The 2014 Blue Plum Festival began with the unveiling of the new Lady of the Fountain downtown. (Photos by Carter Giegerich/Johnson City Press)
The 15th annual Blue Plum Festival kicked off with the dedication of the Lady of the Fountain, a historic statue in the heart of downtown Johnson City.
The fountain, originally installed in the early 1900s, fell into disuse years ago and underwent an extensive recasting process before being reinstalled downtown.
Several community groups came together to make the fountain’s restoration possible, assisted by funds raised by selling commemorative bricks and plaques to be laid around the base of the fountain. The Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union provided $10,000 to the project, allowing work to begin.
“Without that donation, this wouldn’t be possible,” said Mitch Miller, the CEO of Washington County’s Economic Development Council. The EDC helped spearhead efforts to bring the fountain back to life after many years of disuse.
Rick Storey, an EDC board member, said he hopes the fountain will serve as a centerpiece downtown, drawing people to the local businesses that dot the streets of the historic district.
“We’ve got a focal point,” Storey said. “It hasn’t happened overnight. It’s taken a lot of work by a lot of people to get it done.”
With the ribbons cut and the festival underway, people took to the streets downtown for an afternoon of music, art, and food provided by a host of performers, vendors and restaurants.
The first act of the day, The Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band, took the stage shortly after the statue’s big reveal and provided the crowd with an hour of self-described “bust-head bluegrass,” playing a set of hard-driving traditional bluegrass in the style of traditional artists from the area.
Meanwhile, several acts took to the streets to offer their own musical stylings to festivalgoers. Street performers, or “buskers” as they’re sometimes known, could be seen singing, dancing and playing all throughout the festival. Local old-time musician Joel Shimberg spent the better part of the day playing his fiddle in a shady spot along Market Street, while just across the way a group of East Tennessee State University and University High School students performed an acoustic set of ’80s rock tunes with their band “None to Done.”
Many groups of activists came out as well, providing information and raising awareness for a number of causes. The HIV Network, a local nonprofit group, distributed literature and assistance to those looking to help spread health awareness in Johnson City. Another group, BEST Inc., set up a booth to support their initiative to build schools in underserved parts of Liberia.
For many in attendance, the highlight of the festival was the considerable number of food vendors, offering something for every palate. From Greek to Cajun to old-fashioned doughnuts, there was something for everybody at the tents lining Market Street.
Blue Plum, just like the Lady of the Fountain project, is meant to bring Johnson City together as a community. According to Storey, this is an important milestone in the resurrection of the city’s downtown district.
“So many downtowns are going away in this day and age,” Storey said. “Tonight, if you come out and look, it isn’t going away.”