The sounds and smells in downtown Johnson City Friday night were not easily ignored, as the Umoja Festival came to celebrate diversity.
Food vendors lined Market Street, representing all kinds of cuisine, including jerk chicken, fried fish, ribs and funnel cakes.
Mississippi natives Christine Hutchinson, along with her husband, Andrew, and their son, Swink, said the diversity of food is definitely a big draw for their family.
“My husband is actually over at all of the food tents. He likes to come here to eat,” Hutchinson said. “He loves eating all of the Jamaican food and the African food and things that you can’t normally get when you’re in Johnson City.”
She said they also enjoy the music because, in a way, it’s a little taste of home.
“It’s nice to hear a lot of the ... blues and jazz and music like that that we used to hear at home a lot,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a lot of fun. They have something for everybody. They have the storytelling, they have a children’s area, they have a ... variety of music. For us, we really like the food a lot too. It’s one of our favorites.”
A troop of storytellers from the East Tennessee State University Storytelling Program performed vivid acts for crowds around the gazebo in between Main and Market streets.
Cheryl Ray of Johnson City was sitting on a park bench nearby and had been listening and taking part since they started telling stories that afternoon.
“I really like the storytelling. I’ve always been a fan of the Jonesborough Storytelling and so I kind of followed it here ... to listen to some good stories,” Ray said. “It’s very entertaining. You get a bit of history, music ... and there’s rhythm and we join in and sing. It’s just very nice.”
Runners who were getting ready for the Umoja Festival Unity 5K Race were spread out throughout the festival area, picking up their numbers and race information. Hank Brown, owner of We Run Events from Kingsport, said the race that started at 7:30 p.m. took participants throughout the historic Tree Streets area and the event created the perfect backdrop for an evening run.
“We love the festival. It’s one of our favorite festivals,” Brown said. “Just great music. You can hear it in the background. We love the whole atmosphere.”
Festival organizers were happy to see the rain lift for the start of the festival after high waters rolled through the downtown area on Sunday.
“Everything seems to be falling into place. We’ve had little bumps ... starting out, but things seem to be settling down. The crowd seems to be coming in,” festival chairman Ralph Davis said. “We strive to be a family-oriented festival. We want to have something for everybody here. We’ve all worked hard to make sure that everything goes well and everybody has a good time, so if everybody has a good time then we’ll have a good time.”
Today the festival kicks off at 10 a.m. with a parade starting at the Carver Recreation Center and moving on down to the event site.
For more on today’s event schedule and visitor information, visit umojajc.org.