The block has stopped rocking.
Organizers announced today that the downtown street festival Rock the Block is ending its 12-year run. It will be replaced by a new festival organized by the company behind Texas Pete hot sauce.
“I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed being one of the organizers of Rock the Block,” said Ed McNeal, Winston-Salem’s director of marketing and communications, who has been involved with the festival since 2005. “But I can honestly say it has served its purpose.”
The festival started in 2002 as a collaboration between the city and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership to highlight Fourth Street’s $2.6 million makeover. Rock the Block was intended to be a one-time festival, and attendance of 5,000 was anticipated. However, an estimated 20,000 people showed up.
It proved so popular that it became annual event. In 2003, there were two Rock the Block events, one in May and another in September, but organizers eventually settled on one event in September.
“We had, in the process of producing that event, a front-row seat to seeing downtown grow,” McNeal said. “It’s just a great feeling to see you have had that kind of growth.”
Rock the Block scaled back in recent years, in part, McNeal said, because the city was “trying to have less impact on residents and businesses in that particular area of downtown,” and the festival moved from night to daytime.
A “Moonlight Madness 5K and Fun Run” at night was started in 2011 as part of the city’s United Way campaign fundraiser. That event will continue with city staff and volunteers, and will be held on the third weekend in September.
Last year, Rock the Block had to compete with four other major events the same day — the Winston-Salem Air Show, Carolina Oktoberfest, Cirque Italia’s “Aquatic Spectacular” and the Bethabara Apple Festival. Other outdoor events in September include the Hispanic Festival and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Attendance at last year’s Rock the Block was about 2,500, McNeal said, in part because of a cold rain. In fact, rain was a longtime part of Rock the Block. In 2005, McNeal even remarked jokingly, “If you want it to rain in Winston-Salem, just schedule Rock the Block.”
But low attendance was not a factor in the decision to end the festival, McNeal said.
“Maybe two years prior, we saw you could come downtown just about any time and there was activity,” he said. “There was vibrancy that was not there when the festival started.
“There are big events behind us and in front of us, and from a city government perspective, if this is being taken care of privately, we don’t need to invest in continuing to do this.”
To that end, a new multiday downtown festival in the arts district called the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival will take the place of Rock the Block. The event, the third weekend in September, is being organized by T.W. Garner Food Co., which makes Texas Pete. Admission will be free, and food and drinks will be available for purchase.
“This will be an event focused on full-service restaurants located in the city of Winston-Salem,” Brian Cole, who will be the festival’s project manager, said in a news release. “Restaurants will provide on-street set-ups that showcase their specialties — those dishes that have people swooning over the tastes and coming back for more.”
Cole was previously the executive director of Winston-Salem’s “Music in the Streets” program.
“We’re unbelievably excited about this event’s potential,” Glenn Garner, the vice president of marketing for T.W. Garner Food, said in the statement. “We feel strongly that a Winston-Salem culinary event like the one we’re planning has the potential to receive regional and even national attention.”
Live music will be held on multiple stages with nationally recognized talent performing, according to the news release. Details will be announced later.
“Downtown is in very good hands,” McNeal said, adding that the city has been in talks since October and November of last year about the transition. “They have their finger on the pulse of it.”