1938 landmark will begin operations this month.

The first performance will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, when John McEuen, founder of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, will be joined by his current band The String Wizards for a concert titled, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

“The name of that event is fortuitous since we’ve now come full circle with this project,” said John Cooper, chair of the theatre’s board of trustees. “What began as the ‘Save The Appalachian Theatre’ task force in December 2011 has grown to involve over 500 volunteers and thousands of community stakeholders, all of whom have given generously of their time, talent and resources to make this dream become a reality.”

Photo submitted 

John McEuen and The String Wizards perform Monday, Oct. 14, at the newly reopened Appalachian Theatre in downtown Boone.

Laura Kratt, executive director of the ATHC, has programmed a diverse slate of offerings for the opening weeks of the theatre, designed to show off the venue and its many production capabilities.

“While staying true to the original purpose as a movie theater, we’re showcasing regional and national artists,” Kratt said. In addition to John McEuen, the October schedule includes the Halloween film “Hocus Pocus” on Oct. 25 and 26.

In an effort to thank the community for their continued support, several free events have been programmed during the opening weeks. Friday, Oct. 4, marked the beginning of a monthlong exhibit at the Jones House on the Appalachian Theatre sponsored by Digital Watauga, the Watauga Historical Society and the Watauga Public Library. A historical lecture by Eric Plaag, chair of Digital Watauga, about “Western Carolina’s Finest Theatre” will be given on Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the theatre.

Also free is a performance by the popular U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors, a 19-piece ensemble that is the official touring band of the United States Army. They will perform a Big Band concert for the general public on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Additional programming will be announced at least twice each month and will include both community-based events and outside rentals, such as the Appalachian Opera Theatre performing “Die Fledermaus” on Nov. 8 and 10 and the Carolina Snowbelles on Dec. 13 and 14. Kratt said members of the theatre’s email list will be the first persons notified once programs are announced and go on sale.

Tickets to the general public for the first month’s events are only available online at www.apptheatre.org beginning Monday, Oct. 7. For information about phone ticket orders and in person sales, call (828) 865-3000. Note that the theatre’s onsite box office hours are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and one hour prior to each curtain. The Appalachian Theatre is located at 559 West King St. in downtown Boone, next to the Boone Town Hall.

Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country Inc. 

The Appalachian Theatre’s facade is pictured upon opening in November 1938.

Kratt said that “visitors to the theatre will see many of the Art Deco features from the 1938 design replicated in all their glory, including the historic façade and original marquee, the signature striping on the vaulted ceiling in the audience chamber, the side panels on the interior walls, the end plates on each row of seats, the pattern of the carpeting, the metallic ceiling tiles in the lobby, etc.”

In addition, Kratt noted that four of the six wall Art Deco lighting sconces from the 1950 post-fire renovation have been located, carefully restored and installed in their original locations. The theatre is asking for assistance from the general public to find the remaining two sconces.

The expanded lobby now includes areas that were formerly occupied by the Appalachian Soda Shop, the Dacus Radio Shop and Lillian Mae Beauty Shop. These spaces have been combined and repurposed with audience comfort in mind to include new, larger restroom facilities, multiple concession stands, convenient elevator access and a box office and patron services area.

A spacious, 1,700-square-foot community room has been added to the theatre in the area above the lobby, which once housed several doctor’s offices, exam rooms and a rental apartment. Kratt says the demand for this space is high as it can accommodate receptions, smaller performing arts events, film screenings, lectures, meetings for groups of 150 or more and sit-down dinners for approximately 90 guests. It can be accessed separately from the main theatre, providing for concurrent events where practicable.

The key feature in the Community Room is a series of historically inspired mural friezes by internationally known artist Brenda Mauney Councill. She specializes in large-scale murals and noted that her designs for the community room are “consistent with the thematic period styles identified as Art Deco and Moderne.”

Audience capacity in the theatre has been reduced from its original 999 seats to 620, with improved sight lines, wider seats, cushioned chairs, more legroom between each row and staggered placement of rows so that patrons look between those located in front of them.

Behind the scenes, artists will enjoy an expanded stage area, ample dressing rooms, loading dock and assembly room, service elevator, orchestra pit and technical production booth from which the state-of-the art lighting, sound and projection systems will be operated.

In explaining the Appalachian Theatre’s importance to this community, Cooper said, “It preserves one of the most historic and iconic structures in the High Country and provides a vitally important stage for so many talented folks who live here, and audience members young and old alike. The theatre benefits all of us by providing a performance venue for many forms of entertainment, including film and lectures. The Appalachian is a venue to attract nationally known talent, create jobs, revitalize Boone’s downtown district and serve as a significant economic driver for the region.”

Photo by Kayla Lasure 

The Executive Committee of the Appalachian Theatre gathers together inside of the theater. Front row: Executive Director Laura Kratt, Chairman John Cooper, Secretary Gail Hearn and attorney Jim Deal. Back row: Vice Chairman Frank Mohler, Vice Chairman Keith Martin and Treasurer Bob Neill.

