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Hendersonville Annual Celebrations

Mollie Lund (2021)

For the tranquil town of Hendersonville NC, historical tradition is a persistent component of contemporary life. Hendersonville is a small city of just over 15,000 people, nestled snugly between the rolling hills of North Carolina’s western Piedmont region and the soaring peaks of the Appalachian mountains. 


Hendersonville’s historic downtown area is home to a rich local culture, featuring various annual celebrations which chronicle the city’s history. One such event is Hendersonville’s annual Street Dances, which began in 1918 upon the return of soldiers from World War One. The Street Dances have endured as a quintessential feature of the area’s heritage for over 100 years. Fiddles and banjos set the mood for a toe-tapping good time, as these summer dance celebrations are accompanied by traditional bluegrass mountain music which is performed by a live band. 


Bluegrass mountain music is another lasting cultural mainstay of the city, and it can be found at various other annual events held in Hendersonville’s downtown area. The annual Rhythm and Brews concert series, which started in 2013, is another example of the prevalence of traditional bluegrass music in the area. These free outdoor concerts begin in July and run through October of each year. Although they are relatively new, the R&B concert series is a trademark event in the area, incorporating live bluegrass music, excellent food, and local beer, wine, and cider. 


For the numerous events which characterize Hendersonville, perhaps the most prolific is the annual North Carolina Apple Festival. This four-day celebration is held in the heart of Hendersonville’s historic downtown area, featuring attractions such as apple breakfasts, arts and crafts, free entertainment, and more. 


The event was started in April of 1947 to celebrate the first apple blossoms at the local orchards. The festival has since grown to symbolize the importance of the apple industry to both the town of Hendersonville and the wider Henderson County. North Carolina is the 7th largest apple producer in the United States, and Henderson County produces 85 percent of all apples grown in the state. In fact, Henderson County’s apple industry generates approximately $22 million annually. 


While various other towns within the County have created their own versions of the Apple Festival over the years, Hendersonville was the first city to celebrate the County’s booming apple industry. September 4th of 2021 marked the 75th annual Apple Festival celebrated in Hendersonville, attracting thousands of visitors from across North Carolina. 


One of the pillars of the festival is the Street Fair, which is held on downtown Hendersonville’s main street and takes up nearly nine blocks of the city. The Street Fair attracts over 200 local vendors, including quality arts and crafts vendors as well as those selling festival food. The Street Fair also gives festival-goers the chance to purchase apples from local growers or to purchase traditional apple products such as caramel apples and apple pies. The Apple Festival also includes apple recipe contests, apple taste testing, and live performances from local bluegrass bands. 


The Apple Festival Ceremony, which takes place on the first day of celebrations, declares the festival as officially open and awards the “Apple Farmer of the Year”. The event is concluded with the annual King Apple Parade, which takes place on Labor Day each year. This sensational finale to the four-day event features professional floats, local fire trucks, youth groups, antique cars, and more, often attracting well over 60,000 individuals.

A Taste of Hendersonville: Rhythm and Brews Festival 

Abby Fuller (2019)

The winding road seemed to be jutting around every hill in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. Erica, with her fresh Connecticut license plate, grabbed the wheel and whipped through the roads like a champ and Jack lay asleep in the back seat. We had been on the road for almost 3.5 hours and Hendersonville was only a few minutes away after we cleared through the woods and started seeing more signs of civilization. 


We were traveling to Hendersonville on this random Thursday to visit the Rhythm and Blues Festival, a locally thrown event that was highlighting local artists, chefs, and brewers. We found this event and thought it would be a perfect snapshot of the town and a perfect opportunity to engage with local vendors and ask questions about production and climate resiliency. We arrived in the downtown area around 5 and the festival wouldn’t start for another 30 minutes, which gave us time to explore downtown and drive around the small city just several miles south of Ashville. 


Our initial interpretation of the area and the locals was surprisingly similar to the more outdoorsy and rustic vibe that Ashville is typically credited with. There seemed to be a shift in this area that felt different than the people we ran into just a few miles east on Highway 64, who seemed more classically North Carolinian. These Hendersonville festival people in attendance wore hiking boots, colorful flannels, beanies, and were covered in Carhart. Although our sample was likely skewed towards people willing to go to a local festival, Hendersonville residents seemed to be revealing a shift from the Foothills and into the mountains. 


