Uniquely Salisbury: Cheerwine Festival delights crowd despite weather concerns

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

(Correction: A previous version of this story said that the public works department took aerial photos of the event to gauge crowd size. Salisbury’s public safety department took the photos.)

SALISBURY — Inclement weather forced event organizers to push up the Cheerwine Festival’s music schedule on Saturday to get visitors safely home before the storms began. However, attendees still got to see the full musical lineup in action, along with the other various amenities that make it Salisbury’s largest annual draw.

Parks and Recreation Director Keisha Coxe said on Monday that the festival drew an estimated 100,000 visitors despite the weather concerns.

Coxe indicated that those numbers are derived from a combination of feedback from vendors regarding how much inventory they sell and aerial photography from the city’s public safety department. 

“(Public works) took snapshots throughout the evening,” Coxe said. 

Communications Director Linda McElroy praised the organizers’ decision to expand the festival’s footprint because even with comparable attendance figures from last year, the added space provided more room for visitors to take in what Cheerwine Festival had to offer.

Coxe added, “We got a lot of great feedback from vendors and business owners. The public said that the expanded footprint was a huge success.”

With severe storms predicted for Saturday evening, event organizers opted to push up the musical performances to wrap up the festival by 7 p.m. 

“We had been monitoring the weather since the start of the festival,” McElroy said. “Safety is our top priority. We wanted to make sure as we held the festival that people could be safe.”

McElroy said the city had local meteorologist Steve Monday of Rowan County Weather on site to assist as they kept a close eye on the weather.

Even with the amended schedule, the music played on. Coxe said that the bands were accommodating to the request. 

Utilizing the RoCo Alert system, event organizers created a Cheerwine Festival hashtag to provide updates for subscribers. 

“We were able to tailor a specific hashtag to our notification system that allowed us to push messaging to attendees or anyone who signed up for that specific hashtag,” McElroy said. 

The communications director mentioned that more than 1,000 people signed up for those notifications and hoped to see the number increase next year. 

Other festival feedback pointed to vendor approval of accessibility for set-up locations through multiple entrances. She said they would continue to explore how to improve vendor set up further in the future. 

Blanche and Julian Robertson Foundation Executive Director Jason Walser was quick to praise the organizers’ efforts in creating a memorable experience. 

“I feel like the inclusion of the park really enhanced the experience for visitors this year,” Walser said. “I thought it helped disperse some of the crowds.”

The festival’s logistical organization really stood out to Walser. 

“I felt like it was really well organized and managed all the way around from the bathrooms to security,” Walser said. “I felt like the entire festival was remarkably well orchestrated for the visitors. I felt safe and comfortable about as good as a festival experience as I have ever had. I give credit to city staff. I saw volunteers, city staff and law enforcement everywhere I looked.”

Walser remarked that he was proud of the staff and Salisbury as a whole, adding, “I thought downtown shined on Saturday.”

Major Justin Crews, the Salisbury Police Department public information officer, indicated on Monday that aside from an incident involving teenagers in the park, security went smoothly on Saturday. 

According to an email from Crews, seven juveniles were charged for their alleged roles in the fighting that broke out. Three juveniles were charged with simple affray and resisting a public officer. Juvenile detention was sought but denied, so the juveniles were released to their guardians.

Three juveniles were charged with simple affray, resisting a public officer and assault on a law enforcement officer.  Additionally, one of the three juveniles was charged with injury to personal property due to damaging a Rowan County Sheriff’s vehicle. Juvenile detention was sought for the juveniles but denied, so they were released to their guardians.

One juvenile was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a stolen firearm, possession of a handgun by a minor and resisting a public officer. Juvenile detention was sought and granted, and the juvenile was taken to Cabarrus Youth Development Center and held.

Crews said the schedule change did not disrupt security as the department had personnel slated to be there until late in the evening. Additional police presence was already in place to account for the expanded footprint, allowing law enforcement to act quickly during the fighting incident.