Carved into the hillside, at an elevation of 3,333 feet., lies the picturesque environs of Kidd Brewer Stadium, home of the three-time FCS National Champion Appalachian State Mountaineers. Affectionately known as “The Rock”, Kidd Brewer Stadium is known not only for the amazing surroundings that serve as a testament that this stadium is located at a higher elevation than any other football stadium east of the Mississippi, but also for being one of the toughest home turfs in America for opposing teams.
Since opening as Conrad Stadium in 1962, Kidd Brewer Stadium, or KBS for short, has seen the homestanding Mountaineers enjoy an all-time winning percentage in excess of .750. Coming into the 2013 season, App State had won 65 of their last 73 games inside these intimidating black wrought-iron gates. Coinciding with that impressive statistic is the meteoric rise of the program since 2005. First was the national championship seasons of 2005 & 2006, then came the program-defining and earth-shattering upset heard around the world of the mighty Michigan Wolverines at the Big House in Ann Arbor in 2007. That defining moment would be followed up by yet another national championship just a few months later, a dominant victory against another team wearing the same famed winged helmet as the Wolverines; the Joe Flacco-quarterbacked Delaware Blue Hens.
Along for the ride was the rapidly expanding Mountaineer fan base. As the wins piled up on the field the applications piled up in the admissions office. The school began to grow rapidly, in reality and in stature. The small school once known as Appalachian State Teacher’s College and located in the sleepy hollow of Boone was now emerging as a football powerhouse. Alumni could not help but pay attention. They felt a new connection to their alma mater, a new sense of pride in calling themselves a Mountaineer. Donations poured in and the school’s athletic booster club, the Yosef Club, soared to new heights in membership and dollars raised.
Mountaineer Football was the engine driving the machine, and drive it did! Attendance at Kidd Brewer Stadium reached new heights with each passing season. Appalachian’s cumulative attendance and per game average attendance for the regular season dominated FCS. Attendance routinely exceeded 130% of seated stadium capacity. Even in the “down” season of 2013, attendance was still among the highest in the land.
Today a new day has dawned in Boone. In November 2013, the last Southern Conference football game was played in Boone. On July 1, 2014, Appalachian will formally become full-time members of the Sun Belt Conference, and in the process culminate a ten-year rise to national prominence.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Securing a bite to eat and a drink to down in 2005 at Kidd Brewer Stadium would mean waiting in a long line to advance to the front of a concession stand line or pull-behind trailer to step up and order a hot dog or hamburger, maybe a popcorn, and a Pepsi. Needless to say, the options were extremely limited, or average at best. If this review were being done then, two stars would have been warranted.
Luckily for Appalachian Athletics and its fans, the food and beverage scene at Kidd Brewer Stadium has benefited just as greatly from the on-the-field success. With the various expansions and renovations since those days late in the 2005 season, the sheer number of points-of-sale has more than tripled inside the stadium, in addition to a number of kiosk-style options that allow for many more food choices.
The basics are still covered, and are offered at a reasonable price. Pizza is a staple, as is the case in most venues, in the form of Papa John's Pizza, which is afforded their own fixed point-of-sale locations on both sides of the stadium.
It can become easy for a frequent stadium traveler to take an order of nachos or some M&M's for granted, but what the frequent stadium traveler will never take for granted is the price of concessions. It's easy to forget that the nachos were warm and fresh; it's never easy to forget that they cost $8.
Luckily, a visitor to Kidd Brewer Stadium won't have to worry about those upper-echelon FBS prices, at least not yet. It appears the move up to the Sun Belt and FBS football will not result in substantial increases in concession cost. Let's hope that remains the case after the first few seasons which end with a Mountaineers bowl game victory.
In addition to the relatively low cost of the basics the other avenue in which Kidd Brewer Stadium gains additional star credit is in the kiosk-style offerings, especially the fantastic barbeque sandwiches of Woodlands BBQ. Woodlands BBQ is a local legend, and no trip to the High Country of North Carolina is complete without a visit to the famed Blowing Rock eatery. Delighting in the delicious delicacy, North Carolina-style of course, without even having to leave the stadium is a huge bonus and almost worth a star in and of itself.
Also of note is the piping hot homemade apple pies, supplied by a local vendor, which are huge and taste even more amazing than one can imagine on a cold afternoon in the stands. To complement those cold afternoons is a food truck which is set up in one corner of the stadium, offering a full assortment of coffees, lattes, & cappuccino's, as well as their own fair assortment of pastries and the like. Should your taste buds be more suited to a nice big funnel cake, complete with my personal favorite topping of cinnamon and powdered sugar, then you can find it on the KBS concourse as well.
