‘Another great start’: Country music fans love Fall Festival opener
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
Country star Jerrod Niemann asked the crowd several questions on Friday night at the 2012 Foothills Fall Festival, but the one that got the loudest response was the only one that mattered:
“Do you love country music?”
On their feet at the front of the stage and filling the infield of Jack Greene Park to Pistol Creek, the gathered masses answered in the affirmative. And with Niemann joined by headliner Gary Allan, they got plenty of it on the opening night of the biggest event in Blount County to take place all year.
Despite the lack of a sellout, Niemann, Allan and Friendsville singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Rutledge, who opened up the festival, still played to a crowd that numbered in the thousands.
Fans weren’t packed shoulder to shoulder as they were in years past, and the hill leading up to Ruby Tuesday corporate headquarters was dotted with festival-goers instead of covered in blankets and people, but those who did turn out were excited to do so.
Many of them, in fact, plan to come to the festival each year regardless of the names on the top of the bill.
“I just come to listen, because I love country music,” said Justine Acord, a resident of Murphy, N.C., who attended Friday night with her sister, Georgia King of Townsend. Last year was their favorite, King added, and for good reason: King’s son, Jeff, is the guitar player for country icon Reba, who headlined the Saturday concert in 2011.
“I think it’s just a lot of fun every year,” King said. “We just enjoy being here and watching people and listening to the singers. I have six sisters, but Justine is the only one who can usually come, because she lives the closest. It’s just a little family tradition for us.”
A family affair
Families turned out in force for the opening night’s performances. Maryville native Julia Hicks, the daughter of Maryville High School guidance counselor Kim Porter and now a resident of Bristol, has been to the Foothills Fall Festival every year for the past decade. During her first festival, she was in college; now, she’s 28 and has a family of her own.
“Our whole family comes into town for it,” she said as her husband, Matt Compton, set up chairs with her 3-year-old step-son, Cavin Compton.
“I have a sister and a brother, and we have our own families now, so it’s good to get together every year,” she added. “It’s a perfect time, because it’s extremely family-oriented, and the music is absolutely phenomenal. My mom and dad live in walking distance, so we walk down and have such a good time. This is like a huge thing for me and my family.”
Sonya Cook, of Asheville, N.C., brought her family to Maryville two years ago to see country artist Chuck Wicks perform at the Foothills Fall Festival. At the time, they’d never heard of Maryville or the event; to call it a delightful surprise is an understatement, she said.
“It’s just awesome: reasonably priced and a lot of fun,” she said. “We wanted to come back last year, but we had a baby; it seems like they always have somebody good, though, so we’ll be back.”
At the back of Jack Greene Park, Lance Morgan of Clarksville and his wife, Kayla, along with son Owen sat in a semicircle with his in-laws. While his wife held little Owen’s hands as the youngster danced on mom’s lap, Morgan swept an arm across the enthusiastic crowd.
“You don’t have people drinking and throwing stuff and getting wild,” he said. “It’s a fun time, and it’s good for everyone.”
Although rain was forecast for Friday, it held off throughout the night, and by the time Allan wrapped his set at 10:30 p.m., temperatures were still mild. Jane Groff, community relations manager for the City of Maryville, said officials are expecting warmer conditions for Saturday, which should make performances by Train, Andy Grammer and Lauren Alaina enjoyable for all who come out.
And the good news is, Groff added, is that tickets are still available.
“We have passes for the remaining two days on sale at the Ruby Tuesday gate for $60, and we have several silver-level reserved tickets for Train on sale for $65 at the gate,” Groff said. “On Sunday, tickets can be purchased for $40 at the gate.”
Although not sold out as in previous years, Groff said organizers are still pleased with Friday night’s crowd and expect all seats to be filled for Train.
“The energy is really high, and the artists are loving it,” she said. “Everything is going smoothly. I think it’s a great start to another great festival.”