Despite soggy conditions, the 51st Autumn Leaves Festival opened Friday to great fanfare, but a diminished crowd with a great many prime seats sporting plastic tarps rather than people.
But with better weather in the forecast for much of the event, Travis Frye, Mount Airy Chamber events coordinator, is confident 200,000 people will pass through the festival by the time it ends on Sunday. “We’ve got great crafts, great food and wonderful music. It will all be worth it.”
The Autumn Leaves Festival originated as a celebration of the end of the tobacco and apple harvesting seasons and has evolved into a celebration of beautiful autumn leaves, according to Mayor David Rowe, speaking at the opening ceremony.
“But the beauty rests not in the leaves, but in the people,” he added. “It’s the love that binds us all together that you’ll find here,” he told the crowd.
The mayor noted that the festival is one of North Carolina’s longest running and most successful events and has been consistently ranked as one of the “Top 20 Events” in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Mayor Rowe proclaimed Oct. 13-15 to be “Fill the Boot Days” and the month of October to be “Firefighters Appreciation Month” in honor of the Mount Airy Fire Department’s working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to raise money for the association’s fight against neuromuscular diseases.
In his proclamation, the mayor noted that firefighters have spent many hours collecting money and the Muscular Dystrophy Association is grateful for the funds to assist with clinics, summer camps and support groups.
Mayor Rowe also proclaimed Oct. 13-15 to be “Autumn Leaves Festival Days” as the festival embodies “the true spirit of America’s Hometown.”
Along with Mayor David Rowe, Mount Airy Commissioners Jim Armbrister, Shirley Brinkley, Dean Brown, Steve Yokeley and Jon Cawley were present on the bandstand, along with Mount Airy City Manager Barbara Jones and Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter as well as Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. Collins thanked the city officials for their part in the festival.
Yvonne Nichols, who retired from the Chamber in the past year, was recognized for her 25 years of coordinating the Autumn Leaves Festival.
This year’s festival marks the last year for Nichols and the first year for Travis Frye to be at the helm. Nichols is working with Frye this year but in 2018, he will be on his own.
“It takes all year to put on this festival,” said Frye. “We start in January, it becomes a full-time job in September and October and it’s 24/7 for the three days of the festival.
“We’re here from the time the very first tent is set up until the very last banjo note is played.”
“Get your dancing shoes ready,” yelled Tim Frye, music director of WPAQ, to the crowd just before the first note was heard.
The Foothills Band took the stage to open the Autumn Leaves Festival as they have done for many, many years. The band, formerly known as “Clyde Johnson and The Foothills Band,” started off by saying they missed Clyde and then began to play “The Black Mountain Rag.”
Dancing shoes were ready as flat-footers from young to not-so-young took the floor. The sky brightened a bit and the 51st Autumn Leaves Festival was underway.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.