If a warmer day is on tap, then snow cones are available for purchase. The children clearly love these, as evidenced by the many brightly-colored lips, courtesy of the many various flavor offerings. Needless to say, a visit to Kidd Brewer Stadium will not leave you hungry, and in fact, you might want to arrive a little bit before kickoff, if not to watch the large band contingent march into the facility, then to ensure that you have plenty of time to partake in the full complement of in-stadium treats.
As an FCS stadium not many competitors exist in regards to gameday atmosphere. In many ways, Kidd Brewer Stadium is, at least since the commencement of the modern-era (coinciding with the string of national championships), in a class all its own, joined only in the peer group by Montana's Washington-Grizzly Stadium and more recently North Dakota State's FargoDome.
If you are to ask any seasoned stadium traveler well-versed in the landscape of FCS football, they will inevitably tell you that to watch a football game in Boone is to be enveloped in Mountaineer mania. And they are right. When the gates swing open, two hours before kickoff no less, thousands of Appalachian students routinely rush in, running up the long sloping ascent to the main student seating area along the west sideline, in an attempt to secure the best seats possible to watch their Mountaineers.
It is a sight to behold, and one that cannot be replicated by many. It is not uncommon for as many as 12,000 members of App State's student body to attend the games, and to the credit of those in charge, the stage has always been set to afford students the non-negotiated right to attend the games, without ever having to worry about a student capacity. When student attendance outgrew the seating sections available, seating was shifted and realigned, opening up yet more student seating.
Today, students have seating options on all four sides of the field, both sidelines and both end zones, upper level and lower level. Appalachian has realized that the atmosphere at Kidd Brewer starts and ends with the passion of the student body and has done a great job of not turning a blind eye to their passion.
But now a new challenge has arrived, a stiffer test to the revered KBS atmosphere. Coinciding with the move to FBS and the Sun Belt is the need for the atmosphere to ramp up yet another notch, if a gameday at Kidd Brewer is to continue being hailed as one of the best in the land. Can the Mountaineer faithful do it?
I have no doubt that they can, especially if the product on the field is able to excel as expected at the next level. I think the fan base in Boone is primed to take the many traditions of an Appalachian gameday, from the now legendary "APP" - "STATE" sideline-to-sideline chant to the "and that is another Mountaineer (in unison) FIRST DOWN!" to the Sun Belt.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what ASU's newest rivals, fans of such schools as Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Arkansas State think of the atmosphere in Boone. I think they will arrive in wonderment...in wonderment of the stadium's bucolic setting, watch the game while marveling at the relentlessness of black and gold nation, and leave having enjoyed some true southern hospitality, infused with a little down home mountain flavor.
Boone, North Carolina is one of those small towns that epitomize the definition of "college town." Without the ever-looming presence of Appalachian State University, Boone would simply be another beautiful small Blue Ridge mountain community, comprised mainly of locals who have called the area home their entire lives and the many Floridians who "summer" in the region.
Fortunately, for all those with a piece of Boone in their hearts, the town has flourished right alongside the university. The population of the town of Boone more than doubles in number when classes are in session. The physical campus is wedged primarily into a few hundred acres, bound and split by the area's major thoroughfares, in the heart of downtown Boone. This creates an eclectic and diversified vibrancy for the downtown corridor, with portions of the university never more than a five to ten-minute walk from King Street (Downtown Boone's "Main Street").
These intertwined "town/gown" relationships, although sometimes contentious politically, has led to an active shopping/restaurant/cultural corridor, rarely replicated in communities this size. Boone is in many ways a "homegrown" town, meaning that local mom and pop shops and restaurants will always be favored to the national chains, though the chain options in town are rapidly on the upswing, for better or worse.
Some of the better establishments to visit are also some of the closest to campus and Kidd Brewer Stadium. If you or your significant other are bit by the shopping bug, then head straight to the Mast General Store, one of America's most-visited general stores, selling all sorts of clothing, shoes, housewares, and souvenirs. If you enjoy a sweet-tooth like mine, you will want to head straight to the side of the store bearing the famed candy barrels, full of all your favorite sweet treats, even those hard-to-find retro varieties, the kinds you will have to explain the importance of to your children.
