Spring festival season arrives in Unicoi County

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Apr 15, 2017 at 10:23 PM

ERWIN — The mountains in springtime are glorious things and communities across Unicoi County are gearing up for a series of celebrations to share the bounty of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, music and fruits they offer.

Festival season in Unicoi County will kick off Saturday, April 29, with the 22nd annual Fiddlers & Fiddleheads Festival in Unicoi and the brand new Upper East Tennessee Fiddlers Convention in Flag Pond.

Presented for the first time this year by the Unicoi Business Alliance, the Fiddleheads Festival is held annually on the grounds of Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens as the ferns from which the festival takes it name begin sprouting out in mountains.

Featured bluegrass and old-time country bands perform inside and on the decks of the Farmhouse pavilion and all musicians in attendance are encouraged to circle round the grounds for informal jam sessions.

A handcrafted vendors fair and an antique car show add interest to the festival. A barbecue lunch prepared by the Farmhouse, food truck fare and a beer garden are available. Gates open at 10 a.m. Admission is free and free camping sites are also available.

A first-time event, the Fiddlers Convention in Flag Pong is a project of Rocky Fork State Park and the Appalachians Studies Department at East Tennessee State University and is made possible by grant funding from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Roy Andrade, a key organizer with the ETSU’s Old Time and Country Music Studies program, said the convention will continue a time-honored tradition in the mountains and celebrate the region’s musical heritage, culture and beauty.

Registration will begin at noon and a musical contest fashioned after the popular fiddlers conventions conducted in the local region more a century ago will run from 1-5 p.m. at the old Flag Pond School off U.S. Highway 19/23.

A dinner will be served at 6 p.m. A concert featuring The Flag Ponderers will start at 8 and will be followed by an old-time square dance at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children under 10. Camping will be available for $10.

The second annual Great Outdoors Festival, a celebration of Unicoi County’s many venues for outdoor recreation, will be held Saturday, May 6, in downtown Erwin.

Organized by the RISE Erwin young professional group, the festival is scheduled 10 days ahead of the well-attended Appalachian Trails Days festival in Damascus, Va., to give AT hikers an opportunity to come down into Erwin and to better establish Erwin as a welcoming “trail town” along their way.

The festival attracted an estimated crowd of 10,000 in its inaugural running last year and is expecting to well exceed that number this year with greater interest generated by the participation of the Trout Unlimited national outdoor organization.

In addition to nearly 50 outdoor recreation vendors set up along Main Avenue, this year’s festival will feature Trout Unlimited’s “International Fly Fishing Film Festival.” A spectacularly filmed documentary featuring the world’s greatest trout streams, the film festival will start at 3:30 p.m. on two screens at the Capri Cinemas and is expected to sell out.

Expert anglers from Trout Unlimited’s Overmountain Chapter will also be on hand at the festival, conducting demonstrations at casing pools set up on the streets.

Live musical performances will run throughout the day on an outdoor stage at Tucker and Main streets, and will be headlined by an evening show featuring the Southern funk group Porch 40 and an opening performance by Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats.

The Johnson City Brewing Company will be serving at a beer garden set up at the Gathering Place and food truck fare by Mimi’s and Opie’s Pizza Wagon will be available along with “gourmet to go” specialities from The Take Out of Erwin, and burgers and more from Toby’s Cafe.

In followup to last year’s Erwin Elephant Revival, eight baby elephant statues painted by professional artists to benefit the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald will be debuted at the festival. The statues will be displayed at sponsoring locations in Erwin through October, when they will be auctioned off in a smaller, second running of the Erwin Revival.

The festival will also feature an expanded Kids Zone of outdoor activities for children. And in a preview to the Pinewood Derby coming to Erwin in June, the Southeastern Autorama will be on hand with derby kits and entry forms and information.

Festivities start at 9 a.m. and admission is free. Ample parking and a free shuttle from Uncle Johnny’s Hostel on the Appalachian Trail will be available.

The hugely popular Flag Pond Ramp Festival is set for Saturday, May 13, at the old Flag School.

Close to 1,000 guests from Ohio to Florida travel to Flag Pond annually to sample and take home the famously pungent wild mountain scallions around which the festival revolves.

A celebration of Appalachian cuisine, the featured fare is bacon-seasoned fried potatoes and ramps, soups beans and cornbread dished up for $7 per heaping plate.

Music will be provided by the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Ensemble, members of the ETSU Bluegrass and Old Time Country Music Program and other traditional mountain music artists.

Presented by the Flag Pond Ruritan Club, all proceeds from the festival go to community needs and scholarships for Flag Pond students.

The last and sweetest in the county’s spring festival series is annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival at Unicoi Elementary School.

Scheduled for Saturday, May 20, the festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be preceded by a Strawberry Parade along Unicoi Drive and Massachusetts Avenue starting at 9 at Unicoi Funeral Home.

Named in honor of the late Unicoi County farmer Wayne Scott, whose family’s strawberry crops have been enjoyed by several generations of East Tennesseans, the festival is held in conjunction with the strawberries’ spring harvest and revolves around their flavor.

Average crowds of 5,000 come to Unicoi annually to consume and carry away truckloads of field fresh strawberries, enjoy a daylong roster of live music, a handmade craft fair, children’s activities and concessions prepared by dozens of nonprofit community organizations.

The festival is presented by the town of Unicoi, which is continuing to take applications from handmade craft and nonprofit food vendors.

Vendor applications and more information about the Strawberry Festival may be obtained by calling town hall at 423-743-7162.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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