ERWIN — It’s that time of year once again in Erwin.
The 34th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival will kick off Friday morning in downtown Erwin. The two-day event, historically held on the first full weekend in October, will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
The festival started in 1978 behind the Unicoi County Courthouse with about 10 vendors. Now, the festival has more than 350 booths representing around 285 vendors from all over the country.
“We are completely full, there is not one empty booth,” said Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp. “ ... You can find just about anything at the Apple Festival. We do have a very wide array of craft vendors.”
Delp said festival attendees can expect to see crafts such as handmade jewelry, woodcraft, ornaments, lawn art and handmade clothing on sale at the festival.
Another big draw at the Apple Festival is, of course, the food. Delp said this year’s festival fare will include hot dogs, hamburgers, funnel cakes, barbecue, Chinese, Japanese, steak sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, desserts and a new vendor who serves a bacon cheeseburger on a sliced Krispy Kreme donut.
“Honestly, just about anything you can imagine that can be cooked at a festival is being cooked here,” Delp said.
Just as the name implies, festival-goers also will have an opportunity to sample a variety of apples and apple dishes. Delp said gourmet apples, apple dumplings and apple butter will be sold at the festival.
Although there is a cost for food and crafts, admission to the Apple Festival is free, as is the entertainment. Musical entertainment will begin at the Phil Bachman Toyota and Hometown IGA Gospel Stage, located at the Love Street and Main Street intersection, at 10 a.m. both days.
The Apple Festival Cooking Contest winners will be announced at the Centurylink and Waste Management Stage at Gathering Place Park at noon Friday, followed by the announcement of the Apple Dumpling Contest winners at 4 p.m. Entertainment on this stage, which will include a mix of music and dance, will begin at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
For the past few years, the festival has drawn an estimated crowd of 110,000 people to the downtown streets. Delp said over the past couple of weeks, organizers have already been working to prepare for the 2012 Unicoi County Apple Festival.
Once this year’s festival concludes, organizers also will begin taking renewal applications from vendors. Delp said the festival sees a 70 to 75 percent retention rate in its vendors from one year to the next.
The festival has been named one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society nine times, with seven coming in the past 10 years. It has received the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association’s Pinnacle Award three times in the past 10 years.
Despite the festival’s recognition, reputation and continued growth, Delp said Apple Festival organizers work each year to ensure that next year’s festival will be better than the last.
“We’re always surprised, every year we’re always so pleasantly surprised that the festival does exceed expectation every year,” Delp said. “And I don’t want to get in the mindset of kind of resting on our laurels, that the festival is just going to be as big and great as it was last year without working. We put forth that extra effort and, fortunately, we can see that payoff every year because it does grow.”
For more information on the festival, visit the Chamber of Commerce office at the corner of North Main and Gay streets or its website at www.unicoicounty.orgâ€‰ .