The issue has bubbled beneath the surface for years: Does the annual Dogwood Festival have a broad appeal to Fayetteville’s diverse population? The most recently available demographic data indicates the city’s population of 204,000 residents is 45 percent White, 41 percent African-American and 10 percent Hispanic. Mayor Pro-Temp Mitch Colvin alluded to the figures at a Fayetteville City Council meeting when questioning whether festival musical headliners appeal to all segments of the community. Colvin had met privately with Festival Executive Director Carrie King prior to the meeting to discuss musical diversity that might broaden the appeal to African-Americans. Historically, Friday and Saturday night headliners have been country and rock performers.
Colvin, and Councilmen Chalmers McDougald and Larry Wright contend the main acts do not represent music preferences of half the community. King contends that over the course of the three-day festival as many as 25 diverse acts appear on stage. Colvin said the city contributes more than $100,000 in in-kind services and should expect main events to appeal to a broad swath of the community. During the popular three-day spring festival, King says, the events attract from 200,000 to 250,000 people each year. “We think we do a fair job of programing,” King said, adding that a 2011 study found the top four musical genres favored by festival-goers were country, rock, jazz and Christian.
More than once King invited Council members to join with the organization’s board in the selection of performers. She said the board of directors takes into account festival goer’s preferences, sponsor considerations and the budget in selecting musical acts. “I think there is a way that we can amicably work this out and make this more of a community event,” Colvin said during the Council meeting. Mayor Nat Robertson agreed. But McDougald pointedly took note that only one member of the festival board present was black. “It’s really lacking a little bit,” he said. “We have never excluded anyone from the decision-making process,” King insisted. She has been executive-director of the private organization since 2006.
“The Dogwood Festival recognizes the … growing diversity in the community and inclusion at festivals,” Board Chair Mary Beth MacKenzie said in a news release issued immediately following the Council meeting. “We have already planned our 2017 festival and entertainment, but this discussion will potentially frame the 2018 process,” she added. King would not disclose the performers or musical genres chosen for next year. MacKenzie pointed out the board has a non-scientific survey available on the Festival’s website asking about musical preferences. The survey choices are country, rock, urban/R&B/hip hop and jazz/blues.
For nearly 35 years Fayetteville’s Dogwood Festival has placed among the top festivals in North Carolina. The organization has donated more than $110,000 to other non-profits in the community. It’s stated purposes includes in part “encouraging unity through celebration and fostering civic pride.”