Another shopping recommendation would include Farmer's Hardware, a booth-style mall constructed within the historic confines of the town's original hardware store, full of a variety of independent retailers. I must also make mention of the antique shops downtown, as an aficionado of vintage goods could very easily lose a few hours wandering the many nooks and crannies.
For all the foodies out there I offer up the following suggestions. First and foremost, a visitor to Boone must head to the restaurant named for the town's namesake, the Dan'l Boone Inn for a classic southern breakfast. Located just at the edge of campus, at the intersection of King Street and Blowing Rock Rd, the "Inn" has served as Boone's oldest restaurant for 50-plus years. Breakfast here is served family-style, in a historic structure that has served in a number of capacities, from the town's first hospital to a rooming house when ASU was ASTC. One word of advice: be patient! Crowds begin arriving early and they arrive in numbers, often even via tour bus.
If you prefer something a little different, then head over to the Boone Bagelry for the best bagel this side of the Mason-Dixon, or down to the Black Cat for a similarly-deserving burrito. Perhaps the closest sit-down establishment to Kidd Brewer Stadium is the Café Portofino, located just up Rivers Drive from the stadium and held in high affection for many years.
If you are looking for a great place to partake in a local brew, I might suggest the TApp Room, located directly across the street from the home arena of Appalachian State basketball, the Holmes Convocation Center. The TApp Room was recently named the 8th best college bar in America by Delish, in a ranking of the Top-15 college bars in America.
If you are willing to hop in the car and take a short drive, I would also suggest visiting Pepper's, Mountain House, & Bandanna's, all within a five-minute ride of campus. As you can probably tell by the sheer number of recommendations, the food options in Boone are not only surprising, given the population and the relatively remote location of the High Country, but the quality is generally fantastic.
In case the earlier mentions of Kidd Brewer Stadium's division-leading attendance, incredible student turnout, or substantial increase in athletic foundation membership and giving failed to make it clear: Mountaineer fans are among the most passionate in America. In recent seasons, kickoffs have generally commenced at 3:30pm, and by sunrise, fans are already cranking up cookers and setting up shop on elaborate tailgates, of which I will address in the subsequent 'Access' section.
A litmus test that I personally employ the use of to gauge fan support is the presence of other school's gear. Basically, if I attend a game and see a large number of home team fans donning the colors of other schools, then I begin to question fan allegiance and support. This is most frequently noticed at regional institutions, which often operate in the shadow of larger and more well-known state schools.
This was certainly the case at Appalachian a decade ago. If you attended an Appalachian State football game in 2000, it would likely turn very few heads if a student walked by on the concourse, sporting a UNC Tar Heels t-shirt, or Duke Blue Devils ball cap. Today, this is not the case. If you look around the throng of Mountaineers fans you will notice only two colors, those of the black and gold. Gone are the colors of the big ACC schools down the mountain. This tells me that Appalachian no longer operates in the shadows of anyone.
One thing to make light of is that this fan support, although at record levels, is not recent. Appalachian football has long enjoyed good support, even in the lean years. Nonetheless, the last decade has vaulted the reputation of ASU fans into a new stratosphere. What were once good fans are now great fans. This has meant that fans have come to expect to do two things: win and win big. If a rout is underway then the crowds can tend to dwindle as the game wears on, and if the Mountaineers are on the receiving end of a rough day on the field then the crowds can also depart early.
Is this a sign of a spoiled fan base, as some would suggest? I am not so sure. I simply think that such is life when a team's fans become accustomed to losing an average of one home game per season over the course of an entire decade. The question is ultimately in not how long the fans remain, but whether they show up in the first place. I believe that the Mountaineers have been so good for so long that the fan base is ready for a new challenge, ready to roar as new Sun Belt and FBS opponents venture into Kidd Brewer Stadium. In other words, the fans in Boone are looking for a new reason to become even more involved in their relationship with the Mountaineers, looking for new ways to assist in pushing their team and their school to even greater heights.
Not very many years ago, simply finding Boone on a map was hard enough, let along actually getting there. A drive to Boone, from any direction, meant a long and winding two-lane road trip up an often fog-ensconced mountain. Thinking of flying into Boone? Forget about it, unless you have a pilot's license and access to a small two-seat prop. No, getting to Boone was never easy, and in an odd way, that was part of the charm, at least for the locals. When you ventured to Boone you really felt like you were "getting off the grid".
