He stood out like a sore thumb.
Standing on the red carpet at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh last fall, I found myself in the midst of the biggest names in the genre. To the right were The Gibson Brothers, Sam Bush and Claire Lynch, to the left Bela Fleck, Rhonda Vincent and The Del McCoury Band — a who’s who of string music.
The Oasis Shriners will be taking over Maggie Valley next weekend as they hold their Spring Ceremonial at the festival grounds.
Maggie Valley officials are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after experiencing several tumultuous years.
Town officials took time to revel in their 2014 accomplishments while setting goals for 2015 during a recent retreat. While 2013 marked a tough year for the town with a divided board of aldermen, some big staff changes, unhappy residents and businesses and a struggling local economy, 2014 was far more productive.
In an effort to bring in more tourism dollars during the cold winter months, the first WinterFest Smoky Style will be held Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.
Maggie Valley town leaders are questioning the amount of money the town plows into its festival grounds each year and how much of a support role the town should play for outside events staged at the venue.
The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last week to suspend Town Manager Tim Barth and Festival Director Audrey Hagar for a week with pay after questions arose about dubious decisions made by both leading up to a country music concert at the town’s festival grounds in August.
Maggie Valley residents and leaders are questioning how and why town taxpayers ended up footing the bill for a Country music concert at the festival grounds last month — and whether the town will end up holding the bag for some $7,000 after the concert finished in the red.
A Thursday meeting with Maggie Valley business owners and area leaders will serve as the first test to see if the valley can successfully come together for the town’s common good.
Maggie Valley’s will no longer employ a festival director effective Sept. 5 — a decision that comes as no surprise to town leaders or the festival director herself.
“I had a sneaking suspicion with the new direction,” said Festival Director Audrey Hager, referencing the town board’s multiple assertions that it wants out of the festival business. “I kind of knew it was coming because it’s a totally different strategy than the previous board.”
The coordinators of the annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event have strapped Maggie Valley leaders a seemingly impossible ultimatum that could leave the town in straits no matter what they decide.
Rally in the Valley coordinators asked the town to bar any other motorcycle festivals from coming to town the week before or after its September rally in hopes of ensuring a bigger draw for its own event. If the town didn’t comply, Rally in the Valley would be no more.
The town dutifully responded by asking Maggie’s other big motorcycle event of the fall, Thunder in the Smokies, traditionally held the weekend before Rally in the Valley, to move dates.
But, Rally in the Valley then upped its demand. If Maggie wants to keep the Rally in the Valley, it can be the only motorcycle festival held there during the entire fall.
“The Town of Maggie Valley has always welcomed The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association and their customers to Maggie Valley,” said Sandy Owens, a spokeswoman for the association that puts on Rally in the Valley, in an email. “We are hoping that we can come to an agreement with the town that will allow us to move forward with future successful fall rallies.”
Owens declined to comment further.
And with that, the town found itself between a rock and a hard place: it will lose Rally in the Valley if town officials do not meet the terms, but it will lose Thunder in the Smokies if it does.
The town has a long standing agreement with the company that hosts Thunder in the Smokies, which puts on a May rally in addition to its one in September.
Handlebar Corral Production has run Thunder in the Smokies in Maggie for nine years, and has said it will stop holding both its fall and spring event if the town sides with Rally in the Valley.
Chris Anthony, owner of Handlebar Corral Production, said it would be “practical” to pull out of both commitments — its fall and spring Thunder in the Smokies events.
However, should Rally in the Valley leave Maggie, Thunder in the Smokies has indicated that it would like the rally’s spot on the third weekend in September.
Negotiations between Maggie Valley and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association will not concluded “anytime soon,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone.
DeSimone said that the town has done its best to convince the Harley-Davidson Association to continue hosting its annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event in Maggie. The town has offered to keep the 2012 event schedule status quo while proposing that the 2013 schedule could be negotiated.
“Balls in their court,” said DeSimone, who spoke at a public meeting on the issue last Wednesday.
The association is expected to make a decision in the next month, and it’s unclear whether it will choose to stop holding the motorcycle rally in Maggie if it doesn’t get exclusive booking or it will continue as it has for 12 years.
There is still a chance that the association will move forward with the event again this coming year, DeSimone said.
“It’s not a done deal yet,” he said.
Discussions at a recent public meeting lasted no more than 20 minutes and focused mostly on whether dates could be retroactively changed should the association pull its event from Maggie’s roster.
However, one resident spoke up about his concern about losing any motorcycle events.
“I want to impress upon you how much money the motorcycles bring to this battle,” said Maggie resident James Carver, who owns Maggie Valley Restaurant. “Save those motorcycles.”
Maggie Valley boosts four motorcycling events each year: Rally in the Valley in the fall, RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in the summer and Thunder in the Smokies’ fall and spring events.
Each event brings a crowd into the valley — people who will spend their money at Maggie’s shops and sleep in its hotels. And, like many Western North Carolina towns, much of Maggie Valley’s income is based around tourism.
By hosting large-scale events at its fairgrounds, Maggie aims to attract more visitors and money to the town. The loss of one event such as Rally in the Valley would further wound Maggie’s already hurting economy.
“It (Rally in the Valley) brings a lot of business to the town,” said Audrey Hager, Maggie’s festival director. “Also, it’s a big fundraiser for the chamber so that hurts as well.”
The town is still trying to figure out how much impact each event has on the local economy.
The Harley-Davidson Association, which runs Rally in the Valley, has complained that attendance and revenues are down, Hager said. The association has lost “substantial money” during the last few years, she said.
“They cannot sustain the losses they’ve had the last three years,” Hager said.
Without competition from other motorcycle events, the rally would likely see a rise in attendees and profits.
As for Thunder in the Smokies, Anthony admitted that the money generated from running such an event is not always great but said a big factor in attendance is the weather.
“If the weather is good, our crowd is good,” Anthony said. “When I say good, not great.”
Anthony said he did not know how much the events impacted Maggie.
“We don’t really know what the total is that we’re bringing to Maggie Valley,” Anthony said.
Neither event organizer has disclosed their attendance numbers to the town. The numbers would help quantify each event’s impact on Maggie.