While we were waiting for the festival to begin, we found colorful bear statues that seemed to be a mark of Hendersonville and was a great way to support and showcase local artists. We also found an art show happening where women displayed their handmade crafts and paintings. But after walking around downtown, we entered the festival and started talking to vendors. We talked with a lady selling handmade juice and she talked with us for a while about this season and her crop yield. She did make a few comments about the earliness of the apple festival and claimed that it was due to the “weirdness” of the season, which implied changing farming and crop production that can point to climate change. We tasted some of her jams and chatted with her more about her process in creating these processes and at the end of the conversation we all bought some juice for the 3.5 hours drive that was awaiting us after the festival. 


We then decided to give the band, who had been playing this whole time a closer listen. The opener was Kenny George Band and there were dressed in almost costume-like North Carolinian and Appalachia attire, with overalls with no t-shirt underneath and multiple banjos and straw hats. Their music was very Americana and folk-like and the audience seemed to be enjoying it, even if there were more people sitting on the grass than actually dancing by the stage. Due to the long drive ahead, we had to leave after the first song of the headliner, The Colby Dietz Band, which played more southern rock. 

After taking a solid lap around the festival, we decided to get sustenance, aka dinner. Jack and I used our drink coupons to get a local IPA from a vendor in a booth near the music and all three of us decided on a woodfire oven pizza from a vendor that brought their own portable oven to the festival. After a short line and a quick wait, we each took our personal pizzas and sipped our drinks while listening to music and taking in the mountains that were all around us. 


Hendersonville was the furthest point west in our journey through the foothills region on Highway 64 and this town gave us a new perspective on North Carolinian culture and the intersection of farming and mountain life vs. city life. Although Ashville always gets the credit for being the fun, hip city in North Carolina, I would recommend taking a trip south and visiting the beautiful and unique town of Hendersonville. 

A Night At Cedarwood Inn

Micaela Soucy (2017)

Just five minutes south of Hendersonville proper and tucked away in a network of quiet residential backroads, a collection of homestyle cottages await discovery by the weary traveler searching for a more authentic lodging experience. Plenty of people have a favorite lodge that they return to every season, but I’m here to say that the Cedarwood Inn and Event Room should be everyone’s first choice. I only had the pleasure of one night’s stay at Cedarwood Inn, but I can already tell that the mass-produced franchise lodging with towering neon signs just can’t compete.


The Inn sits on a plot of land about three acres large and features thirteen spacious rooms and five full-kitchen cottages, each with their own carport right outside the room’s door. On our visit, my two colleagues and I stayed in one of the regular rooms with a rollaway bed delivered for yours truly. We enjoyed a moment on the porch in front of our room before turning inside to find a delightful marriage of cleanliness and simple comforts.


The beds – all three of them – felt genuine and cared for, like that of a guest room in a home rather than overnight lodging. Coupling that with A/C that actually does what you ask it to (I’m looking at you, Holiday Inn) and the natural silence of mountain country, I dare say that I slept more peacefully at the Cedarwood Inn than I do most nights in my own apartment. Technology takes a supporting role rather than center stage, consisting of a modest, but modern mounted television, mini-fridge, and microwave – unless you also count the Wi-Fi, which you should because it’s shockingly fast and included with your room! Personally, we barely used the Wi-Fi because Cedarwood makes it so easy to have a perfectly nice time offline, but it was nice to know that it was there if we needed it.


Stepping out of your room at the Cedarwood Inn first thing in the morning is an experience all of its own. The wind rushing through tall trees and songbirds calling out to one another take turns to break the sleepy quiet of the country. Crunch across the gravel to “the event room” where the front desk is and you find the shining star of the Cedarwood Inn – and no, I’m not talking about the exceptional home-cooked breakfast spread. Karen Orbaugh, the proprietor of the Inn, is one of the most sincere people one could ever hope to rent a room from. She spends 30 minutes or so preparing breakfast before it officially opens, but after that, she spends the rest of her time sitting down and sharing breakfast with her guests. Forget comparing her to other lodging owners, Ms. Orbaugh is an exceptional hostess who completed my experience of Cedarwood as a home away from home… just a little better.

Whether it’s in-season or off, the Cedarwood Inn should be at the top of your list when visiting the Hendersonville area. True to their claim, my stay left me wishing I could come back “again, and again, and again.”

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