The Surry Arts Council is seeking to stay ahead of a growing trend in tourists seeking unique, hands-on “experiences” with activities such as the familiarization tour and lunch held on Friday.
“What we want to do is be able to give them (tourists) hands-on experiences they could only have in Surry County,” said Surry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones to a group which included representatives from local hospitality industries.
“It’s all about telling our Surry County story,” said Jones. “You ( tourists) are not just visiting any county anywhere. You are visiting a unique area. We’re trying to tell our story. We want participants to feel special.”
Jones plans on basically improving the marketing of resources already present locally with a combination of volunteers who can better and more accurately inform visitors and bolstering cooperation with group tour organizations through several grants she is authoring.
She gave the group a brief talk about the Andy Griffith Playhouse to illustrate her point. Jones told the group the building was originally part of the Rockford Street School from 1906. The auditorium was build in 1920. She jokingly pointed out if the auditorium had been built at the same time as the school it would have been approaching the 100-year mark.
Jones told the group guides would be trained to point out the many connections between the council’s programs and the building and the late Griffith’s past. She told them he returned to the area in 2002 as part of the Andy Griffith Parkway dedication ceremony. He visited the theater and extensively questioned Jones about what the council was doing for the community and especially its free programs.
She told them about Griffith’s background in the Moravian Church which influenced his love of music. She recounted how he walked down onto the theater’s stage in the midst of a partially constructed play set and sang “Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet.” This was the song he sang alone on that stage in the third grade when his classmate didn’t follow him up on stage. It marked the beginning of the actor’s life-long love of performance.
The $60,000 gift which followed this visit later became the seed money that makes the council’s summer Living Storybook series possible to this day. She explained other ties between the building and grounds to the late film and television star and said his participation in getting the unique Andy and Opie statue at the playhouse in cooperation with TV Land proves he cared for his hometown and the arts.
“What Andy has done and the council’s experiences with Andy is a completely positive experience,” concluded Jones. “We are meeting a need which many of our visitors have. They are seeking a Mayberry experience. We have fought long and hard to make Mayberry Days a festival where you can come and share our town. It’s a weekend where visitors come and get to share in our community where Andy grew up.”
She said council reaches an estimated 3,000 visitors a week with its programming and said the Andy Griffith Museum opened in 2009 to 55,000 visitors.
“These are little things with big numbers,” added Jones.
The next stop on Friday’s tour was the Eng and Chang Bunker exhibit. Jones told the group that recent research suggests the two famous Siamese twins were the first Buddhists to enter the United States as well as the first Asians to become citizens.
She pointed out the two were highly educated by those who found them and readied them to tour Europe and the United States. Jones pointed out the Bunkers were not involved in a sideshow. Participants paid for the privilege of meeting them in nice hotels for personal interaction. Tutoring became necessary because the more entertaining they were, the more genteel patrons they attracted.
Jones demonstrated to the group Surry County’s huge influence on the Round Peak or old-time music genre with many of the form’s greats being natives. She pointed out that WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round broadcast is the longest running broadcast nationally, second only to the Grand Ole Opry.
“If we don’t know about this rich heritage and misspeak to those who come here and know old-time music, they will roll their eyes and leave. We have huge things to be proud of.”
When the tour traveled to the historic Earle Theatre, Jones pointed out its ties to Griffith. She told them as a little boy he used to have a bologna sandwich at Snappy Lunch before going to see movies at the Earle. The theater also has been able to use a variety of funding to highlight its ties to old-time music.
North Carolina Folklore Award winner and winner of numerous local fiddling competitions Jim “Vip” Vipperman was on hand to demonstrate some of the talented personalities locally available to give participants in specialized tours a unique experience.
Vipperman, who also gives free fiddle lessons at the theater, explained and demonstrated the differences between playing old-time music and bluegrass music. Jones said recent grants will hopefully allow the council to participate more with groups such as the Blue Ridge National Heritage Association.
“We very much want to be a part of this,” said Jones. The tour also included a brief discussion of the Blackmon Amphitheatre. The Good Time Charlie trolley was used to transport guests to various locations.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.