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 of 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 displaying 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, who 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.
Written by: Abby Fuller