Ahoskie Heritage Day is worth saving

Published 10:57 am Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Having personally attended and covered (for this newspaper) each of the 13 previous Ahoskie Heritage Day events, I, without being boastful, can be an honest and forthright judge on how this past Saturday’s 14th annual event unfolded.

In a word – it was bad.

Now, saying that, everyone basically knew that the 2017 Ahoskie Heritage Day was a stripped down version of its predecessors. In late August, Ahoskie Town Manager Kerry McDuffie announced that the budget for this year’s event had been drastically reduced. By limiting the festival to a single day, McDuffie said the town saves $15,000. The biggest savings came through canceling Friday night’s scheduled live band and Saturday evening’s fireworks show.

The original budget for this year’s Heritage Day was $28,000. That figure was set in stone prior to McDuffie announcing in July that Ahoskie was in the midst of a financial crisis to the tune of a near $500,000 deficit. McDuffie had to empty the town’s savings account just to meet payroll and cover debt service payments for July and August. He also completely shut down the town’s Recreation Department and showed two long-serving department heads (Public Works and Fire Department) the exit door.

When he and I talked in July about how the budget deficit would impact Heritage Day, McDuffie hinted at that time that it wouldn’t be the same as in past years. He also said that it may look bad for the town to go out and throw a big party in the face of nearly a half-million-dollar deficit.

What I didn’t realize at that time was just how bad Heritage Day would play out.

It fell miserably short of enjoying the success of previous events….even the very first one in 2004 when Main Street was blocked off and merchants rolled out their wares to a pretty decent crowd. There was a popular Battle of the Bands that year at No Man’s Land Park, and the Art Show in the Parish Hall of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. The latter became a big part of Heritage Day…that is until this year where organizers pulled the curtain shut months before the scheduled date.

Other than the 2017 Vidant Wellness Center’s annual 5K event and Children’s Fun Run, which led off Heritage Day on Saturday morning, and Steve Owens and Summertime – a popular band that closed out the show on Saturday night – this year’s salute to Ahoskie’s proud past was a flop.

What was so desperately missing – other than attendance – was the main part of the day’s theme – heritage. Over past years there have been displays of how local citizens once thrived off the hand God dealt them – naming agriculture and homespun living. Other than a beautifully performed tribute to their heritage by the Meherrin Indian Tribe during a short, 30-minute performance on Saturday afternoon, the 2017 event was missing the customs and traditions that made Ahoskie what it is today.

The only good news to come out of the 2017 event was that the show, did indeed, go on. There were whispers weeks ago that the entire event would be canceled. If that had occurred, Heritage Day would have completely died.

For those that fought to keep this event alive, I personally thank you. No matter how bad it turned out to be, the good news is there’s always next year. And I would be remiss in my personal critique of 2017 by not offering a few suggestions to make future events more appealing to a wider audience.

Return Friday night to the agenda, with a rock / country rock band as the headliner. Moonshine would be my choice. Begin soliciting corporate donations now to offset the cost.

On Saturday, keep the 5K/Fun Run event, but ax the parade….it’s a waste of time and participation. Don’t know if it can be revived or not, but attempt to bring back the pork cooking contest and a group (the library folks are preferred, but I can understand their frustration with the town right now) to sell the barbecue plates.

From around 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. the event can feature a judged competition between gospel groups / soloists. To keep the afternoon “beat” going, either hire a local band or conduct an “Ahoskie’s Got Talent” show to keep the crowd intact and entertained. Saturday night’s featured band must continue to be of a Beach Music variety.

Bring back the carnival type rides….that attracts the kids, who bring their parents, who spend the money with the food and craft vendors, which keeps those folks happy.

And make sure to return Ahoskie heritage to Ahoskie Heritage Day.


Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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