The Dogwood Festival Rocks – Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA
Fayetteville is definitely a military town. As a matter of fact, the city is named after Revolutionary War hero, Marquis de LaFayette. In 1783, two small communities converged to create this entity. But there’s more than meets the eye where the largest military installation in the nation, Fort Bragg, is located.
Just six years after becoming Fayetteville, two more historical events would occur here: The University of North Carolina was chartered in 1789 and the North Carolina legislature delegates ratified the U.S. Constitution. The Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, hit his first professional home run at Fayetteville in March of 1914.
Fayetteville, a southeastern North Carolina city, offers great festivals year round and back to nature activities. It is also a haven for Civil War buffs, the latter two aspects will be covered in my later articles. In this first article I will discuss my attendance at Fayetteville’s 25th Annual Dogwood Festival held during the last weekend of April. Over 100,000 people visited this year’s festival, with the Saturday festivities bringing in some 65,000 people alone.
The importance of Dogwoods to Fayetteville is paramount. More than 25 years ago, 50,000 Dogwood trees had been planted along various Fayetteville streets. City officials wanted to celebrate the beauty of springtime and with that, the Dogwood Festival was born in 1983. The mayor at that time declared Fayetteville “The City of Dogwoods”. This year, it was held for the first time at Festival Park, which reflects the redevelopment of the downtown Fayetteville area. Previously, the Dogwood Festival was based in the heart of Fayetteville on Hay Street.
Overview and Opening Night Friday
Throughout the weekend, the festival was similar to a county fair, full of arts and crafts tables, food and toy stalls, quilt judging, carnival rides and special events to help raise money for community organizations. But for me and thousands of others, it was the music that took prevalence.
The weather had been breezy and rainy earlier in the afternoon. I was a bit concerned that my first Dogwood Festival would be soggy, but sunny skies held out. Opening night officially got underway when Mayor Chavonne honored his predecessor, Mayor Pitts and his administration for their vision in getting the Festival Park initiated amidst controversy. Pitts said that none of the city improvement projects that he and others pushed for came “without struggle”.
Opening night was spearheaded by the energetic music of southern rock group Nantucket – hails from the state of North Carolina. Over the years, Nantucket has been showcased with such rock icons as KISS and The Charlie Daniels Band. Nantucket’s heydays were the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they can still rock! One of the songs that really brought down the house had one musician playing the saxophone like a virtuoso.
This particular Friday night corresponded with the city’s monthly On Fourth Friday festivities, which take place nearby in the center of town. Fourth Friday celebrates the local arts and culture scene in the Hay Street area every fourth Friday of the month, except December.
Once again, the Festival Gods chose to provide perfect weather! Saturday was a day made especially for the children. Local community organizations set up an area for them, where the highlight was a presentation about sharks. One man lectured outside a 5,000 gallon tank, while a tank diver was inside hanging out with one nurse shark and one lemon shark (called that because its back is deep yellow). This diver was hugging the creatures! The lecturer stated that sharks can tell the difference between human and fish blood, preferring the latter. Still, I wouldn’t want to get cut while swimming in the ocean!
So many families with little babies were expected to attend, that the festival staff set up a Rock-A-Bye Baby tent for nursing mothers, which included rocking chairs and diaper changing tables. Many hands-on activities for the kids included fishing games, face painting, and picture frame creating. This kept them occupied throughout the day.
JoJo’s Performance a Let Down
Thousands of people jammed the 3.5-acre concert lawn that surrounds the stage in anticipation of pop star JoJo's appearance at 8:00 p.m. She is the youngest singer to ever achieve a Billboard #1 hit (at the age of 13). She’s also starred in feature films, such as RV with Robin Williams. I felt like a sardine packed tightly during my time watching the show directly in front of the stage, some 50 feet back. Parents put their children on their shoulders, which obstructed the views for many in the crowd. But technical difficulties delayed JoJo’s arrival on stage for about 60 minutes, much to the chagrin of the restless fans, many of them elementary school-aged girls who chanted “We want JoJo” over and over.
