On Sept. 11, 2021, Apex held its 40th annual PeakFest, featuring local vendors and a 9/11 memorial ceremony.

The festival had plenty to offer guests, including entertainment from “American Idol” finalist Adam Lee Decker and Peak City Band, local eats from Mr. A’s Beignets, and craft vendors from across the area.

Among the crafters, Diane Gemberling of Simple Roots in Holly Springs. Gemberling creates unique and rustic art from reclaimed wood from the Wake County area. She felt the excitement of participating in local fairs after the event was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We haven’t been able to do anything,” Gemberling said. “We have a storefront and that we sell out of in Holly Springs, which has been great, but for me, part of the passion is … This wood is reclaimed from barns around the area, so it's so nice to talk to people and let them have a piece of history. ... So it feels good to be back.”

Jeff Hastings, chairman of PeakFest and president of the Apex Historical Society, shared the commitment to keep these businesses and workers safe.

“So this year, what we've done is we've sort of spread the vendors out a little bit more,” Hastings said. “So approximately every other space is open, so the vendors have the ability to have the social distancing that each individual [wants.] … So we want them to have whatever level of safety and security they feel like having without somebody just crowding right around them.”

Another facet of the festival this year was its 9/11 service, honoring those who lost their lives 20 years ago. The ceremony revolved around the memorial in the heart of downtown which was constructed with a cube of metal beams from the South Tower. 

“One of the previous councilmen, Gene Schultz, was able to obtain the piece of steel that came from the World Trade Center,” Hastings said. “[The festival commission was] approached about ‘Did we want to help participate?’, and the immediate answer was yes, how much.”

Mayor and former Apex police officer Jacques Gilbert expressed the importance of the memorial for Apex specifically. 

“The amount of people who have relocated to Apex, and I will say, many of the families that experienced that tragic event in New York, are here,” Gilbert said. “And so, we want to make sure that we support them, and it's important for them to see that memorial, and for us to have an event like we had today, to have everyone already here for PeakFest, and to have a 9/11 event. … I thought it was important that we need to move forward in that way.”

As for the future of PeakFest, Hastings hopes the festival will stay true to its current form. 

“If I had a crystal ball. I would want it to look exactly like it looks today,” Hastings said. “... Next year, we're doing PeakFest, PrideFest and the MusicFest. … It’s just trying to continue that togetherness.”

Gilbert hopes Apex continues to maintain its special sense of community. 

“You have these events, you get to meet people who also recognize that Apex is truly the best place to live in America,” Gilbert said. “You know, you get to understand why they moved here and then have that festival create those opportunities.”

In 2015, Apex was named the No. 1 place to live in the United States by Money Magazine. Since then, Apex’s population has grown to approximately 70,000, an 87% increase from the 2010 census.  Although it might not be the same small town that Money Magazine saw, the community wants to maintain that identity. 

“They never want to lose this small-town character,” Gilbert said. “... That's what we have here, like I can call if I need something, I know I can pick up the phone and call someone. And that's great for a community, for a town leader to have those connections.”

PeakFest 2022 has already been scheduled for May 7, 2022. For more information about PeakFest and other Apex festival events, visit its website

Photo by Jenny Midgely