I was out of town and unable to attend the inaugural Brushy Mountain Peach and Heritage Festival in downtown Wilkesboro, but based on what I’ve heard and seen about the successful event, there’s no way I’ll miss the second incarnation in 2020.
Phil Fagg, Jim Isley and other volunteers with the Brushy Mountain Community Center organized the festival, which is scheduled to return to the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons on July 25, 2020—and on subsequent last Saturdays in July.
Isley, also a local Realtor, thanked the Wilkesboro Town Council and other town staff during last Monday’s council meeting. “We realized success beyond our expectations. I think the (Wilkes Journal-Patriot) listed about 5,000 attendees, but we took snapshots every hour, on the hour, and our estimate was anywhere between 6,500 and 7,000 people.”
There were no doubt butterflies in the stomachs of organizers and vendors as the sun rose on July 27 and vendor tables and exhibits were being readied for the people who would soon be arriving prior to the opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m.
“I won’t say I wasn’t nervous,” said Isley of that period of uncertainty. “This being the first time, 1,500 would have been a success story for us. So, to hit near that 7,000 mark was great.”
Wilkesboro Councilman Russ Ferree said he also noticed some nervousness in the morning air of the festival, but by the afternoon, “everyone was giddy. And I really enjoyed it.”
Isley related that peach orchardist Gray Faw ran up the mountain four times during the course of the festival to get more peaches. He promised that orchardists will be better prepared next year to meet the demand of hungry patrons.
“We’ll cover those bases (next year),” he said. “We hope to triple or quadruple the vendors on the food side, and the same with the other vendors. We also have a plan should we experience a freeze on the mountain (that affects the peach harvest).”
Isley explained that the peaches in Georgia and the sandhills of North and South Carolina peak earlier in the summer, but the peak season in the Brushy Mountains are about the last Saturday in July, which coincides perfectly with the Wilkesboro festival.
The festival provided myriad ways to enjoy this year’s bumper crop of peaches. The most direct way was to take a big bite out of a plump specimen (if the fuzzy skin doesn’t turn you off—that’s never bothered me personally). You could also enjoy the juicy fruit in ice cream, butter, tea and fried pies.
Mary Bohlen of Purlear even taught festivalgoers how to make brandied peaches, a traditional method of canning peaches with brandy. Ferree later joked to council members, “I didn’t see any peach brandy there, though—I was disappointed!”
Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore said the festival had a different feel to it than most of the ones the town has hosted in the past. “It was real comfortable, and I think that had to do with the way it was laid out. (Organizers) separated tents so that they could be accessed on all four sides. It spread people out the way it should have been. There never was what I consider over-congestion anywhere in the Commons or on Bridge Street.”
Inscore called it a “petite festival” and added, “Honestly I couldn’t have had a better experience. I didn’t talk to any vendors who weren’t pleased with the success of the day. It was one of those perfect storms that came together really quick.”
The mayor said the festival was a good case study of what’s known as the magic five Ps of success: “Proper planning prevents poor performance.”
“The end result was a beautiful day, and people enjoyed themselves thoroughly. I think it’ll bring back more people next year,” predicted Inscore.
Councilman Jimmy Hayes probably summed it up best when he called it “a happy time. There were smiles on people’s faces, and you don’t always see that. But it was a happy day.”
By most all accounts, it was a peach of a festival that returns next July to put thousands of more smiles on people’s faces.