That feeling remains to this day, but you no longer have to arrive in Boone bare-knuckled from the hair-rising and spine-tingling trip up the mountain, a trip of maybe 45 miles and 90 minutes. As a result of long-running road improvement projects, the trip up the mountain via the two primary access points; Highway 421 out of the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area, and Highway 321 out of Charlotte-to-Hickory corridor, is now practically a breeze.
Highway 421 is now four lanes the entire way into Boone and Highway 321 will be as well, after the last few miles of road improvements are completed in the coming couple of years. Direct air travel shows no real sign of improvement, though the international airport at Piedmont-Triad in Greensboro and the regional airport of Tri-Cities, just to the west across the Tennessee border, offer plenty of options to arrive in the region and rent a vehicle for the final stretch drive.
Once arriving in town, the next challenge is to secure a parking space. If you have never visited Boone before, this might prove to be a bit stressful, as parking is spread out all over town, literally. This means that fans can be found dotting the hills and valleys, from small parking lots consisting of three cars parked under a stand of shade trees, to hundreds of cars occupying spots adjacent KBS in the university's well-heeled main stadium lot, to those holding court in the two large festival-style parking decks on campus.
No space is off-limits for tailgating. Such is the case when you try to cram 30,000 fans into such tight quarters. Almost every space on campus is reserved on gameday, for members of various giving levels of the athletic booster club, the Yosef (as in "Be Yourself," a Mountaineers motto) Club. As such, convenient individual game parking on campus is mostly nonexistent.
Single-game parking can be found, however, with a little searching or advance preparation, primarily in the form of parking around downtown businesses, public lots in the vicinity of downtown, and on the outskirts of the central corridor. Single-game parking will generally run between $5 and $20, depending on proximity to the action.
Once parked and walking en route to the stadium, be aware, as if this was not inherent, you are on a mountain campus and that means lots of ups and downs. If you park in an area where you are walking mostly downhill to the stadium then be aware you will be walking mostly back up on the way back to your vehicle or vice-versa. No matter where you park you will be most likely need to walk uphill for the final quarter of a mile approach to the stadium, so good shoes are a must. Heels do not really work on this campus, unless you are a battle-hardened Appalachian girl, or simply looking for a fantastic calf workout.
Entrance at the stadium is via two primary gates, each with approximately 20 lines, broke down by season-ticket, single-game, and student entry points. Unless arriving at the last minute, getting your ticket scanned and passing through the gates is usually a breeze. Be sure to pick up a gameday program from the student vendors as soon as you enter, as the award-winning full-size and full-color program is about the best $5 you can spend to prepare for the game.
As a result of the over $50 million in improvements to KBS in recent years, the facilities inside the stadium itself are quite impressive. The concourses are wide and navigational signage is easy to find and even easier to read. Restroom facilities are modern, heated (a big plus in these parts), and wait times are usually quite minimal, even during the usual busiest times.
Both sidelines, as well as the upper deck of the east side, feature handicap and companion seating running the entire length of the seating bowl, offering plenty of great vantage points to view the action if you require such accommodations. Team stores are located on both sides of the stadium as well, offering a full assortment of Mountaineer merchandise and gameday memorabilia.
Current plans call for further stadium renovation and expansion in the coming years, including the addition of a new end zone structure, components of which would include additional permanent seating and additional suite/club level space. In future phases a few items will need to be addressed, which will go a long ways towards making the Kidd Brewer Stadium experience even better.
Among possible improvements are improved concourse lighting on the west side of the stadium, redesigning the existing west grandstand to feature wider rows and individual chair back seating, the construction of a larger and permanent team store, enlarged scoreboard, and the addition of televisions on the concourses to allow for viewing of the action while waiting in concession or restroom lines.
A more ambitious goal that many fans would love to see come to fruition is the removal of the current track that surrounds the playing field, affording additional seating even closer to the action, serving to make "The Rock" even louder when the "Hells Bells" ring in support of the defense holding on crucial third downs. With continued foresight and allocation of funds, Kidd Brewer Stadium stands poised to serve the needs of ASU for many years into the future.
As ASU moves to the FBS, a college football fan would be hard pressed to find a better value than Mountaineer football. With season tickets priced at $175 for an annual six-game home schedule, the price point is just right for a large season ticket base. Appalachian also offers a discount on season tickets to senior citizens and ASU Faculty/Staff. In 2014, the school implemented a payment plan that will allow season ticket buyers to pay for their tickets via three installments, in hopes of making those straddling the fence on season tickets a better way to absorb the upfront costs.