The theatre, which has changed hands several times since it opened in 1938, was acquired in 2013 by a nonprofit entity, the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, with the intention of restoring the theatre to its original glory days. Now complete, the facility can accommodate hundreds of attractions each season, including live music, theater, opera, film and community activities. These events will result in increased visits to the region with many of these visitors staying in the area overnight, enjoying restaurant meals and shopping in the various retail establishments located in the High Country, the theatre said.

Kratt emphasized that the capital campaign continues in order to reach the final fundraising goal and to create both operating and programming funds. A “Take-A-Seat” effort is underway to outfit and furnish the venue for optimum comfort, with donor recognition given to each participant.

Reflecting on his idea from nearly a decade ago to acquire and renovate the venerable theatre, Cooper said, “Foremost among the many emotions I’m feeling are a sense of gratitude, a feeling of civic pride and heartfelt appreciation to the countless individuals, organizations, board members, elected officials, town and county staff, businesses, corporations, foundations, contractors and vendors who have made this theatre their own personal project. Everyone should take pride in what we’ve accomplished together.”

To learn more about the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, sign up for its mailing list, participate in its “Take-A-Seat” campaign or to contribute to the annual fund, visit the website at www.apptheatre.org.

Blowing Rock council debates WinterFest beer garden location

BLOWING ROCK – The location of the K9 Keg Pull and beer garden at the 2020 Blowing Rock WinterFest is undecided after the Blowing Rock Town Council tabled an application to use Park Avenue and the Blowing Rock Police Department’s parking lot as the new locations for the events during the council’s Oct. 8 meeting.

The motion will be brought back to a special meeting of town council after The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce goes over different proposed locations recommended by council, with the special meeting date and time to be announced within the next two weeks.

The special events application was presented by Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation director Jennifer Brown, as well as Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Suzy Barker, which they said is the result of feedback from all town departments.

Brown said the idea is to close Park Avenue from Main Street to Wallingford Avenue on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 for the K9 Keg Pull event, moving the event from in front of the American Legion Hall, which also hosted the festival’s beer garden.

The reason for the proposed move was that the event, which debuted at WinterFest in 2019, resulted in more attendees than expected, all of who crammed into the small space.

Barker said having the K9 Keg Pull on Park Avenue would allow better crowd control and having the beer garden in the BRPD’s parking lot would allow for better ID control, adding additional barricades to prevent people from entering anywhere other than the parking lot’s entrance. Councilman Doug Matheson noted that Police Chief Aaron Miller had problems with ID checks in 2019.

The defined areas for the K9 Keg Pull and beer garden would make those two areas different, with Brown noting that the keg pull had families attending and that in January, the two areas were basically squished together.

Councilwoman Sue Sweeting expressed her concern with closing off the street for residents, as well as potentially blocking snow removal equipment and police parking.

Another concern by Sweeting centered on ethical issues, regarding having a beer garden next to Blowing Rock’s Memorial Parks well as in the parking lot with kids playing in it of the town’s police force.

“I think it’ll come back to the town that we’re promotion alcohol and selling it in town near the police station,” Sweeting said. “I just didn’t like the beer garden being in the police parking lot.”

Sweeting made a motion to approve the application, but with moving the events to Davant Field, several hundred yards away from Main Street and most of the WinterFest events.

Barker said that for the chamber, Park Avenue, which is where the chamber offices reside, and the adjacent BRPD parking lot were the best options.

“I think it’s important to keep people close to town and close to businesses,” Barker said. “I believe the event will be more successful the closer it is to town.”

Sweeting brought up the idea of shuttles taking people to Davant Field, saying it could be similar to how they do for Tanger Outlets. Barker noted that the shuttle offered during WinterFest from Tanger is already a big expense for a event operating on a budget.

Councilwoman Virginia Powell said that Davant field could handle the crowds and noted at the Cycle N.C. event, for which she volunteered, seemed to work and that cyclists were fine walking to town and back.

Miller said that moving the beer garden to the BRPD parking lot was actually his idea, saying it’s a controllable area. Miller added that moving the K9 Keg Pull to Park Avenue would take up the fewest amount of parking spaces for visitors, noting the parking deck in January for the K9 Keg Pull was blocked off due to the throngs of people.

Miller also said there could be an emergency lane for access on Park Avenue for residents and emergency vehicles alike.

As far as the “visual” of beer drinking next to the park, Barker said the vender tents will have their backs to the park and block some of the view, also noting that the hope is never to have excessive drinking.

The vendor plan is for nine beer vendors, plus Speckled Trout which would be sponsoring the event.

Barker said beer garden patrons would receive 12 tickets; one gets you a sample of beer and four at a time gets you a pint of beer, with additional tickets available for purchase. Councilman Albert Yount asked Miller how drunk would someone be if they drank three beers, to which Miller responded that by rule of thumb, one beer equals a 0.2 blood alcohol content on the breathlyzer and three beers consumed in an hour would mean a 0.6 BAC, although Miller said it’s different for everyone depending on food consumption and metabolization.

