Unicoi County festival series celebrates Appalachian culture

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 14, 2019 at 8:02 PM

Unicoi County is tuned up for its lively series of spring festivals celebrating Appalachian music, food, arts and crafts and outdoor recreation.

The series of five diverse festivals starts April 26 with a Friday kickoff for third annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddlers Convention at the old Flag Pond school.

Presented through a partnership of Rocky Fork State Park and the East Tennessee State University Department of Appalachian Studies, the fiddlers convention is a celebration of the region’s deep musical tradition.

Made possible by grant funding from Tennessee Arts Commission, the convention follows the old-time format of competitions that has been bringing together Appalachia’s best musical artists for more than a century.

This year’s convention has been expanded to include a youth division with a cash prizes for the best fiddlers and best old-time banjo players age 15 and under.

Registration will open at 4 p.m. and the competition will start at 6. The youth contests will be followed by a square dance with Rodney Sutton as the caller.

Food trucks, concessions and a limited number of primitive camping sites will be available on the grounds with restrooms and showers open all night in the old school.

Registration for the main competition will open at 11 a.m. on Saturday and will be followed by competitive performances in traditional song, old-time banjo, old-time fiddle, dance and string band starting at 1 p.m.

Top prizes will include $500 for the “Hottest String Band,” $300 for the “Fiddiingest Fiddler and Top Banjo Picker” and $250 for the “Finest Singer.” The competition will be followed by supper at 6 and the contest final at 8. Just for fun prizes also will be awarded to the Shyest Fiddler, Most Likely to Have a Day Job, Tallest Fiddler, best Arkansas Traveller and best Cumberland Gap.

Admission and campsites are $10. For rules, a list of prizes and more details visit www.otfiddlersconvention.com.

Strains of old-time fiddle music will also be echoing through the valley in Unicoi on Saturday, April 27, at the 24th annual Fiddlers & Fiddleheads Festival at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens, located just off Unicoi Drive at 121 Covered Bridge Lane.

Presented by the Unicoi Business Alliance in partnership with the town of Unicoi, the festival features performances by professional and amateur bluegrass and old-time country music performers, jam sessions, handmade craft demonstrations and a vintage car show. Featured performers will include Zach McNabb & the Tennessee Esquires on stage from noon to 1.

Admission is free and free camping is available. Food will be available for purchase. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Vendor information and more details may be obtained by calling 423-743-5085.

The town of Erwin will host its fourth annual Great Outdoors Festival Saturday, May 4, and a special pre-festival welcome event for Appalachian Trail hikers on Friday night, May 3.

Staged on Main Avenue and Union Street downtown, the festival is grassroots celebration of the many outdoor recreation opportunities Unicoi County has to offer.

Features include a variety of interactive, educational and fun activities for people of all ages — basic archery, fly casting and paddleboarding, live demonstrations, a large variety of food and craft vendors, outdoor equipment and clothing vendors, a spring plant sale and a kids zone with a barnyard petting zoo, live music and a craft beer tent.

The festival also offers a variety of special offerings for the many Appalachian Trail hikers who will be passing through Unicoi County on their way to the annual Trail Days celebration in Damacus, Va. — free visits with a physician and a veterinarian to be on-site throughout the festival, mini-massages, foot soaks, goodie bags and more.

Saturday’s daylone lineup of musical entertainment will be headlined by 49 Winchester.

Friday night’s hiker hospitality events will include a chili cook-off hosted the new Erwin Outdoor Supply store, an outdoor showing of a film exploring the Nolichucky River and the campaign to obtain a federal Wild and Scenic designation for a section of the river that passes through the Nolichucky Gorge from North Carolina to Erwin.

For more information about the festival email [email protected] or visit the RISEerwin page on Facebook.

On Saturday, May 11, the Flag Pond Ruritan Club will celebrate a true taste of Appalachia at its 34th annual Ramp Festival at the old Flag Pond school.

A hugely popular festival known to bring guests from as far away as Florida and Ohio to the tiny town mountain community, the festival is built around the wild mountain leeks known as ramps that are harvested from the north-facing slopes of the Appalachians in early May.

Plates of fried ramps and potatoes, with bacon, soup beans, coleslaw, cornbread, homemade desserts and drinks will be served throughout the day. Hot dogs and hamburgers will also be available for the less adventurous festival-goers.

The festival also features live music, a local crafts fair, a display of historical relics, mementos and photographs illustrating the history of Flag Pond. Fresh ramps will be also available for purchase.

The county’s spring festivals conclude with the town of Unicoi’s annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival, set this year for Saturday, May 18.

The festival celebrates the popular, locally grown berries available fresh from the fields at this time of year and features a vast of array of berry desserts, jams and jelly, handmade crafts, live music, children’s activities and concessions.

The festival is held on the playing field at Unicoi Elementary School at 404 Massachusetts Ave. Festival hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Vendor applications and more information about the festival may be obtained by calling 423-735-0517.

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