Estimates for Cheerwine festival hit 100K attendees

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023

SALISBURY — The tradition that began in 2017 was back with a roar this weekend, and those in the know estimate 100,000 attended the day-long event celebrating the city’s famous red soda, Cheerwine.

Though the festival did not officially open until noon, party-goers were already on hand by 9 a.m., and food vendors that had managed to open were not sorry. By noon, Innes and Main streets and most side streets in between were becoming packed with people, some from around the corners and some from across the state, or even outside North Carolina.

Several visitors came to see family and join in on the fun from places like Tampa, Florida, and Atlanta and one couple on a long honeymoon stopped in on a trip around the states from Las Vegas.

Food trucks and beer tents anchored a substantial portion of the event, and all had some sort of Cheerwine connection, be it a new ale, a sauce for meats or a popcorn or cotton candy flavor. Craft vendors were in the mix as well, along with activities for children, including a climbing wall and face painting. A massive stilt walker in American flag garb shared high fives and, when they were brave enough, hugs with children. Most honored the request that pets not attend, and the overarching attitude was cheerful and friendly.

The weather for Saturday had predicted some clouds and some sun, and possible thunderstorms late in the day. As it turned out, the sky stayed mostly overcast, and there was a light breeze, making for an incredibly pleasant time outdoors. The rain never arrived, fortunately.

In addition to accepting cash and debit/credit cards, a number of vendors accepted Downtown Dollars this year. Downtown Dollars are a type of currency, offered by Downtown Salisbury, Inc., that is specific to the city’s downtown, matching cash dollar for dollar. Downtown Dollars can be used at any participating Downtown Salisbury restaurant, store or spa, and is essentially the same as buying a gift card, only you are not limited to a specific business.

Most of the businesses along Main and Innes streets were also open for business during the festival, and the walk-in traffic was substantial. Alyssa Redmond, who owns the South Main Book Company, posted on the shop’s Facebook page, “Next year, this event should total be a weekend, instead of just one day, yeah?”

Musical performances on the Main Street stage kicked off with country music from Ryan Perry, who got the crowds gathered and dancing, followed by New Local, one of Charlotte’s top party bands, and Divided by Four, a Salisbury band. The night’s music topped off with a performance by Neon Trees, whose careers began in 2005 and whose name is inspired by the neon trees on In-and-Out Burgers. The band broke through with their single “Animal” after spending some time as the opening act for The Killers.

By the time Neon Trees hit the stage, the street in front of the stage was packed elbow to elbow, and people were stacked on the courthouse and the Rowan Museum steps, but many managed to find room to dance.

A separate stage on Fisher Street also had music and performances. The Sunshine Stage offered Lee Knox, CJ Sunshine Band, Nancy Jones Band, Greta Rose Band, The Stokes, Kim Wire and Jordan Roby.

Police said no events of any significance occurred and the city was more than happy with how the event unfolded.

“We were extremely excited to partner again with Cheerwine to put on yet another successful festival, said Parks and Recreation Director Nick Aceves. “We expected roughly 50,000 people but had well more than that attend. Vendors were pleased with the turnout and many had a great time. We look forward to meeting soon to discuss how we can make 2024 even more successful.”