Something for Everyone: Adventure Land, ArtWay just as important to the Foothills Fall Festival as the music
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
No doubt about it: The stars shine bright during the Foothills Fall Festival.
When the announcement is made of the event’s headliners and WIVK-FM deejays trumpet the musicians coming to Blount County and The Daily Times plasters it all across the front page, it’s easy to forget that while the concerts in Jack Greene Park are certainly a big part of the event, there are two other areas of the Foothills Fall Festival that are of equal importance.
In fact, while large numbers of ticket-buyers will likely take the time to stroll down the ArtWay arts and crafts area along Broadway Avenue or spend a little time with the kids at Adventure Land, both of those areas boast large numbers of visitors that have no plans to attend the concerts at all.
Festival organizers can’t put an exact figure to the number of folks who patronize the ArtWay or play in Adventure Land, but given that the park only holds roughly 10,000 people and that an estimated 75,000 visit the downtown area during the festival weekend, those statistics shake out to more than half of attendees coming to take part in Adventure Land or the ArtWay.
“I would say the majority of Adventure Land visitors are not concert buyers; they’re families or kids by themselves, and it’s a perfect place for them,” said Patti Clevenger, coordinator of Adventure Land and part of the Foothills Fall Festival Leadership Committee. “There are police in every area, and we have a lot of kids from the minute we open. You walk around and see these kids, and the only reason they’re crying is because somebody is making them go home. It really is an amusement park — and where else can you come and do all of this for free?”
From the outset, city planners envisioned the Foothills Fall Festival as a mostly free event. That first year — in 2000 — $20 tickets were sold to those who wanted to see marquee country acts at what was then called Theater in the Park, and that was only on Saturday; Friday and Sunday were both free, with local acts rounding out the bill on those nights.
During the inaugural festival, a number of activities were available in the Adventure Land area that are still a part of it today. But as the festival has grown, so has the variety of events, activities and shows. The overriding philosophy has always been, however, to keep it safe, keep it fun and keep it free, Clevenger said.
“As time went by, we began to see that this is a family event, and you get to do whatever you want, as many times as you want, and it’s free,” she said. “It’s an amusement park that costs no money. We don’t even sell festival merchandise down there — just food — because we don’t want parents being nickle-and-dimed.”
Adventure Land stretches 16 acres along the shores of Greenbelt Lake, between Pistol Creek Station and the Blount County Public Library, and encompasses a variety of stations — “Explore,” “Discover” and “Tiny Tot,” all of which include a number of games and events that range from the fun to the educational. Scattered therein are contests, face-painting booths, food vendors and more. Clevenger, who’s been coordinator of the area since 2003 after taking over for former coordinator/local educator Linda Irwin, estimates that while the general layout hasn’t changed a great deal, the amount of activities that set up for the weekend has doubled since that first year.
As the festival has evolved, Clevenger said, so have the Adventure Land activities. She and her team of volunteers, who will rack up a total of 2,000 volunteer hours in Adventure Land throughout the weekend, tend to invite back reliable favorites that entertain the largest number of people.
“For the first two or three years (from 2002-2004), we had the Nickelodeon Game Lab, and we saw more kids going through the human foosball than were at the Nickelodeon show,” she said. “Nickelodeon was costing us $10,000 per day, and the stage was $7,000, so when we cut that was when we began to put in a lot more things — like the mechanical bull! I had wanted one forever, and we got it because we had money freed up.”
Sponsorships provide Clevenger with a budget from which she books various acts and games, and she’s both thrifty and frugal. Some acts — like the ever-popular Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel — have been a part of the festival for so long that they get priority when it comes time to budget for the various activities; others may come and go depending on logistics, she said.
“We had a petting zoo at one time — horses, goats, chickens — but there’s poo, and they bite, and they step on people, and the number of people who can ride are limited because of the lines,” she said. “The year we took them out, I heard about it, but I told people, ‘Look at what we have now.’ And I rarely hear about the animals anymore.”
Another Adventure Land activity that was phased out was the lumberjack show. The Maryville Fire Department filled tanks for the performance from the city’s hydrants, which pull from the Maryville drinking water supply. And because that water is chemically treated to be drinkable, it had to meet certain standards to be released into the groundwater supply. By the end of the weekend, sunlight and stagnation had pretty much rendered it harmless, but environmental regulations meant that at midnight on the final night of the festival, Clevenger was driving out to the water treatment facility on U.S. 411 with several test tubes of water from the lumberjack tank.