When she came out, pandemonium broke out, it was virtually impossible to get a good picture. So many fans who were in front of me held their hands up, partly to get pictures with their cell phones, partly to have fun, I guess. JoJo only sang for 45 minutes. She spoke on stage about her frustration over the continuing "technical difficulties", commenting at one point that she was on her fourth microphone. She asked part of the crowd if they could hear since one of the speakers may have malfunctioned.
JoJo did her past and current hits like, “Too Little Too Late" (my personal favorite) and “Anything”, which is a modern pop interpretation of Toto’s “Africa”. Only a couple of her live performances sounded as good as her studio cuts (partly due to the “technical difficulties”). JoJo’s powerful rendition of “The Way You Do Me” is a really good live song, full of fast-paced R&B energy, though it’s better suited to clubs than family venues because of its suggestive lyrics. Still, her drummer really went all out on this tune, and showed his incredible talent throughout the show.
Best Saturday Night Show by Ethan Hanson
I thought the best show of the night was performed by JoJo’s opener, the up and coming local acoustic guitar musician, Ethan Hanson. The band that backed him up was Guy Unger Phaxtion, performed without “technical difficulties”. They really rocked, especially with an Allman Brothers instrumental cover version of “Revival”. After the show, Ethan had another engagement at a local pub. He has already made an impression on music lovers in the state and surrounding region with his brand of music that is influenced by many different styles. He loves to play a variety of covers, including those by The Eagles and Eric Clapton. At last year’s Dogwood Festival, he was in the opening lineup for Hootie and the Blowfish. He’ll turn 18 this June, is well grounded for a young man. Hanson is planning a two-week tour around the states that surround North Carolina, as well as future engagements in Florida, where he’s planning on attending college this fall.
Earlier that day, I had a chance to speak with Ethan at a local downtown coffee house called Rude Awakening. I asked him about his future plans, where he wanted to see himself in five years. For starters, he hopes to get his own record label and studio to sign other artists. But he’s philosophical about the pursuit of fame and riches, saying “If you feel good about yourself, you don’t need to be famous. It would be nice to get my message out to a lot of people, (but) I wouldn’t want to take anything away from what I do with my own music. The most important thing is the journey, not where you end up.”
Speaking of travels, I asked Ethan if he had written any songs that focus on travel. His tune, “Pump 13” does make a connection to travel as an analogy to relationships. Hanson recited some of the lyrics for me:
You got me switching lanes//And barely missing trains//Speeding off through the night//I’ll drive right besides you//Until my world goes blank//As long as you fill up my tank
Some of Hanson’s favorite international music comes from Spain – sounds of the flamenco guitar. As for his dream venues that he’d like to visit as a tourist and/or perform at if he had the opportunity, he replied that San Diego was such a place for him, “They have a great music scene there, and it’s a good place to get started.” One of his favorite performers, Jason Mraz, began there. Hanson has performed at a couple of open mic sessions in San Diego while visiting his aunt.
Go to Ethan Hanson’s website (above) to sample some of his music and to purchase his CD release of “Alive”.
It's events like the Dogwood Festival in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where music legends are born! Whenever you are traveling and have time, check out the local festivals because you’ll often witness firsthand the heart and soul of a community.
Roy’s Travel Tips
Fayetteville is a city of festivals. Throughout the year, the city hosts a number of them that feature artwork, baseball, music, cultural diversity, etc. Check the Fayetteville Tourist Information website for more details and the On Fourth Friday website above.
For a good hearty meal in a festive atmosphere, head on over to The Mash House. You can order a giant plate of very tasty Woodfired Ribs that I had to get a doggie bag for. It made a terrific bedtime snack. The Mash House serves microbrews, including cherry and raspberry beer!
I stayed at the Fayetteville Hotel & Conference Center. It is just off of I-95 and features spacious rooms, comfortable beds, a good-sized work area and free high speed internet. It’s undergoing renovations to become a Doubletree, but it is still planning to stay open.
Fayetteville’s public transport is called FAST.
Fayetteville Regional Airport's code is FAY and provides “All Jet Service”.
Roy A. Barnes writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming and is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com.