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Why I love the Apple Festival

For this year’s special pullout Apple Festival section, we asked our columnists to write about what they like (or don’t like) about the festival.

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The Apple Festival is kind of like raw oysters. Some people love them, me included. The rest would not get near one. But no one’s neutral. Everyone has an opinion about the Apple Festival. I’m in the camp that loves the Apple Festival, for a variety of reasons.
Our festival on Labor Day weekend, all four days of it, seems like a long celebration. Yet years ago it stretched over two weeks and included a ball, a weeklong beauty queen pageant and big downtown retail sales. Go back to the very beginning and it wasn’t even in Hendersonville. The festival started in Saluda before moving to Hendersonville.
The Apple Festival controls the pace of life around here. I’m writing this on Friday a week before opening day and already we’re in Apple Festival shutdown mode. Things grind to a halt. We take a timeout from regular business and politics and wait until the Apple Festival is over. There are no events from mid to late August. Everything is subordinate to the Apple Festival. The apple is king.

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One of my favorite scenes during the festival is people toting bags of apples. I love that our growers, the 14 farms that have a booth, get the direct sales benefit of the Apple Festival. The sales represent a significant portion of the overall apple income for many of these apple families. Sometimes, when an apple stand sells out of a certain variety, that farmer buys from other growers.
Only at the apple festival can an apple lover sample the many tasty ways we have to consume this All American fruit: an apple slushy, fried apple pie, apple turnovers, apple cobbler, candy apples. (Although, oddly, I’ve never seen my favorite snack on Main Street on Labor Day weekend: crunchy peanut butter on a sliced Gala.)

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Another thing I like about the festival is the accidental reunions. Stuck in the Late Middle columnist Bill Humleker mentions that in his Apple Festival column, too. For whatever reason, we locals see other locals this weekend that we only see at the Apple Festival. I don’t know why that is. I guess we don’t shop at Harris Teeter at the same time of day or visit Mezzaluna on the same night. I’m downtown a lot but maybe these long-lost friends only come downtown for the Apple Festival. The accidental reunion might mean that we see band boosters we joined on trips or Troop 605 Scouts that I led on a backpacking trek or folks I’ve worked with or former neighbors.
Ironically, one person you won’t run into at the Apple Festival is the apple farmer — except those delivering boxes of apples to the apple stands. This is their busy time of year. They’re working in the orchard or the packing house or trucking the crop to market.

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Another of my favorite things on Labor Day weekend is the Apple Festival beer garden.
Oh, wait. There’s not one. A beer garden is my fantasy favorite thing.
For years, I’ve led a failed crusade to add a beer garden to the Apple Festival. It’s sacrilege. If we have beer, people say, we’ll no longer be Mayberry. I don’t know about that. I’m sure Floyd had a stash of hooch.
My beer garden is very simple. Block off one of the avenues (I nominate First Avenue East, where Sanctuary Brewing Co. is located.) Sell ID-check wristbands for $5, with the money going to a local charity. Confine the beer drinkers in the beer garden; no beer allowed at the street fair itself. Beer, wine and hard cider vendors all would be local, giving them a big revenue boost.
It’s a good idea whose time has not yet come. I think it will in my lifetime.

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A good idea that has become a successful part of the Apple Festival is the Tour d’Apple, the bicycle event throughout the apple country that attracts hundreds of riders. They’re from here and from far away, adding to the crowd of people who are spending money here on Labor Day weekend. Most of the riders are finished in time for the King Apple Parade, which starts at 2 p.m. Monday. Metric century (62 miles) and century riders (100 miles) are pedaling the county roads most of the day. Now in its sixth year, the Tour d’Apple will have a record number of riders this year. It raises money for a variety of Four Seasons Rotary Club charities.

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Local folks who say they don’t like the Apple Festival usually cite the crowds and the traffic. Of course it’s crowded. That’s what makes it fun. And there are lots of ways to avoid downtown if you know the shortcuts. The Apple Festival also gives local folks a chance to visit restaurants we don’t usually think of because we’re oriented to downtown dining. It’s a win for all the restaurants. The ones downtown are crowded with festival attendees; the ones away from downtown get the runover and festival refugees.
I’ll plunge into the crowd at least a couple of times over the weekend. Who doesn’t want to celebrate the apple?

Reach Editor Bill Moss at