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Big festival weekend ahead for Jonesborough, Erwin

Jonathan Roberts • Sep 30, 2019 at 8:38 AM

Jonesborough’s National Storytelling Festival is more than just a celebration of the spoken word, it is -- for International Storytelling Center Kiran Singh Sirah -- a bridge for peace and understanding.

“(Storytelling) brings us into a space of shared identity, and it’s in that shared space that we create peace building,” Singh Sirah said. “If you think about, that’s really what we’re doing.”

And though the country appears almost irreparable divided on a national scale, Singh Sirah says that this year the festival received more online pre-registrations than ever before, which is partly because the festival is “bringing more diversity” to its stages and, in turn, their crowds.

“It’s kind of like a global village in a small town in Appalachia, and that’s what we create,” Singh Sirah said. “We don’t do it ourselves, we do it in tandem with the community.”

As big as the festival is for the regions success, it might be a bigger deal to the performers enlisted to share their stories.

“Every storyteller in the country wants to come and perform at the National (Storytelling Festival), and once they do their career is set,” Singh Sirah said. “It doesn’t even matter if more festivals get bigger or smaller or (appear) in different cities, because the National will be the National.

“The more storytelling grows, the more the movement we have in Jonesborough grows too,” he says.

Another big part of the festival’s success? The volunteers who help make the festival happen.

“People want to be there (to volunteer), they’re not having to be there -- they want to show their community,” Singh Sirah said. “That’s the beauty.”

Of course, the core tenet of the festival is, and always will be the stories.

“If you don’t know your stories, you don’t know where you come from,” Singh Sirah said. “Storytelling helps us understand where we come free.”

The festival kicks off this Friday, Oct. 4, and runs until Oct. 6. For more information, visit www.storytellingcenter.net/festival or call (423) 753-2171.

Erwin

Undoubtedly Northeast Tennessee’s largest festival, with average attendance totaling more 100,000 people annually, the Unicoi County Apple Festival looks to capitalize on a “more enjoyable” layout this year.

“This festival is very important for Northeast Tennessee,” said Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp. “Obviously, it’s equally important or more for Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin, but I think people like to come to this festival for a variety of reasons.

“You can find something to do for everyone,” Delp added.

With yearly attendance numbering more than 110,000, Delp notes that it can be difficult to keep things new and exciting, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

“We do like to offer something new to festival attendees each year,” Delp said.

This year, the festival will offer a new layout will include all food vendors in a centrally located area behind the courthouse, with more than 30 new craft vendors -- bringing the total number of craft outlets to 350.

If that wasn’t enough, the festival also changed their music lineup this year, which will now feature two headline performers on each night of the festival with opening performances on the main Tucker Stage, and full days of live gospel performances on the gospel stage.

With the constant need to keeps things fresh and live up to expectations every year, the pressure for Unicoi County’s chamber of commerce can be intense, with planning for the next year beginning once the festival concludes. Delp even joked that the of the festival, sometimes chamber staff only get an hour to go home and shower before coming right back to work in grueling 12-18 hour shifts.

“We have been named, for 12 different years, one of the top-10 festivals in the Southeast, so that puts quite a bit of pressure on us,” Delp said. “We have a small staff here in the office, but we work very closely on the festival all year long.”

The festival kicks off at 8 a.m. on Oct. 4 and 5, with events and performances continuing until 8 p.m. both days. For more information, visit www.unicoicounty.org or call Unicoi’s Chamber of Commerce at (423) 743-3000.

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