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First Ever Boonerang Music & Arts Festival in Boone Attracts Thousands of Attendees

Photo credit: Dave Parrish

By Harley Nefe

One week ago, on June 17-18, the streets of downtown Boone came alive with thousands of people enjoying performances and activities at the inaugural Boonerang Music & Arts Festival. 

Presented by the Town of Boone and supporting partners after many months of planning, the free event was deemed a huge success by musicians, art vendors, festival staff and attendees alike. 

Free parking was available in Appalachian State University’s Peacock Lot on Rivers Street. However, it didn’t take long for the lot to reach capacity. Graphic courtesy of Boonerang.

“The inaugural Boonerang Music & Arts Festival was a resounding success,” said Mark Freed, director of cultural resources for the Town of Boone. “Our community came together in every way – from the staff and presenting partners to the amazing volunteer crew; from the production companies, artists and organizations; and of course to all of the people for showing up and having a great time.”

The festival featured live music at four stages, a kids zone, a vendor market, restaurants and food trucks, beer gardens, a silent disco, and a film screening – all located in downtown Boone. There was something for everyone, and it seemed like just about everyone showed up.

Data is still being collected concerning attendance numbers; however, Freed estimated that more than 6,000 people made an appearance at the weekend’s festivities.

“My favorite parts were seeing so many smiling faces, rocking out with the Naked Gods and Melissa Reaves, seeing the throngs of people up South Depot, hearing about independent artists making their rent by having a successful festival, talking to volunteers who had as much fun working as playing, and watching and participating in the silent disco – so fun!” Freed said. 

Festival Map. Graphic courtesy of Boonerang.

And the many smiles that could be seen walking around just confirmed how much of an accomplishment the overall event was. 

“It was incredibly rewarding to see the event pull off without any major glitch,” Freed said. “Once the storm blew through on Friday, it was smooth sailing for the most part. Being the first year, we had a lot of unknowns: Would the stage fit on the street? Could we get cars cleared from lots and spaces? Did we have the space and infrastructure to handle a crowd? There was certainly some behind-the-scenes troubleshooting going on, and our team was working hard all day, and all night, and things came together pretty much as planned.”

The Boonerang Music & Arts Festival would not have been able to happen if it wasn’t for the team of volunteers.

“The volunteer team saved the day! Everyone showed up with a great attitude, a willingness to adapt, and ready to work beyond their original commitment. We have never worked with such a magnificent team. Thank you! Each and every one of you! Boonerang 2023 or bust!” shared Dona and Steve Dowlan, Boonerang volunteer coordinators.

And Freed shared that planning for next year’s festival is already underway. Discussions have been happening about improvements that can be made to make it even greater.

“It was so much fun to see our friends, families, and visitors smiling, dancing, making and engaging with art, and celebrating all things Boone. I overheard many people saying things like, ‘We have been waiting for something like this to happen in Boone for years.’ And the consensus of the masses is more. We will Boonerang back next year, for sure,” Freed said. “I have a feeling people are going to come back. They love Boone and love to Boonerang.”

Photo credit: Dave Parrish

Many Musicians Who Graced the Stages

A part of what made the Boonerang Music & Arts Festival a big hit was the variety of tunes that could be heard from different locations downtown. Many musicians with ties to the High Country made a return for the event.

The Jones House Stage kicked off the festival on Friday evening by showcasing bands Urban Soil Duo, WiseApple and Lazybirds. And the music continued to flow through the air on Saturday with Tray Wellington Band, Alexa Rose, and Songs from the Road Band.

Photo credit: Eric Rayburn

However, that’s not all. Located near the intersection of South Depot Street and Rivers Street, the South Depot Stage featured performances all day on Saturday including appearances from Soul Benefactor and the Junaluska Gospel Choir, Chalwa, Town Mountain, and Acoustic Syndicate. 

“Live music is something a lot of us feel is an inextricable part of living here and being here,” said David Brewer, of Soul Benefactor. “I would like to think that the Boonerang Festival is perhaps the ultimate and greatest manifestation of this town’s live music, and I hope this is the first of many, many Boonerangs to come.”

