When Blue Plum held its first festival away from the streets of downtown in 2016 — moving instead to Founders Park — people weren’t happy, and more than a few vendors and musicians were vocal about wanting the festival back downtown. Three years later, it seems this year’s layout has been able to bridge a divide that, at one point seemed too large to overcome.
“There’s such a desire for for (Blue Plum) to be back in the streets, and I think this is a way to meet everyone in the middle,” said Jessi Bernardini, vice president of the Blue Plum Organization. “I think everyone’s happy.”
Patsy Donovan is one of those Johnson City residents who wishes Blue Plum would return to the downtown area, but even she was pleased with this year’s layout.
“I like it fine, I’m just walking around and taking it all in,” she said. “I like this.”
The festival layout this year featured nearly all vendors in the farmer’s market pavillion, a music stage in the Founders Park amphitheater, a stage in the parking lot adjacent to West Main and West Market streets and the Kids Zone located in King Commons, moving from the Great Lawn in Founders Park earlier this week due to weather concerns.
“I think it works,” festival goer Dave Palmer said about the layout. “I remember, the last time I was here was when it was downtown … I would think the way it’s laid out for Blue Plum now, it’s a lot better.”
Festival director Caroline Abercrombie said that confining the festival’s footprint to where it is now also helps them logistically, as they’re not as spread out, but they also don’t impact downtown traffic as much as they did when they were in the streets.
“When Blue Plum originated 20 years ago, we didn’t have a park — we only had streets,” Abercrombie said. “The city made this beautiful area, we should make use of it and it blocks less roads being over here.”
“We actually talked to the city like, ‘should we cross over, go back in the streets and still use the park?’ — they don’t want us crossing those railroad tracks, it’s just a big footprint and it’s hard for them to handle,” she said. “They actually kind of prefer us over here because this is really what this area was built to do.”
Two new residents of Johnson City, Anthony Johnson and Graham Dowdy, said they “really enjoy” the layout, and though they weren’t around for Blue Plum’s street days, both felt this layout was a nice compromise.
“We’ve got the pavillion, might as well use it,” said Johnson. “I think this is a good place to have it.”
“The park is such a nice and comfortable space, I don’t know why we wouldn’t utilize it, and putting it back in the streets seems to inconvenience more traffic,” said Dowdy.
Compromise seemed to be the theme of the day.
“I’m happy that people are compromising,” said Bernardini. “Change is good for Johnson City and I’m happy people are compromising.”
Near the music stages, however, questions seemed to circle more around getting more local musicians in the Blue Plum lineup than the festival’s footprint.
Both Bernardini and Abercrombie said the high turnout for several of the local bands will make them consider adding more to the lineup for 2020.
“It makes you want to invite more when you get these crowds,” said Bernardini, who’s also on the Blue Plum Festival’s music committee.
Among the most popular were local acts were The Ladybirds, who had nearly every seat in the Founders Park amphitheater packed and received a standing ovation at the end of their set.
Overall, thousands showed up on Saturday and many, in between enjoying music and festival foods, felt that this is where Blue Plum belongs — with music stages on either end, a medley of vendors in the middle and a sense of community surrounding everyone.