Thousands of folks took advantage of the nearly perfect weather to get their taste of the 34th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival, which wrapped up for another year on Saturday evening.
Kids were packed into the children’s area, awaiting their turn to climb the rock wall or jump on the bungee trampoline. Along Main Street, attendees stopped to check out the numerous craft booths and sample some of the festival fare. And, of course, apples were being taken home by the bushels.
Among the masses were first-time Apple Festival attendees Mike and Marilyn Richard. The couple rode their motorcycle over from Fairview, N.C., to check out the festival after Marilyn had heard about it from a coworker who had been attending for more than 30 years.
The two have been attendees at the North Carolina Apple Festival held in Hendersonville, N.C. Their first impression of Erwin’s version:
“Crowded,” Mike said.
“But fantastic,” Marilyn added.
Mike said he enjoyed the gospel music performances, and Marilyn said the arts and homemade crafts on display and for sale at the festival had caught her eye. The Richards said they brought their entire family — one member from as far away as Texas — in to attend the Apple Festival.
“It has been good,” Mike said of his festival experience.
Fellow first-time festivalgoer Brent Palmer was also impressed with the crafts.
“It’s really something very eclectic,” Palmer said of the Apple Festival. “I’ve enjoyed seeing all the crafts and everything people have here.”
Palmer attended the festival with his wife, Elizabeth, and their 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter. The Sullivan South High School assistant principal said he heard of the festival through his mother-in-law. Palmer said coming to the Apple Festival has made for a good family outing.
“It’s a great family atmosphere,” he said. “I guess you sort of get the feeling that anybody would be welcome here.”
Among the newcomers are a number of Apple Festival veterans. Rachel Michele Clark said she has been attending for more than 20 years. And while she said the festival has certainly changed over that time, it apparently has not in the area that matters most.
“It’s still wonderful,” she said.
Like Palmer and the Richards, Clark said she enjoyed the crafts on display throughout the festival. She said one year, the majority of crafts for sale were manufactured overseas. That, however, is not the case this year.
“The quality of the crafts has been exceptional compared to previous years,” she said.
Clark also said the Apple Festival is a reunion of sorts for many attendees, a way to run into old friends that one hasn’t seen in a while. That, among the other activities offered to festivalgoers, keeps her coming back year after year.
“It’s a good time to catch up with old friends, get some American-made crafts and get some good food,” she said.