By David Rogers. August 1, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — We will remember the 31st Annual Symphony By The Lake in Blowing Rock, at Chetola Mountain Resort, as a spectacular event. The music was grand, the food and beverages served all around the venue, and the more than 4,000 friends and new acquaintances alike were in good spirits with most very much in concert with the 2018 theme, “The Colors of the Mountains.”
COVER IMAGE: Colorful George (AKA “Candyman”) Wilcox certainly was in the spirit of things. His outfit did have some “Music Man” appeal. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
When an event spans more than three decades in the making and continues to grow in popularity, you know you have something special. In this case, it was born in 1987 of a community-focused partnership between the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber, Chetola, and so many other business sponsors and volunteers. To take nothing away from Savor or Winterfest, Symphony by the Lake has evolved as Blowing Rock’s signature event of the year, perhaps rivaling even the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show for its economic impact.
Folks in earlier days of Symphony recall that scores of volunteers would remain behind after the last strains of music had faded into the night and help take things down and clean up, their work illuminated by the headlights of cars ringing the venue for just that purpose. Initially, sponsors were harder to come by. Today, the event is blessed with sponsorship not just by Chetola, as host, but also significant capital investments by the likes of Hendrick Automotive from off the mountain, Kennedy-Herterich Foundation, and the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, among others.
Events always work when they are win-win for the principal partners involved. If there was paid admission of 4,000 and let’s assume that the tickets sold (accounting for children, advance purchases, etc.) averaged $30 apiece, that’s $120,000 in ticket revenue, not counting sponsorships and patrons tents, etc. Of course, there are expenses, but considering the volunteer labor we would estimate that the Chamber’s net might be in the neighborhood of 50%, give or take, which is a pretty good dent in the organization’s annual budget, if true.
Chetola makes out pretty well, too, with lodging accommodations booked for the weekend, meals in the restaurants, and special symphony-related events all sold out. What’s more, Blowing Rock’s highest-profile resort — if only by virtue of its location — gets important promotional exposure to 4,000+ potential future customers. That’s just good marketing.
Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce officials noted to us recently that the Symphony by the Lake has never been canceled because of rain (or any other kind of weather). There have, of course, been years where the crowds have thinned because of wet weather, or even the threat of rain, but Friday’s Symphony was almost magical in its timing. Earlier in the day, St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church’s 60th annual Tour of Homes made it through the day without a hint of moisture until the closing minutes. Then, after a late afternoon shower, the skies cleared for the unfettered spectacle we know as the Symphony. And it stayed clear all the way through the spectacular fireworks display and beyond, a full moon begging for howls of delight and ceaseless cheers for the pyrotechnic performance synchronized with John Philip Sousa’s “Stars & Stripes Forever” at the end.
We have to thank the many patron tent sponsors who invited us into their spaces to sample their various and sumptuous offerings. Businesses were honoring employees and customers alike. Organizations were thankful for their volunteers. And of course this being an election year, politicians were meetin’ and greetin’.
It was all great fun, but I retired this year to the nearby home above the Symphony, of Zika and Pete Rea, the principals of ZAP Fitness, Blowing Rock’s globally recognized elite running team. I chatted with Tyler Pennel, arguably ZAP’s #1 competitor after finishing 5th in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and 4th in the 2018 Boston Marathon. Pete Rea was nothing short of impressive with his knowledge of distance running history, especially when he asserted that — 51 years later — Jim Ryun’s then world record of 3:51.1 in the mile run may be the single most impressive performance in distance running because it was done on a dirt track in Bakersfield, California. It left you wondering what standard he might have established running on today’s synthetic track surfaces. Bakersfield is the city where I grew up. I was 16 at the time of Ryun’s world record feat. I had tried to go to that track and field event, but could not afford the $3 ticket!
“Not only was the event run on a dirt track,” Rea pointed out, “but Ryun had no real competition at that distance and there was no ‘rabbit’ like we often have today to help force the pace. Ryun was his own rabbit.”
And I got to sit across from Ray Flynn, now a 60-something business manager or agent for 40+ athletes around the world. Back in the days when he was a competitive peer of Sebastian Coe, Steve Scott, Steve Ovett, Eamonn Coughlan and other stars of the early 1980s. He ran a personal best mile in 3:49.77 in Oslo, Norway, in 1982, not far off of Coe’s world record of 3:47.33 he had set in Brussels a year earlier.
This is an event that worked yesterday, works today and should work in future years. It’s one of those events you hope the partnership of principals and community will never change.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News