By all key measures the 109th Canton Labor Day Festival presented by Champion Credit Union was a huge success. Total guest turn-out between all of the events over the three-day holiday weekend was estimated at 13,000. On Saturday, 1,500 Joe Lasher Jr. fans swarmed around the stage at Sorrells Street Park to catch the rising county-rock star belt out ballads of love and life at the WNC Country Roots & Rock show. Richard Hurley, the emcee for Sunday’s Papertown Bluegrass Jamboree marveled at the size of the crowd, exclaiming, “there are more people here than at any Shindig on the Green I have emceed—and they regularly draw 5,000.” Ed Underwood of Canton noted, “I’ve never seen this many people at an even in Canton—ever.” International bluegrass icons Balsam Range seemed taken aback by the outpouring of fans that welcomed them back home after playing a festival in Indiana. “This is the largest crown we’ve seen all weekend,” bassist Tim Surrett proclaimed. “We’ve been wanting to play here (outdoor show) for a long time.” The Mountain Gospel Show at the historic Colonial Theatre was nearly at capacity as 200 people gathered to hear the soulful sounds of Ila Knight and His Mercies and a steady crowd of people kept vigil around Tuner Stage during Monday’s Canton Heritage Homecoming at Recreation Park to watch the cloggers and dancers sweep across the dance floor. The Recreation Park Pool, which was open for free to families on Monday, welcomed over 440 swimmers—the largest number in recent memory.
The crowd was just as eager to taste the festival food. The food trucks staged along the parks edge were overwhelmed by lines of hungry festivalgoers as long as fifty feet. Acropolis Pizza from Asheville and Canton’s Fat Belly’s had a hard time keeping up with orders. The Hop Ice Cream from Asheville ran out of product completely—only the second time employees working the stand could recall. Most of the local churches at the Holy Food Court at Recreation Park during the Canton Heritage Homecoming on Monday ran out of product by the end of the evening. Tammy McDowell from Harris Chapel AMC said her church had to pull out because they sold out of their famous fried catfish. GiGi’s Italian Ice doubled her profit from last year and claimed it was the best business she had done in ten years at Labor Day.
A main goal of organizers was to up the ante on marketing to attract people from outside of Canton. The effort paid off. The festival pulled in people from throughout region as well as from out of state. Visitors came from as far as West Virginia and South Carolina after hearing about the event on the radio, newspaper, and the event website. Garrett Woodward of the Smoky Mountain News took one look at the crowd on Sunday night and jubilantly affirmed what organizers were thinking: “the rebranding effort paid off in spades.” The Papertown Kids Village was at capacity most of the weekend as was the inflatables at Recreation Park on Monday, which were offered for free. Wristband sales exceed staff estimates by over one hundred as kids kept pouring into the Kids Village to bounce and get their face painted.
The festival shed a new light on Canton, highlighting the Town’s capacity to organize a high quality music festival that pays homage to the past while embracing the future. The event also turned visitors onto Canton’s value as a place to live and start a business. CeCe Hipps, Executive Director of the Haywood Chamber of Commerce applauded the Town’s efforts. “You have done exactly what you need to do in order to make it desirable, easier and welcoming for families to choose Canton,” she said. “You will reap the rewards for the decisions you have made for years to come. I am excited for the future!” The Town spent approximately $64,000 to produce the event and broke even on their investment after factoring in a $10,000 subsidy. The Town raised an unprecedented $40,000 in private sponsorships for the festival from corporations, local businesses, and individual donors. “The level of investment from our local stakeholders demonstrates the unity of our community and their belief in what we are trying to accomplish through the festival,” said Town Manager, Seth Hendler-Voss. “Everyone we approached was excited about the change of venue and format and eager to put their name behind it”
The Town of Canton would like to recognize all the stakeholders who made the 109th Canton Labor Day a success: Champion Credit Union; Haywood Regional Medical Center - a Duke Lifepoint Hospital; Duke Energy Progress; Wells Fargo Bank; Wells Fargo Advisors; Haywood County Tourism and Development Authority; Hometown Hardware; Evergreen Packaging; Ken Wilson Ford; Gahagan & Black; Plus Linens; Pepsi; Buy Haywood; Burt Smith; Patton, Morgan, & Clark; USW local 507; Carolina Pawn and Gun; Ingles; Stanberry Insurance; 3rd Generation Barn Loft; Clark, Patterson, & Lee; Vaughn & Melton; the Rendezvous Restaurant; Lurvey Books; Southern Software; Pioneer Feed & Seed; WNC Tent; Dodge Packaging; A&E Mechanical; Brad Morgan; Greene Brothers; Smoky Mountain News; The Mountaineer; WPTL 920 am; WNCW 88.7 am; and WNC Magazine.
The Town is hoping for continued financial support for next year’s festival, which is already in the planning stages. Town staff is looking at ways to build on the success of this year’s event and expand the audience reach even further. If anyone is seeking to partner with the Town for the 110th Labor Day Festival please call (828) 648-2363.