The Violin Channel recently talked with Denise Ringler, Director of Arts Engagement for the Office of Arts & Cultural Programs and Festival Director of An Appalachian Summer Festival to discuss the coming season.
The Violin Channel will live stream four performances from this year's festival: The Canadian Brass Sextet on July 11, VC Artist Tessa Lark & Michael Thurber on July 16, the Tesla Quartet on July 20, and "The pianist with the hair" Julian Gargiulo on July 30.
Tell us about An Appalachian Summer Festival. When was it founded, where is it hosted and what is its core mission?
Celebrating its 37th season this summer, An Appalachian Summer Festival was established in 1984 by university leaders and community arts patrons who came together with a common goal: to create a multi-arts festival every summer, in locations across the university campus, presenting the best of the best in music, dance, theatre, film and visual arts for the benefit of the entire region.
Scheduled throughout the month of July, the festival has grown from a popular local and regional event to become a destination for visitors from around the country, who are attracted by the breadth and quality of its artistic programming, as well as the natural beauty of its High Country setting. With an audience of 28,000, the Southeast Tourism Society has named the festival one of the “Top Twenty Events in the Southeast” in recent years. Central to its mission is the goal of offering affordable access to the arts for all. An Appalachian Summer Festival’s line-up boasts world-renowned performers typically found only in metropolitan areas, at a fraction of the ticket prices charges by those artists in other venues, as well as a number of events offered at no charge.
The cross-genre festival offers a variety of music, theatre, dance, film, and visual arts. What can visitors expect to experience?
The festival prides itself on presenting a diverse menu, with offerings geared to almost every artistic taste and preference. Classical music programming ranges from symphonic performances in partnership with the Eastern Music Festival, under the direction of Maestro Gerard Schwarz, to chamber music programming featuring today’s most celebrated classical musicians across the world.
The popular music menu spans the world of Broadway, jazz, Americana, country, popular, rock, and world music. The roster of notable artists in recent years has included Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Botti, Rhiannon Giddens, Ben Folds, The Beach Boys, The Avett Brothers, Patti Lupone, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, Doc Watson, Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Hornsby, Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, kd lang, Dierks Bentley, The Band Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, and Trombone Shorty, among others.
The world’s finest contemporary dance companies routinely grace the festival stage, with performances by Parsons Dance, MOMIX, Pilobolus, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Dance Theatre of Harlem, among others. Compelling theatre is offered in partnership with the NC Black Repertory Company, and through past collaborations with Triad Stage, the Acting Company, and National Players. International film, a young artist competition, a varied lecture and workshop series, a juried sculpture competition, and a dynamic exhibition program presented by the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts are also key components of the festival’s distinctive programming mix.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
On the heels of the pandemic, we are excited about the opportunity to return to a live event format in our performance halls and galleries — and to bring audiences together once again. While the format for many of our events will be a bit different this season, with outdoor events, live streaming options, and socially distanced performances, there is great excitement and anticipation among our audience about a return to the social element that is so critical to the live performance experience.
The festival is a university-based arts program. Can you tell us about the venues where the concerts will take place?
As a university presenter, we are fortunate to enjoy access to a variety of venues across our campus, which are available for our use every summer. We’ll be presenting the 2021 season in four primary venues, including the 1700-seat Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts (home to our chamber music series by the Emerson String Quartet, Canadian Brass, Tesla Quartet, Tessa Lark with Michael Thurber and Julian Gargiulo — as well as performances by Parsons Dance Company, Paula Poundstone and Sarah Jones). Two outdoor venues will feature performances by Jason Isbell, Brian Stokes Mitchell with Megan Hilty, Alan Cumming with Ari Shapiro and the Charleston-based band, Ranky Tanky.
Visual arts programming, featuring a dynamic mix of contemporary exhibitions, is scheduled at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. Several virtual events, as well as an Outdoor Sculpture Walk, round out the festival season. Beginning in 2022, additional venues will again be utilized for festival events, including a 450-seat concert hall and a 330-seat thrust-stage theatre which is home to the festival’s annual theatre productions. 2022 will also welcome a return to orchestral programming to the Schaefer Center stage.
How did you adapt your festival to the pandemic this year?
Across all of our venues, we have maintained our commitment to public safety this summer, by adopting socially distanced seating, which allows audience members to select seating “pods” of two, four, or six and to sit together, with space between the pods. Our audiences will be encouraged to wear masks. Several changes have been made to our performance format to promote safety, including the elimination of concessions in our indoor venues, the elimination of intermission, entrance and egress procedures that minimize physical contact, and touch-free ticketing and materials distribution.
If we want to learn more about the festival, how can we do so?
The primary communication "hub" for the summer festival is its website: www.appsummer.org, which provides comprehensive details about the festival schedule, access to online ticket sales, background on each of the events, and resources for visitors to the area. Visitors to the website can also opt to join the festival’s email list, and to receive regular news and event updates prior to and throughout the festival season.