By Nathan Ham
Before the first musical note was played on Monday night, a boisterous crowd had already set the tone for what a wonderful night it was going to be in downtown Boone.
Hundreds of people packed into the Appalachian Theatre for its grand reopening show featuring John McEuen and the String Wizards.
John Cooper, the chairman of the Appalachian Theatre’s Board of Trustees, was greeted with a huge applause and a standing ovation before he had even finished his walk to the microphone to welcome everybody back to the theatre that first opened its doors on November 14, 1938.
“It’s been a dozen years since a film was shown in this venue, and almost 58 years since the last stage show when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys played this theatre on January 19, 1962. Tonight that tradition continues,” Cooper said.
Cooper acknowledged the board of trustees, donors, local businesses, town and county elected officials and the many volunteers (over 500 in fact) that helped make this dream of reopening the Appalachian Theatre come true.
“While we still have theatre seats to name and monies yet to be raised to complete this project, tonight we’re here to celebrate what our collective efforts have accomplished so far,” said Cooper.
Before the show started, Cooper had one last announcement that got another big round of applause.
“On this very stage appeared many legends of Americana Music, including Doc Watson, Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, Uncle Dave Macon to name just a few. On December 7, 2011, Doc Watson joined over 50 people at the first meeting to save this historic theatre, and on that day, he gave us permission to use his name. Tonight, we dedicate this stage to Doc, henceforth to be known as the Doc Watson Stage for Americana Music.”
Appalachian Theatre Executive Director Laura Kratt started in the position in August of 2018 and has been able to oversee a lot of the final renovations that helped get the show started.
“Getting this building open and ready for the public by Monday for the show was a herculean effort,” Kratt said on Tuesday afternoon. “We had some great partners in the community that volunteered their time and resources. We had volunteers getting food for the artists, we had people who were running and getting programs done at the last minute and it was a real magical thing that we had a show that everyone was excited for. It was just a thrilling night for everyone.”
Kratt says that there are still a few punch list items that they will have to work through to make sure that everything is operating at the specifications that the theatre needs to be running at. Several shows have already been booked and Kratt says that these shows will be announced in the coming weeks as well as ticket sale dates.
Appalachian Theatre will also be offering beer and wine sales at some of their shows.
“We are still waiting on our final certificate of occupancy so we are parterning with area beer and wine providers to provide those kinds of beverages,” Kratt said.
As for the on-stage product, it was a perfect fit to have John McEuen, one of the founders of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to play the opening show for the new theatre.
“I was very excited to learn that John McEuen was in the area and available and interested. In fact, he was very excited to be a part of this event opening up the theatre. He was intrigued by the connection to Doc Watson and he modified his show specifically for the Appalachian Theatre’s grand reopening, bringing in mentors and players that he has worked with in the past, including young local musicians like Liam Purcell,” said Kratt.
The quest to save the theatre started in 2011 when the town of Boone purchased the Appalachian Theatre property from a developer that had previously purchased the property in 2008 to convert the building into a bar and music venue. The money dried up before anything was ever done with the building, allowing the town to purchase the property. Lynn Mason, who has been a member of the town council since that building purchase was made, has been credited by many for starting the movement for the town to buy the old theatre.
“We got the Downtown Boone Development Association involved and eventually we got it by three votes to two,” Mason said. “I am beyond silly now that this has gotten such great community support and John Cooper was the champion of all-time here. I am so proud that we had the vision to save this theatre and that this is happening.”
The town held on to the property until a non-profit organization formed, Appalachian Theatre of the High Country. ATHC purchased the building from the town in 2013.
Pilar Fotta, who was the director of the DBDA at the time, was at the grand reopening Monday and recounted some of the doubts that people had about getting this project completed.
“My favorite Walt Disney quotes is ‘it’s fun to do the impossible’ and everyone said that this couldn’t be done, but it feels really good to do the impossible,” she said.
N.C. Rep. Ray Russell was on hand and added more praise to Cooper and the volunteers that made this all happen.
“This is a culmination of work by John; I don’t think anybody in the world could have pulled it off but John,” said Russell. “It also took real courage by our town council several years ago to acquire this building. It’s going to be a tremendous asset for the town of Boone for many years to come.”
Another councilmember, Mayor Pro Tem Loretta Clawson, was excited for opening night and to see the doors of the Appalachian Theatre finally back open.
“It has been wonderful seeing this happen and I’m thrilled. We’ve worked so hard for so long for this,” she said.
The theatre offers 620 seats, a reduction from the original 999 seats to give audience members more comfort in their seats. The seats are wider with new comfy cushions and offer more legroom than the previous setup. Staggered placement rows allow for patrons to look between seats located in front of them for a more improved sight line.
Maybe the biggest change is the much larger stage. The original stage configuration was 782 square feet and is now approximately 1,850 square feet.
The addition of the community room will also allow for smaller performing arts events, film screenings, lectures, meetings, receptions and special occasion dinners.
The most important thing to remember for those interested in what the theatre will be providing in the near future is to stay informed by joining the theatre’s email list.
“We’re getting ready to enter into a very dynamic time here at the Appalachian Theatre with new events being added constantly and the best way for people to learn about what’s happening in a timely manner is to join our email list,” said Kratt. “That’s going to be our first way to get information out to people.”
For more information on the Appalachian Theatre and to sign up for their email list, visit apptheatre.org.
Photos from the opening night by Ken Ketchie
John McEuen, one of the founders of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band takes the stage.