First CulloWHEE! ArtsFest truly did provide “hot jazz in the cool Smokies”

CULLOWHEE – “Hot jazz in the cool Smokies” proved more than just a promotional slogan for Western Carolina University’s inaugural CulloWHEE! ArtsFest, as attendees of the new outdoor celebration of the fine and performing arts bundled themselves in sweatshirts and braved record low temperatures for a sizzling performance by The Manhattan Transfer Saturday evening (June 15).

Approximately 2,200 people, seated in lawn chairs or on blankets spread out on an outdoor site across from the Ramsey Regional Activity Center, enjoyed a 90-minute performance by the internationally acclaimed Manhattan Transfer.

Thousands of others across the state watched the concert from their homes, as UNC-TV broadcast the show live over its 11-channel network. It was the public television system’s first live, full-length performance broadcast outside the UNC-TV studio, said Nicole Triche, associate producer.

The CulloWHEE! ArtsFest drew about 3,400 during its two-day debut, said Bill Clarke, festival chairman.

“From all accounts and from all the feedback we’ve received from everyone involved – performers, vendors, customers and sponsors – the launch of the CulloWHEE! ArtsFest will go down as a success,” Clarke said. “Things went very smoothly, and the biggest questions we received were centered around ‘who’ll be performing next year’ or ‘you might think about doing it this way next year.’ The key words there are, of course, ‘next year.’”

In fact, planning is already under way for next year’s event, Clarke said, even as crews were clearing the final remnants of this year’s festival from the fields.

“And, if you missed Saturday night’s live broadcast of The Manhattan Transfer, or if you were at the concert and you forgot to set your VCR, not to worry,” he said. “UNC-TV will rebroadcast the concert three more times during the next three years, so consult your local listings.”

The festival kicked off Friday, June 14, as afternoon rains gave way to clear skies just in time for performances by Western Carolina University’s own Catamount Chamber Singers and Music Technology Ensemble, both of which performed several times during the weekend, and the Cyndra Fyore Jazz Quartet. The legendary Joe Sample and David Sanborn closed the festival’s first night, with about 1,200 on hand.

Saturday’s performers included Charlotte funk-jazz ensemble Hipshack, Latin salsa by Bio Ritmo, traditional jazz by the Noel Freidline Quintet, and Argentinean tango-flavored jazz featuring violinist Leonardo Suarez-Paz. Jazz musicians also performed on a second stage in the Verizon Wireless-WRGC Jazz Village throughout the weekend.

The festival is designed to give students and faculty from Western’s academic programs in the arts an opportunity to perform in front of appreciative audiences and to interact with national-caliber performers, while providing a boost to the region’s tourism economy by providing another destination for potential visitors.