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The Great Outdoors Festival celebrates its fourth year

W. Kenneth Medley II • May 4, 2019 at 10:25 PM

ERWIN — A wallaby, brick oven fire-roasted pizza and mountain music were some of the sights, smells and sounds at this year’s Great Outdoor Festival in Erwin that continued into Saturday night.

The viva la outdoors event kicked off Friday night with a welcoming celebration, hospitality tent and massages for thru-hikers of the famed Appalachian Trail. It continued Saturday with vendors, food, animal demonstrations, live music and more into the night. The event wrapped up at the Station at 19E with the local band Twang Bangers singing the sign-off.

“The Great Outdoor Festival is one of the first events that RISE (Erwin) organized four years ago back in 2015,” said Tyler Engle of RISE Erwin and executive director of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, “and it has been one of our most successful.

Engle went on to say that RISE Erwin tries to organize the event around the time when the most AT thru-hikers will be in the region. Attractions included a Kids Zone that had cornhole, a petting zoo and live animal demonstrations. There was a Bass Pro Shops fishing pond for children.

USA Raft was on hand with their demonstration pool. The pool is the size of a small pond and allows participants to try their balance out on stand-up paddleboards. One can also get a feel for sitting in whitewater kayaks. The Tri-Cities Anglers Club had a booth for the more tame flat-water fishermen and women with a sit-on fishing kayak.

“It is an important time for people to come out and enjoy our natural assets,” Engle said, “and to enjoy all that upper East Tennessee has to offer as far as mountains and valleys, rivers and streams.”

Other vendors were local manufactures that produce everything from lawn art to beard products. Alan France is the manufacturer of Backwoods Hillbilly Beard Care, and he said he decided to participate as a vendor this year instead of as a spectator. His booth featured beard oils, waxes and other similar products for men.

France’s beard line sported creative names like “Hillbilly Morning Wood,” and many people were interested in the salves. He explained that hair on a man’s face is not like hair on one’s head. His special conditioners and beard products are designed to cut down on dry and itching skin under the beard, according to France.

“I came last year just as a spectator, but this year it has been great,” France said. “I have had a lot of fun.”

France went on to say that meeting and talking to people has been a difference from spectator to vendor. He said that everyone was great, and that there were hundreds of people out and about. The kayaking demonstrations and pool were a highlight for France.

The bands started around 3 p.m. and were scheduled through the afternoon hours. A wall of horizontal rain swept through at 3:45 p.m., sending attendees scattering for shelter and automobiles. Parents looked like Heisman Trophy running backs carrying toddlers to safety as plastic bags whipped into them.

All in all the food was great, the doughnuts fresh and hot and there was craft beer on tap for those wanting to partake. Again Erwin did a stupendous job of representing the outdoors within the small town streets through vendors and demonstrations.

The music was folky and fitting. Closing out the celebration in Erwin was 49 Winchester on the Union Street Stage. At the Station at 19E the Twang Bangers with Erwin local Wes Holtsclaw as the frontman sang the sign off into Sunday’s a.m. hours.

What could be more representative?

“We just hope that people understand that Erwin is a great place to come and enjoy, do business and live,” Engle said. “We think the response has been wonderful.”

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