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‘Horn in the West,’ an outdoor drama produced every summer since 1952 in the Daniel Boone Amphitheatre, faces financial challenges, officials say. File photo

Originally published: 2013-03-12 18:19:52
Last modified: 2013-03-19 18:26:24

'Horn in the West' season uncertain, town council told

by Anna Oakes

Boone's "Horn in the West" is the longest-running Revolutionary War drama in the country and among the oldest outdoor dramas in the nation, but financial woes have brought the production to "a crisis point," Boone Town Councilman Rennie Brantz told council members Monday.

Brantz is also a board member of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association, the nonprofit organization that produces "Horn in the West" and operates the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum at town-owned property off on Horn in the West Drive. The council discussed the situation at its annual budget retreat.

"I think we have an important decision to make regarding the future of 'Horn in the West' as an outdoor drama," he said. "I think right now there isn't sufficient funding to have a performance this summer."

Michelle Ligon, SAHA chairwoman, did not respond to a call and emails as of presstime Tuesday. Late last month, she acknowledged that funding to open this season is an issue.

"Frequent rains impacted attendance last season ... and for that reason our revenues were down overall," she said in an email.

SAHA has an annual budget of approximately $270,000 but lacks a full-time director, relying on volunteers to manage its finances, Brantz said. Income from ticket sales has been inadequate to cover costs, he said, noting that the organization has amassed "considerable" debt.

Brantz added that facilities, including the outdoor amphitheater, are in bad shape.

"They've been band-aided for too long," he said.

"This is a 62-year undertaking in the town of Boone. It has brought recognition and a great deal of pride to our community."

Despite the good will and hard work of SAHA volunteers, "it looks like we're at a crossroads," he said. "It looks like we're at a crisis point. I think it will be difficult to have a 'Horn in the West' outdoor drama this summer without additional community support and town support."

Councilwoman Lynne Mason said she is concerned about the organization's deficit and wondered if the town could arrange for some mentoring to help set the organization on a better course. She agreed that the organization needs a director on staff.

Mayor Loretta Clawson said she is "very supportive" of SAHA but questioned whether "it's the town's responsibility to run an organization."

Brantz said SAHA recently held auditions for "Horn in the West" and is beginning to issue contracts for this year's season, which is scheduled to run from June to August. He said it might be wise to take a year off from the production and reorganize, and other council members agreed.

Councilwoman Jamie Leigh said the SAHA board needs to make organizational improvements before she could support additional town funding for SAHA and "Horn in the West."

"They need a better business model," she said.