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Little Chicago return to downtown Johnson City this weekend

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Aug 6, 2019 at 6:20 PM

Following the Blue Plum Festival’s move to the Founders Park side of Johnson City, the Little Chicago Festival has become a city favorite in the streets of downtown, marking the unofficial end of summer in Johnson City.

This year promises to be no different, with Johnson City Downtown Merchants Association Vice President Tomi Breese expecting the weekend to be packed with fun and entertainment for Johnson Citians come Friday.

I’m “just (excited) for the amount of people coming down here, and (the) community coming down to help downtown businesses because this is a festival put on by downtown businesses and Johnson City,” Breese said.

Breese and the rest of the merchants association are bringing in some new events this year too, in hopes of keeping things fresh and bringing more people downtown.

Two of the biggest additions are water wars and axe throwing, which will be held all day Friday and Saturday. Water wars, which is a water balloon fight, will be held from 4-6 p.m. Friday and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.

There will also be a slew of art-centered events on both days of the festival, highlighted by the “Tiny Art Throwdown Scavenger Hunt and People’s Choice Judging” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The Johnson City Press will sponsor the festival’s Family Fun Zone, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

More than just a fun weekend for festival-goers though, Little Chicago also acts as a major economic boon to downtown businesses every year, with Breese saying most see a boost in revenue because of their ability to capitalize on the massive downtown crowds — that’s especially true for restaurants and entertainment-centered shops, which Breese says tend to see the biggest life.

“The festival on the streets basically puts people in front of downtown businesses,” Breese said. “People can walk in and see what downtown has to offer, versus hanging out in the park.

“These are the people that put forth the effort downtown,” he added.

For the people of Johnson City though, the hyper-local focus of the festival is arguably the biggest draw, with Breese noting that nearly everything about the festival is local, from the food and shops to the music and artists. 

“Everything that’s down here is within the general radius of Johnson City and we try to keep it local,” Breese said. “This just supports everything that happens in Johnson City.”

Musically, several local bands will be playing the festival, including the American Dropouts, Doctor Ocular, A Great Disaster and Love Unit, among others. Caleb Johnson, the season 13 winner of “American Idol,” had to cancel and was replaced by The Brothers Gillespie. The Mind Modes will get the music started at 1 p.m. Friday at the festival’s main stage.

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