Half-season ticket packages are also offered, should you feel that a six-game commitment is asking a bit much. Single-game tickets, priced between $27 and $32, are generally available for most games, though reserved seating often sells out quite early for the biggest games. It must be noted that many of the prime seating areas inside the stadium also require an accompanying Yosef Club commitment in order to secure the rights to purchase said tickets, as is the case at most FBS schools.
Nonetheless, if Appalachian's run through the ranks of the FCS over the past decade serve as a predictor to the first decade as members of the FBS, then return on investment will remain high. Combine the on-the-field product with the all-encompassing gameday experience and not many better values exist in the world of college football.
Appalachian is regarded as one of America's "Greenest" colleges, as confirmed in recent years by the Sierra Club, and this reputation extends to Kidd Brewer Stadium and the campus gameday environment, as well. Numerous recycling drop points are placed around campus and student groups patrol the many various lots pre-game, passing out trash bags to collect disposed tailgate items, to be gathered by crews during and after the day's activities have concluded.
If you are attending with children, you will want to be sure to visit the family fun zone, full of bounce castles and inflatable slides for them to enjoy. Your children can also enjoy meeting members of the Mountaineers cheerleading and dance teams, and receive face-painting or temporary tattoos. The best part is that the activities at the fun zone are free of charge, which is always a positive selling point for a family attending a major sporting event.
In the entry plaza and as you enter the stadium, you will be walking on decorative brick pavers, emblazoned with the names of individuals who have contributed to the stadium improvements you are about to enjoy. The brick-clad columns surrounding the stadium are also adorned with gold plaques noting similar contributions, of a more significant scope.
Upon arriving on the concourse, you will notice a number of plaques honoring the contributions of former Mountaineers, including a wall denoting the names of every former Mountaineer Football letterman. Also, pennants are hanging down the length of the concourse memorializing great moments in Mountaineers history.
Be sure to pay special attention to the end zone video board just before the Mountaineers sprint onto the field, as each season finds a fantastic intro video having been produced by the award-winning ASU Video team. The video has recently featured country music superstar, and Appalachian alumnus, Eric Church, and culminates with the great Sean Connery's "Welcome to the Rock". As soon as those words are uttered, fireworks explode from the end zone and the team bursts onto the field through a giant inflatable football helmet set up in the corner of the end zone near a tunnel in which the players access the field from the locker rooms behind the grandstand.
If you can only make one game in any given season, make it "Black Saturday". Every year, one game is chosen for a blackout of KBS, and the environment is never more electric than it is on a Black Saturday. With former SoCon rival Georgia Southern making the move to FBS and the Sun Belt along with ASU, we can safely assume that the Eagles' every other year appearance in Boone will continue to serve as a Black Saturday encounter. Whom the every other year Black Saturday opponent will be remains to be seen, but look for a healthy rivalry to develop with whichever Sun Belt team shall be so unlucky.
I will simply conclude this review of Kidd Brewer Stadium by letting you in on a little secret, a "hidden gem" moment if you will, when visiting Boone. The great thing about this hidden gem is that to experience this moment is to immediately understand the way of life at Appalachian.
It starts with a short walk down King Street on a late autumn gameday morning, say around 10:00am. As you reach the celebrated Turchin Center for the Arts, the largest cultural facility of its kind in the tri-state region, take a pause to turn and gaze across the horizon. What will you see?
You will see the morning sun creeping up over the mountain ridges that define the horizon from this spot. In the interim you will see hills and valleys dotted with flying Block 'A' flags, smoke wafting from tailgates near and far, and off in the distance, at the base of the mountain, will be the towering Appalachian Athletics Center, rising high above Kidd Brewer Stadium, ringed by the rich reds and blazing oranges of the hill's heavy canopy...in the midst of saying goodbye to the last signs of summer.
These are the sights of the black and gold nation on an Appalachian gameday. These are the hills that are home to Mountaineer football. This is when Appalachian comes alive and this is the place where all Mountaineers are forever free to be Yosef.
Loud - beautiful mountains - awesome town and campus. To sum it up best, my two sons were disappointed when I took them to a Carolina Panthers game because they said it was not as exciting as a home AppState game.
8960 Valley Blvd
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
9239 Valley Blvd
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
1050 NC Hwy 105
Boone, NC 28607