It's full speed ahead for Canton Labor Day

Vicki Hyatt, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.
·3 min read

Apr. 28—CANTON — After a budget work session, the Canton governing board turned to a question that's been on the mind of most in the community — will the traditional Labor Day festivities return in 2021?

The board, faced with several options, unanimously agreed Monday to go big and go bold. Headline acts that had to be canceled will be on deck for this September, and the town is gambling there will be enough excitement and revenue to cover the costs.

Diamond Rio was to be the headliner for the 2020 before COVID-restrictions prohibited mass gatherings. The contract allowed the town to push the commitment to the following year, Lisa Stinnett told the board, but if the town changes directions for this year's celebration, a cancellation fee will be due.

This will be the 115th Labor Day Celebration in Canton, and Stinnett has long been the point person for events ranging from planning the revered Labor Day parade to vendors to entertainment acts. Last year's event unfolded like no other celebration in the festival's long history with a patriotic flyover air parade honoring local frontline workers.

That was about all that was allowed as a pandemic held grip on the nation, but Canton leaders vowed something must be done to honor the town's signature event that's the longest-running Labor Day festival in the Southeast.

For the 2021 events, Stinnett said the stage is reserved, and acts booked for last year are still on deck, but warned COVID may make sponsorships harder to come by.

"A lot of people have taken a hit," Stinnett said in reference to hardships many businesses suffered through the pandemic. "A lot of people were good to give $1,000 to $1,500, and I don't think we'll see that. I think there are a lot of sponsors we will not be able to count on."

Stinnett offered two options, with one being to scale back by using smaller acts such as bringing in air dogs, hiring local musicians to play downtown and perhaps even cutting back the festival to a single day. Or, she suggested, the town could go forth with planning a Labor Day as it has happened in recent years with the realization there may not be enough revenue to cover the costs.

"Breaking even is unrealistic," she said. "I'm good with whatever you choose."

Alderman Ralph Hamlett advocated for the two-day event.

"If we go down to one day, even for one year, people will say Labor Day has changed," he said.

Alderwoman Kristina Smith said she loved the idea of smaller musical acts downtown, but not for Labor Day this year.

"It's OK to lean into traditions, and pending COVID safety, we should do it," she said.

"We could offer something different, but that would be perceived as going backward," said Alderman Tim Shepard.

Mayor Pro Team Gail Mull recalled Labor Day celebrations through the years in voicing support for forging ahead, while Mayor Zeb Smathers agreed, advocating that the town should "put all the chips on the table."

"As much as Labor Day is coming back, Canton is coming back," he said. "We want people here to see this Labor Day as saying we're back," Smathers said. "This is a message to our region."

Smathers asked for a motion on the issue, at which point Hamlett moved and Mull seconded a motion to proceed ahead with the Labor Day celebration as it has been conducted in recent years. The motion passed unanimously.