Making the Grade at the Saluda Arts Festival

The Saluda Arts Festival is expanding up and down the line.

The Saluda Arts Festival is expanding up and down the line.

Although perhaps best known for its iconic Coon Dog Day Festival in July, the foothills town of Saluda — home to the steepest standard-gauge railway grade in the country — is growing its annual spring Arts Festival every year.

Happening May 16, the event will feature more artists than ever before (almost 90 this time), working in a variety of different mediums. Robin Kirby, a potter who makes functional and decorative items for the home, has lived in Saluda for the past 10 years, and is one of many returning exhibitors.

“It’s always a fun show to do,” she says. “The weather is always beautiful and the support staff is top notch.” What’s more, she says, the crowd has increased every time.

Entertainment has diversified, perhaps influenced by the edgy street scene in Asheville. “Ananda” Heather Springsteen, a stiltwaker, will tower over the scene, joined by balloon sculptor Stephanie Miles.
Several bands will provide a live soundtrack for the day’s festivities, including the Brevard-based festival favorite the Hogtown Squealers — old-time, ragtime and honky-tonk — and the Foothills Old Time String Band, a group that showcases Appalachian songs played on instruments that were popular in Western North Carolina back before radio was even thought of.

Recently, the band renamed itself the Saluda Grade String Band. It’s a location thing, as they explain in a post on their Facebook page: “Our members live in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. In the center of that is the Saluda Grade. Two of our band members live on the Green River near Saluda. The rest of us live in Hendersonville and Tryon, as well as Campbello, Landrum, and Union, SC.”

The emphasis on vintage tunes is appropriate: Main Street Saluda boasts the relatively rare designation of inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This encompasses 16 buildings and the famous railway, which ascends an amazing 606 feet in less than three miles.

The Saluda Arts Festival happens on Main Street in downtown Saluda on May 16, 10am-4pm. Free admission. Also: food vendors, local restaurants, kids’ activities, and live music. For more information, call 828-749-3900.

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