Change and more of the same can be found at 41st Sourwood Festival

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Change is such an unavoidable part of life that its inevitability is part of our lexicon. Yet a well-known saying maintains that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When the 41st Sourwood Festival returns to Black Mountain on Saturday, Aug. 11, both of those statements will ring true.

The festival, which brings over 200 vendors and tens of thousands of visitors to Sutton, Black Mountain and Vance Avenues every summer, takes its name from sourwood honey, which is produced only in the southern Appalachian Mountains available in varied amounts every year.

Edd Buchanan tends to one of his beehives. Buchanan, who has been a steady presence at the Sourwood Festival since it began, will not have his booth there when the festival returns on Aug. 11 for its 41st year.

Since the first Sourwood Festival in 1978, Swannanoa Valley native Edd Buchanan has been there to sell his honey. This year, however, Buchanan’s spot on the south side of Sutton Avenue will be filled by someone else.

"Our booth has always provided entertainment and education for people," said Buchanan, who brought an active hive enclosed in a glass case to the festival every year. "Hundreds of people would gather around and watch me get in the case with the bees wearing a t-shirt. For a lot of those people that's the only time they've seen a beehive up close like that."

Buchanan estimates he's talked about beekeeping and honey production to "hundreds of thousands" of people at the festival through the years. But after 40 years of setting up and taking down his booth it was time for Buchanan to move on from the festival, according to his son Eddy. 

“Our operation isn’t what it used to be,” said Eddy, the fifth generation of beekeepers in his family “We don’t have the honey to supply the festival and the locals who want it.”

Sourwood, which borrows its name from a tree also known as the “Lily of the Valley” or the “Appalachian Lily, is the “Cadillac of honey,” Eddy said.

"Everybody has different tastes," Edd added. "Sourwood honey pleases the palates of more people than any other type."

The amount of sourwood honey generated annually varies greatly, according to Eddy, who operates Sourwood City Apiaries with his father. Edd used to keep as many as 400 hives. 

“That’s just not the case anymore,” the younger Buchanan said. “I’d say we have around 100 hives and we simply don’t produce as much honey anymore.”

While Edd, who is 82-years-old, won’t be attending the festival in his traditional capacity, that doesn’t mean he won’t be there, according to Bob McMurray, the executive director of the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the festival every year.

Edd Buchanan, left, and his son Eddy examine a hive from their beekeeping operation in Black Mountain. Edd, who has had a booth at every Sourwood Festival since it began, will not be in his familiar spot along Sutton Avenue this year.

“We plan on honoring Edd with a plaque on Saturday,” McMurray said. “He’s been involved since the beginning so we want to make sure to recognize his participation for past 41 years.”

Despite Edd's absence there will be plenty of Sourwood honey available for purchase this year, according to McMurray.

“Some years there is more Sourwood honey available than others,” he said. “This year we’ll have several honey providers at the festival, including one from Marion who will have plenty of it.”

Other than a few new faces, this year’s festival will be the same family-oriented event with a “little bit of everything” that inspires feelings of nostalgia in many of the thousands of people who attend it.

The festivities will get underway on Friday, Aug. 10, shortly after the streets close at 5 p.m. The amateur singing contest, Sourwood Idol, will begin two hours later under the big white tent in the parking lot on the northwest corner of the intersection of Black Mountain and Sutton Avenues.

This year the competition will feature around 15 contestants, McMurray said.

“This is the 14th year of Sourwood Idol,” he said. “We award a first, second and third prize every year and this year we’re adding a category for kids.”

Applications for the competition can be found at and must be submitted to the chamber of commerce before Aug. 6.

The festival itself opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11 when it will run until 8 p.m. It will run from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 12. A shuttle service is available from the parking lot of the Black Mountain Ingles all day on Saturday, McMurray said.

“There is also a lot more parking this year,” he said. “People can park at the old Bi-Lo or in the public parking lot on Terry Estate Drive. Both of those places are just a short walk from the festival.”