The beautiful mountain weather also made Saturday so special.

“It was sunny out, and there was not a cloud in the sky,” described Dennis Berndt, of Chalwa. “We were super excited to be in Boone for Boonerang.”

Berndt is one of many people who found themselves Booneranging back to the High Country, as he is from Appalachian State University’s class of 2002.

“Chalwa plays original mountain reggae,” Berndt explained. “So, it’s reggae music that is really influenced from the mountains up here – bluegrass, old-time music, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll. Normally we don’t have a setlist written out, but we had our greatest hits prepared – a lot of mountain songs, a lot of major keys to keep people happy because we were just stoked to be there.”

While Chalwa was playing on the South Depot Stage, Town Mountain’s Robert Greer said, “It’s a beautiful day in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, and this is a great scene to drive into in Boone and see all these folks enjoying this wonderful day and all the stuff that comes with it.”

While Town Mountain regularly plays in Boone a few times a year, Greer said the festival came as a surprise. 

Photo credit: Eric Rayburn

“We knew it was going to be cool, but we didn’t know it was going to be this cool!” he said. “It looks great and feels great. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of original music.”

Town Mountain bassist Zach Smith, who is from Foscoe, agreed and said, “This is incredible. I knew it was going to be good, but this exceeded my expectations tenfold. For it being a first year festival, you just don’t expect it to be run so seamlessly and so well attended. They did amazing. The Town of Boone crushed it.” 

In addition to the music scene at the South Depot lot, there was also the North Depot Stage, located at the Lost Province parking lot that held performances by the King Bees, Naked Gods, and Melissa Reaves.

And last, but not least, Boone Area Community Radio, 641 rpm, and Espresso News brought even more live music to the Boonerang schedule on Saturday, with performances by Trevor McKenzie, Zodiac Lovers, Endangered!, H A U N T E R and RUGG.

However, these groups are not the only ones who deserve recognition.

Photo credit: Dave Parrish

Art Venders Who Created a Memorable Atmosphere

Aside from the many musicians, there were an abundance of art vendors set up with their tents and tables up and down Howard and North Depot streets.

The vendor market was organized by the Watauga Arts Council, and featured handmade crafts, pottery, textiles, artwork, photography, jewelry, apparel, home décor, personal care items, food products and more.

“I am just so proud of our town, and I am proud that Watauga Arts Council was a founding agency for this incredible event,” said Amber Bateman, executive director of Watauga County Arts Council. “It takes a lot of hands and minds to make an event like this work. This event shows the power of collaboration and the right people coming together at the right time. I am so grateful to the Jones House staff and the Town of Boone for allowing us to host Boonerang.”

One vendor festival attendees were able to meet was Jessica Brown, artist and owner of Upcycled Everything.

“I am a Boone local. I love the area. I will probably never leave and come back; I’m a Boonie full-timer, not a Booneranger,” she shared. “I make everything from reclaimed and recycled materials. A lot of it is vintage tin and other cookie tins, popcorn tins, etc. It’s all very lightweight. I source a lot of materials locally from thrift stores, dumpster diving; people give me their trash, and I give it a new life.”

Other vendors that were also selling homemade items and that liked to make old things new, were Maddie and Briana Palmer. 

When asked about the festival, they said, “We loved the environment and the people. We’ve done one event before, so this was our second one, and we just loved the first one so much and the atmosphere. We grew up in Boone too, so we know a lot of people, so there was a lot of socializing, which was super fun.”

Another vendor, Laurin Jennings of Recenter Ceramics, agreed about the socializing and said that there was a great turnout, and it seemed like the festival just got busier and busier.