“We learn by trial and error,” she said with a laugh. “You’ve got to be able to go with the flow. That’s what makes it so successful: It’s a city event, but everybody works to make it happen.”
In the beginning, a blanket invitation went out to arts and crafts vendors who wanted to display their wares.
Blount County resident Colette Souder, whose Rainwater Farm manufactures soaps, balms, salves, bug repellent, sunscreen, bath salts and laundry detergent, was one of those first-year craftspeople who’s returned every year since (save for 2001, when she had a prior commitment). Today, it’s become her second-best show of the year, and one that’s evolved a great deal in terms of professionalism.
“It’s a great show to be in from the crafter’s point of view, because the people who run it are fabulous,” she said. “I’ve done this for so many years at so many craft shows, and there’s a real difference in doing a craft show for a civic organization like Maryville. Most of the organizers are volunteers who just want what’s good for the community, and that really comes out in how they treat the crafters. I really believe it makes a difference in why it’s such a good show.”
Much of the success of the ArtWay, according to City of Maryville Community Relations Manager Jane Groff, goes to Pam Howard, a member of the original committee that formed the festival who served as the original arts and crafts chair until her death in 2005, after which Carolyn Forster took over. As the festival continued to grow in both attendance and prestige, so has the quality of the craftspeople who bring their wares to set up along Broadway Avenue through downtown Maryville, which is closed off for the weekend and transformed into a tent city of artisans from all over the Southeast.
“It’s a pretty prestigious show, and a lot of people want to be a part of it,” Groff said.
Last year, ArtWay was coordinated by Howard’s daughter, Amy Habart; this year, Groff has assumed that responsibility, but she and the team Forster and Habart cultivated are grooming retired military man John Tereshko to take over the position next year. He’ll have big shoes to fill, but the groundwork has, like so many other parts of the festival, been well-laid — he was a volunteer last year, and City of Maryville Public Information Officer Pam Arnett has taken on many of the administrative duties involved with running the show.
“The Artway committee is a dedicated, professional group of people committed to making this event top notch,” Groff said. “They put countless hours into the planning and logistics starting in February each year. Then there is CHARM (Chilhowee Area Resorts Ministries, a religious group whose members have been volunteering for the past 10 years), who receive accolades from all the vendors each year for the care and attention they receive from volunteers. Together, their efforts ensure that the ArtWay is successful.”
The ArtWay will feature roughly 96 booths staffed by a wide variety of craftspeople, from ones like Souder — attending her 13th festival this year — to new artisans like Steve Brewster, a blown-glass artist whose works through Moon Bay Art Glass Studio have found homes in the private collections of celebrities like Jodie Foster, Sharon Stone, Tim Allen, Eddie Van Halen and more.
And not every interested vendor gets to be a part of the festival. Last year, organizers went to an online digital application process, and twice as many interested craftspeople applied.
“While all of our participants have given us unique and quality items, every year we get a better quality pool of vendors,” Groff said. “We have two juries — one in April, and one in August, and we have a committee of people in the arts and crafts industry who use a standardized process common to most craft shows across the country. The artists will upload photos of their wares and give us their price ranges, and our committee will evaluate each applicant individually and try to select ones that fall somewhere in the middle.”
This year, the number of vendors will be capped around 85 (with some vendors have more than one booth). This keeps the marketplace from becoming overcrowded and competition from hurting everyone.
“We look for a number of things when we select our vendors, such as uniqueness — that what they do is handmade and not reproduced and modified — and use of medium in a way that’s attractive,” she said. “We also look at appeal to potential buyers, the quality of the crafts, the aesthetics of the merchandise and the pricing.”
The vendors sell thousands of dollars of merchandise during the weekend, but if further proof is needed of the ArtWay’s success, it comes in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“The gauge for feedback is in November, when people start calling and asking about a certain vendor they saw on the ArtWay, because they can’t remember the name and they’re really wanting to get some Christmas presents,” she said. “We usually get 15 or 20 calls a year.”
For an artist like Souder, sales during the Foothills Fall Festival make up roughly 5 percent of her business’s revenue — not bad, when you consider she participates in around 10 craft shows per year and sells her goods both online and at retailers like Mast General Store.
“It’s a great show, and I always have to be ready to be slammed by people,” she said. “I’m very proud of Maryville and this show, but the children’s section is also fantastic, and the concerts are fun and affordable.”