I am proud to say I have attended all the Cheerwine Festivals in Rowan County! I knew this year’s festival would be coming up soon, so I sat down recently with Vivian Koontz, Events Coordinator with the City of Salisbury to hear all the details about the festival for 2020!
First, Vivian is a 13-year employee with the city, and she began her career with the Parks and Recreation Department. The city quickly recognized her abilities to coordinate events which lead her to head up the festival with lots of help from others. This is by no means a small task. Vivian, along with Joy Harper with Cheerwine, work closely to make each year bigger and bigger!
Literally the planning for the next year’s festival begins as the festival is ending. They sit down and discuss while it is fresh in everyone’s mind what worked and what can work even better next time. Then, about a week later, everyone sits down in a meeting to brainstorm. The results have been evident because the festival just keeps getting better each year!
The Festival Grows Each Year
As someone that attended the first year, which was May 2017, I personally have seen how the festival has changed and grown. In 2017, the festival began as we celebrated the 100th year of Cheerwine!! There were approximately 30,000 in attendance that year. In the beginning it was thought that would be the only festival. However, there was such positive feedback from the public that the festival was brought back again! This time though, in 2018, the City of Salisbury partnered with Cheerwine to have an even bigger event. Again, that year approximately 30,000 people attended the festival! This time though the event picked up a lot of media attention. Cheerwine worked hard in marketing the event and they tapped into connections such as Southern Living, Bojangles, and Krispy Kreme!!
Now in 2019, we here in Rowan County saw a huge festival turnout! I helped work the “Your Rowan” booth and spoke to so many people last year that came from near and far to enjoy the day! People as close as Mocksville and Statesville to people from Georgia and Wisconsin! Statistics from last year showed that 89% of the attendees were from North Carolina, 32% had attended multiple years, there were a total of 18 states represented there, and in 2019 there were over 60,000 people that came to enjoy the Cheerwine Festival!
Cheerwine Enjoys Being a Co-Host
I wanted to speak with Cheerwine and get their input about the festival as well. I was lucky to speak with Joy Ritchie Harper, Vice-President of Marketing for Cheerwine and a fifth generation founding family member as well. According to Joy, Cheerwine enjoys co-hosting with the City of Salisbury each year. While the city takes care of the logistics of the festival, Cheerwine takes care of the marketing. Joy said, “it’s a great boost to the city’s economy”. Last year the festival brought in over $1.5 million. There is even a statistic that shows that 97% of the vendors agreed that it was valuable to the community. “We first hosted the Cheerwine Festival in 2017 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Cheerwine, and it’s since become the annual opportunity for us to celebrate our fans; the unique tastes, sips, and sounds of the Carolinas; and our cheerful hometown,” said Joy. “The festival has experienced tremendous growth over the last few years, and we are grateful for the growing number of people who travel near and far to join us for a day of family-friendly fun.”
Did You Say Contest?
This year, for the first time, Cheerwine is having a T-shirt Design contest! The cutoff date to enter the contest is March 6, so hurry over to the Cheerwine website www.cheerwine.com/festival-contest for more details and to enter! Voting is open to the public and goes from March 16-27. The public will be voting on the Top 5 picked designs! The winner will be announced on April 6! The winning design will be used on t-shirts for sale at the festival! How fun to see your design worn by thousands that day! Also, on top of being chosen as the winner, they are giving some great prizes to that lucky person!
A Must Have…Festival Food
Any good festival must have good festival food and believe me…this festival does not mess around when it comes to the food! Along with our great downtown restaurants being open during the festival, you can find just about any type of food your heart desires! In 2018, the festival had 51 food, beer, and craft vendors. In 2019, the festival had 84 vendors with food, beer, and crafts. This year, 2020, they are expecting close to 125 vendors that will include two beer gardens. It should be noted too that the craft vendors are primarily local to our area, and items must be homemade items that are approved if they are Cheerwine themed!
One of the fun things to find and eat each year are the Cheerwine inspired foods! Vendors create delicious items using Cheerwine in the recipes! One example is the Cheerwine Pound Cake…oh my goodness is that amazing! Here are some food statistics, in 2019, over 5,000 Cheerwine Hushpuppies were eaten, 800+ bags of Cheerwine Kettle Corn were sold, over 1,800 Cheerwine Tacos were enjoyed, over 1,000 Cheerwine Floats and Slushies were purchased, and over 25,000 drinks were bought. A fun fact is that 99% of the vendors continue selling their Cheerwine recipes year-round!
One area of the festival that gets a lot of attention is always the kid zone! There are games, a bouncy house, face painting, a climbing wall, and so much more for all the kiddos! Normally you would find this area in the middle of the festival, but this year they will be moving it to East Innes Street so they can have an entire area just for them to spread out and enjoy! It’s always fun to walk through this area and see the kids and their families smiling and having fun!
BIG Name Entertainment
So naturally I had to ask Vivian about the entertainment this year because it has gotten bigger and better each year! She wouldn’t spill the beans to me, but she did say they are “internationally known”.
In 2018, Sister Hazel entertained the festival attendees and then last year, in 2019, Smash Mouth blew us away!! In March, the city and Cheerwine will be announcing the band for this year’s festival and I’m told that the warmup bands are going to be well known too! Stay tuned to “Your Rowan” for a social media blast when the announcement is made!
At The End Of The Day…
As my conversation with Vivian was concluding, I asked her to tell me what she wanted people to know about the Cheerwine Festival. She said, “I could give you 100 answers to that! While festival goers are here enjoying all things Cheerwine, we also want them to be exposed to and explore all things Salisbury!” I told her I knew it was a huge job coordinating everything for the day and she said she had plenty of great help to pull off the event! But I wanted to know if she ever took a moment to soak it all in and she said, “I try and take 5 minutes at each event. It gives me gratification and makes me want to do it again!”
The “4th Annual Cheerwine Festival” is going to be bigger and even better this year! I can’t wait to see who the band is and to sample all the Cheerwine goodies that day including a nice, ice filled cup of that cherry flavored drink of the Carolinas…Cheerwine!
Save the date for the festival now! Saturday, May 16 from 12-10 p.m. in Downtown Salisbury!
*Cheerwine is a registered trademark of the Carolina Beverage Corporation
Full disclosure I am not originally from Rowan County, but I moved to this area in the late 1980s and consider it home.