WNC sees boom in performance venues

The days of driving hours away from Western North Carolina to see your favorite acts may well be over.

In the past five years, three major performance venues have debuted in the region: Western Carolina University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center; the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin; and now, the brand new Events Center at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Along with these venues come nationally  recognized performers ranging from comedian Jay Leno to country group Lady Antebellum to rock legends Crosby, Stills & Nash - not to mention top-notch bluegrass, the Atlanta Ballet, acrobatic shows, and Broadway quality musicals.

This week, Smoky Mountain News offers an overview of these   city-size concert venues found in the middle of the mountains.


Harrah’s Events Center - Cherokee

The basics: Last weekend, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino celebrated the opening of its 3,000-seat Events Center, which cost about $30 million to build. The venue includes four VIP suites, box seating and more than 1,100 balcony seats. Its stage is 60 by 40 feet and framed by large HD resolution 32-foot screens.

What to expect: The Events Center’s opening weekend included performances by Hank Williams Jr. and Lady Antebellum. “I think country music will really define Harrah’s Cherokee,” said Leanne Bridges, vice-president of marketing.

But the venue will also feature top-tier talent across all genres including rock, pop, R&B and oldies. There’ll be mixed martial arts and a Chinese acrobatic show.

Who’s coming?: Harrah’s is targeting everyone within a 300-mile radius, including major metropolitan areas like Charlotte and Atlanta. The casino expects a sizeable influx of clientele from a 75-mile radius. “Not everyone can afford to go to Atlanta for a weekend,” said Bridges. “If you’re local, you can just drive in.” Currently, the average casino client is 55 years old. The Events Center might shift that demographic down to 30 to 35 years old, according to Bridges.

The final word: “[The Events Center] is an image booster to show the scope of the facility. Harrah’s Cherokee is not just a little gambling house, it is a true destination,” said Bridges.

Info: 828.497.7777 or  www.harrahscherokee.com.


Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts - Franklin

The basics: The 1,500-seater Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts had its grand opening in July 2009. Including 500 balcony seats, the venue also boasts a 130 by 140 feet stage. Phil and Sharon Drake, who own the venue, have not released its building cost.

What to expect: The Center has focused mostly on bluegrass, country and gospel acts. Past performers include Randy Travis, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Blind Boys of Alabama, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs. Other shows have included The Nutcracker, Lord of the Dance, the Golden Dragon Acrobats and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Who’s coming?: Other than local clientele, the Center attracts concertgoers from northeast Georgia, Greenville, S.C., Asheville, Black Mountain and Charlotte.

The final word: “We hear comments all the time, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this show in Franklin, North Carolina. I’m driving home, and I’m home by 10:30,” said Bo Bryant with the Center’s marketing company.

Info: 828.524.1598 or www.greatmountainmusic.com.


Western Carolina University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center - Cullowhee

The basics: More than 100,000 visitors have passed through the doors of FAPAC since its opening in 2005. The $30 million facility houses a 1,000-seat performance venue, classrooms and WCU’s Fine Art Museum. Unlike the other venues, FAPAC is a nonprofit. The venue will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a gala featuring red carpets, bright lights, gallery openings and a Gershwin musical on Oct. 22.

What to expect: Of the 42 shows it has put on, about half have sold out. FAPAC usually highlights theatre, music and dance. Its past performers include Jay Leno, Atlanta Ballet, The Von Trap Children and Mickey Rooney. In the near future, look out for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Second City Comedy Show, world-class Irish dancers, a high-spirited Russian Folk Festival, and Broadway musicals like Rent and Kiss Me, Kate.  

Who’s coming?: About 70 percent of the patrons are 50 or more years old, according to Paul Lormand, director of FAPAC. The bulk of them come from Jackson County, followed by Macon and Haywood counties.

The final word: “We want to, of course, touch their hearts, maybe move them in a spiritual way, but really the whole thing is, we want it to be an intellectual experience,” said Lormand.

Info: 828.227.2479 or fapac.wcu.edu

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