Local News

Religion continues to dog Dogwood Festival

Posted April 11, 2008 4:18 p.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2009 9:18 a.m. EDT

— Two weeks before the annual Dogwood Festival opens in Fayetteville, religious controversy continues to plague the event.

WCLN-FM, a contemporary Christian music radio station, offered to sponsor a gospel music concert during the April 25-27 festival and bring a Top 20 artist from Nashville, Tenn., said Dan DeBruer, general manager of the station. But organizers turned him down.

"We were just flat told, 'We're not doing gospel entertainment this year,'" DeBruer said.

WCLN hosted gospel acts at the festival two years ago, and it also has operated a booth there for years.

The station won't have a presence at this year's Dogwood Festival, and DeBruer said some WCLN listeners don't plan to attend the event.

"They have slighted the Christian community," he said.

The Dogwood Festival board of directors had already selected the styles of music for this year's event, and gospel wasn't on the list, Chairwoman Mary Talley said. Southern rock, country and R&B will be featured this year, she said.

"We want the Dogwood Festival to be a tradition for everyone, so that each year, you can come out and see something new and fresh – maybe hear something you've never heard before," Talley said.

The dispute over the gospel concert follows an earlier dust-up over church-sponsored booths at the festival.

One local pastor said he was told no religious groups would be allowed to have a booth. Festival officials denied that but said they had received complaints that churches were pushing pamphlets on people and passing out free food, which angered vendors trying to sell food at the festival.

Dogwood Festival officials issued a statement this week, saying they welcomed religious groups as long as they followed the festival's rules.

"We are not trying to keep religion out. We are not anti-Christian," Talley said, noting most of the people working on the event are Christian.

Hay Street United Methodist is sponsoring a Christian jazz group and serving treats on its property downtown in a festival-sanctioned event.

The festival's board reviews the event each year, looking for ways to improve, and Fayetteville officials already have asked them to review policies regarding religious groups.

Leaders in the local Christian community said they hope their interests will be represented at next year's festival.

"They took personal preferences too much into account and not the preferences of the community they are trying to serve," DeBruer said.