Many other vendors had lots of feedback to share about the Boonerang Music & Arts Festival:

“LOVED it!! It was a great experience all around, and we would definitely love to come back!” – Vendor of Skin Care products

“Loved the energy of the event!! It was wonderful to be reunited with friends again, to make new relationships and connections as a Boone-based business!” – Local Business Owner promoting their services

“I had such a great time meeting people and enjoying the atmosphere, music, food etc. It was a great day and lots of fun!” – Jewelry and Home goods items 

“This event was GREAT. We had so much engagement from a lot of locals (our target audience as a nonprofit in the community). People were excited to be there and enthusiastic about the programs we offer. This was a great opportunity to reach people we may not otherwise reach and have more of a presence in the community.” – Local Nonprofit 

“It was fun. Crowd was steady, and folks were excited. Best thing I’ve done in Boone. Great for the town and artists. Let’s do it again!” – Pottery Vendor 

It’s not just the art vendors who share these thoughts.

Photo credit: Dave Parrish

Community Reflects on the Festival

Here is what others have been saying about the Boonerang Music & Arts Festival:

“While I was at the festival I couldn’t stop thinking, wow…THIS is Boone as it should be. The streets were filled with color, vibrancy, diversity, and great music. It exceeded all of my expectations and was such a blast. I also kept thinking: all the original Boone hippies are back in town, and I am here for it! What a festival!” – Megan Mason, Director of Marketing + Communication + Outreach – Lost Province

“On behalf of the Appalachian Theatre: Boonerang Fest was a wonderful addition to downtown Boone! Celebrating the music, art, and talent of Boone was fantastic. No doubt an event that should become an annual tradition. From the Thursday’s festival prelude at the Appalachian Theatre with “an evening with Willie Watson” to the Saturday afternoon downtown stages, it was a great celebration of music. We look forward to hopefully continuing as part of this new tradition next year.” – Jason Deathridge, Patron Services Manager – The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country

Photo credit: Eric Rayburn

“As much as what we all collectively experienced that Friday and Saturday in downtown spoke to, and gave homage to, the rich musical history of Boone and the High Country, it also spoke to the future of what is to come — and that is, quite simply, the most-ideal endgame of what all events in Boone over the past three-plus decades have set out to accomplish.”

“The inaugural Boonerang was nothing short of a family reunion. But, yet, it felt more than that. A summit effect, familial vibe and catharsis swept over our mountain town, affecting all in attendance — a huge attendance — with a magic that so many before had tried to capture. This may very well have been a ‘lightning-in-a-bottle moment’ that has been elusive, yet seemingly in reach, for so many promoters and event professionals that have set out to nail-down and celebrate the ‘magic’ that is ‘Boone.’ We are grateful that Boone showed up, from both past and present. Blessed for every single person and moment, vendor, artist and business owner, partner, volunteer and supporter. This is only the beginning. Kudos to Mark Freed and the team he has assembled. I can guarantee you that it is extremely rare to see a first-year event realize so much success, as well as harness so much momentum for what’s to come in the future.” – Sam Calhoun, FloydFest

“From the time the clouds lifted for Friday evening’s show at the Jones House until the very last Silent Disco song on Saturday night, I was completely blown away. It was absolutely magical. To me, Boonerang basically re-confirmed just how special the town of Boone and its people are, and how much they still love and support live music.” – Dave Brewer, Carolina Ramble Productions

“This day would not have been possible without the ARTS. Musicians and artists, local craft breweries, and craft food vendors gave us a reason to gather; they poured their hearts and souls into creating beauty for all to experience. It was amazing to see so many local families out there enjoying this moment. The diverse demographic of people in attendance speaks to the power of music and the arts to unite people of all ages, affiliations, races, and economic backgrounds. Boonerang was special because it was created by locals for locals with a spirit of local hospitality and love for all who were there visiting also. It was a nod to our past, an acknowledgment of how far we have come, and a celebration of our creative community. It was beautiful.” – Amber Bateman, executive director of Watauga County Arts Council

Photo credit: Dave Parrish
Photo credit: Dave Parrish
Photo credit: Dave Parrish
Photo credit: Dave Parrish
Photo credit: Dave Parrish
Photo credit: Eric Rayburn
Photo credit: Eric Rayburn
Photo credit: Eric Rayburn
Photo credit: Eric Rayburn