Matheson brought up the idea of having the beer garden to the side of the American Legion, to which Barker said it would bottleneck the entrance into the parking deck. Brown said it would be OK if you have people controlling traffic going in and out of the parking deck. Sweeting said she liked the idea, since it saves Park Avenue resident access.

Councilman Jim Steele said the best thing to do is for Barker and Brown to bring it back later since he felt the debate would continue on for a long time.

“Since we can’t come to an agreement, I suggest reworking it,” Steele said. I don’t see how we can make a decision on this tonight.”

Barker said bringing the proposal back to the November town council would be difficult due to the need to submit ABC permits for approval, as well as selling tickets to the event.

Blowing Rock Police Chief Aaron Miller presented Lt. Lance Dotson and Officer Caleb Hildebran with life-saving awards for separate incidents.

For Dotson, the incident took place in December 2016 when, according to Miller, he was at home and heard a crash noise and the power went out. Dotson went outside where he found a vehicle that had struck a utility pole and was on fire, according to Miller, then assisted the driver in getting out. Miller said the department was unaware of the incident until recently when the driver’s mother came to the department’s office to thank him, as Dotson did not tell anyone.

Robert Fleming, district officer with the National Park Service, presented Officer Dwaine Brooks and Hildebran with exemplary act awards for treating and unresponsive male at the Moses Cone Estate on July 26. Fleming said that Hildebran responded to the call and was giving CPR while Brooks used an AED to shock the person back to life.

Dylan Powell, a graduate student at Appalachian State University, unveiled the results of a Blowing Rock Police Department survey he had worked on for the town. Powell said there were 436 responses, more than the 200 he was anticipating. The questions asked citizens how they perceived BRPD and most of the answers were positive, Powell reported. Many of the adverse responses, Powell said, were in response to traffic or parking, but not toward the officers themselves. The results will be given to Miller in the next week, Powell said.

In other items discussed at the council meeting:

  • The council approved funding a fence between the new sidewalk and the basketball/pickleball court in Memorial Park.
  • A Legacy Trail handrail, gate and signage was approved.
  • Public Works Director Matt Blackburn informed council that the water line replacement at Heather Ridge was completed. Blackburn said that residents has complained of dirty and stagnant water.
  • Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox updated town council that the Sunset Drive streetscape project is on schedule to be completed by the end of November, with concrete and asphalt as the last items to be done.
  • Fox told the town council that the long-anticipated Bass Lake Sidewalk project has gone out to bid.
  • Resident Gigi Poole spoke again about Legacy Trail after a $8,000 consent agenda item was passed, noting that the issue has been there for 10 months and counting.
  • Resident Bob Greene of Gideon Ridge Road asked council to do something about trucks and their jack brakes along U.S. 321, saying the noise rattled their houses and causes quite a commotion starting at 4 a.m Greene suggested lowering the truck speed limit from 35 to 20 or 25 mph would help solve the issue and said that the entire street is in favor.

Hardin named NC chamber executive of the year

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Charles Hardin was recognized as the 2019 North Carolina Chamber Executive of the Year by the the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives at its annual management conference on Oct. 4.

“Often times, the most powerful Chamber leaders tend to be peacocks,” an essay submitted about Hardin stated. “The bright stars in the room, the lead singers in the band who love to see and be seen, much like the mayor. When the Blowing Rock Chamber Board of Directors selected Charles Hardin as president, many people in our town said, ‘He’ll never make it! He’s way too introverted.’ But that’s exactly why Charles has been the best chamber leader Blowing Rock has ever seen. Charles is not the obnoxious lead singer in the band, but he’s a symphony conductor. He recognizes the beauty and importance of each individual instrument (voice) and is able to bring them all together harmoniously to create all sorts of different songs (projects, outcomes). This style of leadership is essential to our Chamber’s success.”

According to the Blowing Rock Chamber, the executive of the year award is given to “long-term executives who have excelled over a period of years in leading and innovatively building their chamber.

“The award is based on the demonstration of excellence in areas of chamber leadership, organizational management, service to the profession, community reputation / involvement, and personal attributes,” the Blowing Rock Chamber stated in a post on its website.

Silver anniversary for the silversmith: Gaines Kiker celebrates 25 years in Blowing Rock

BLOWING ROCK — After 25 years and four locations, Gaines Kiker’s silversmith and goldsmith store in Blowing Rock celebrated its 25th year in business at its Morris Street location on Oct. 3.

“This is a great place to live, I met my wife here, got married here, had both children here, they both went to Blowing Rock School, this town has definitely embraced me,” Kiker said. “The town has given me support to keep going.”

According to his website, Kiker’s silver designs draw from the simplicity of pure geometrical forms.

“Inspired by the lines of a natural rock formation or the curve of a building’s arch, Kiker’s work articulates balance, form and movement in clean, fluid lines,” the website states. “He is an artist who refines raw materials into simply elegant designs one is eager to wear every day.”

For more information about Kiker, visit his website www.gaineskikersilversmith.com.