Few things evoke feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality like the rumblings of a restored engine in a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1.
It’s one of David Lopata’s favorite sounds, and when he hears it — or the growl of any number of other vintage or contemporary cars at this weekend’s Maryville Napa Autofest — it carries him back to a bygone era of American steel on two-lane highways.
“I believe everybody, honestly, but especially those in my era, feels it,” Lopata told The Daily Times this week. “‘They just don’t build them like they used to’ is the old adage, because there’s something about the lines and the chrome and the things they did back then that you just can’t recreate out of a new car. They’ve gotten close, but it’s just not the same, and the biggest thing is probably the sound of the engine. There’s nothing like a cammed-up, carbureted sound of an engine.”
Combine that with the strains of live music, the barking of dogs as they launch themselves into a giant pool of water, the smell of slow-cooking meat and the general buzz of excitement, and you have the makings for Summer on Broadway — the biggest weekend that downtown Maryville sees each year.
“It really feels like it keeps getting bigger, and it feels like it gets a lot more people coming to participate,” said Kim Mitchell, tourism director for Blount Partnership, one of the presenting organizations behind Summer on Broadway.
“We’re always trying to add new things so that there’s a lot to do and people don’t get bored,” she added.
Case in point: The novelty act The Cleverlys will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the Blount Partnership Music Stage, which will be set up in the parking lot beside Barley’s Maryville. Created by Paul Harris and a group of skilled bluegrass musicians, the band rides that fine line between gimmick and authenticity, presenting a wickedly funny and insanely entertaining combination of parody, slapstick and skilled performance that includes hillbilly reworkings of such classics as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas and “I Wanna Be a Billionaire” by Travis McCoy, among others.
“Normally, we have so many talented people in our community that we’ve never tried to get a brand name band, but this year, we decided to do something different,” Mitchell said. “They do a little comedy to go along with the music, so it’s a really good thing to throw out there on Friday night.”
Summer on Broadway began in 2014 as a way to capitalize on the Big BBQ Bash, a barbecue competition started by Leadership Blount. After becoming a Kansas City Barbeque Society-affiliated event, the Bash found a new home in Founders Lot beside the Citizens Bank of Blount County on East Broadway Avenue; streets were closed and vendors were invited, and in 2015, the Napa Know How Autofest and Hops in the Hills craft beer festival were added to the list of weekend activities. Today, the event is the work of several organizations, including the Downtown Maryville Association, the city of Maryville, Blount Partnership and a number of individual businesses.
While comparisons are sometimes made to a certain autumn event that was once held in downtown Maryville, organizers and patrons alike agree that it now stands on its own legs. And, Mitchell pointed out, those who put it together every year strive to make it as family-friendly and affordable as possible.
“There’s no having to buy a bracelet for kids to participate — the face painters are free; everything is free,” she said. “We want people to come celebrate downtown and what all it has become over the past few years. We want to showcase that, showcase our town and have people come out and enjoy some great activities. We realize it can be hard to make ends meet for families, but other than buying food, there’s no cost.”
Preparations for the weekend event get underway today: The Founders Lot beside CBBC, where Big BBQ Bash contestants will set up, closed in the early hours of this morning. The barbecue contest got its start in 2007 as a project of Leadership Blount; back then, it was a friendly cookoff held at Springbrook Corporate Center in Alcoa.
In 2014, it became a state championship cookoff as well as a qualifier for the American Royal World Series of Barbecue cookoff and Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational
Barbecue — not to mention the third leg of “The Triple Crown,” a series of barbecue competitions in Knoxville, Sevierville and Maryville. It’s bringing in teams from across the Southeast, all of which will start cooking Friday and continue until Saturday afternoon’s awards ceremony. Whether the contestants will have barbecue available for public consumption, however, is at the discretion of each individual vendor.
The weekend gets going in earnest on Friday, when the Smoky Mountain DockDogs Big Air competition kicks the festivities off at 2 p.m. For this year’s event, the Smoky Mountain DockDogs organization has a more prominent stretch of real estate: The intersection of Broadway Avenue and Cusick, which will be closed to vehicle traffic.
“We’ve heard people say over some of the different events that ‘I didn’t know DockDogs were down there (in Jack Greene Park, where the DockDogs have set up during previous Summers on Broadway), or there were people down there just to see the DockDogs who didn’t make it up to Broadway,” Mitchell said. “With all the big things going on along Broadway, and Hops in the Hills not happening until Saturday evening, it just made sense to switch locations for the two.”
And being more visible, DockDogs co-founder Trent Steele said, will give more individuals an opportunity to bring their own canines to test their abilities on the water. From noon to 2 p.m., dog owners can register their animals and test their aquatic mettle — with certain common-sense conditions, of course.
“They need to have a good toy drive, and they need to have exposure to water, because we want this to be a positive experience,” Steele said. “If your dog has never been in the water, the first time isn’t going to be at this event. But once they register and get on the dock, they get two jumps, then they can get back in line and do it as many times as they’d like. It really gives the kids the enjoyment of seeing their dogs jump, and it gives parents something to do with their kids.”
Dock diving took off as a sport roughly 20 years ago and was first featured as filler activity on the sports network ESPN. Since then, 35 affiliate chapters have sprung up across North America and Europe, and the Smoky Mountain DockDogs organization started in 2009. Members of the organization will arrive on-site on Friday with a “dock” built from a converted flatbed trailer and a 27,000 gallon pool that the Maryville Fire Department will help fill.
There are three different disciplines in which the dogs compete: “Big Air,” which is basically a long jump competition in which the handler throws a toy into the water and the dog jumps in after it. Judges measure from the edge of the dock to the point where the dog enters the water, and scores of two jumps are averaged.
The second event is the “Extreme Vertical,” a high jump competition in which a bar is suspended 8 feet away from the edge of the dock and 4½ feet in the air. The bar is raised by 2 inches after each jump, and there’s always the potential for a super canine to set a record: The record for “Extreme Vertical is 8 feet, 11 inches, and the “Big Air” record is 31 feet.
The final discipline is “Speed Retrieve,” which times how fast the dogs can swim. Dogs start at the 20-foot mark on the dock, and after an audible ready-set-go command is issued, they’re timed on how fast they can hit the water, swim to a bumper on the other side of the 40-foot pool and pull the bumper down from a magnet. The world record in that category is just under 5 seconds.
“The ‘Big Air’ is the one a lot of people can relate to, and one where we get our biggest response, because they can see the dogs jumping out and getting a lot of distance,” Steele said. “And you can have some really high-flying dogs out there. We had this one dog that was a Yorkie mix, and this guy went after his toy with so much heart and so much drive that everybody loved it. It was just awesome to see.”
Trouble was his name, and he was proof that not all DockDogs are made from the breeds people would expect.
Seeing the varying types of pooches take to the air, and then the water, is a fun addition to Summer on Broadway, and Steele is always grateful when his organization is asked to return.
“It’s such a friendly event, and it’s not rushed, and we just have a great time,” he said. “And, it draws a lot of competitors. People love it, and it’s such a great draw, and that’s a reason why we’ve been moved uptown, I think, because we keep stealing the crowds away!”
Not that there’s any competition for folks who come out. Whether it’s the Maryville Farmers’ Market or the smorgasbord of craft booths or the free family movie screened on Broadway following The Cleverlys’ performance, there’s room for everyone. Lopata understands that, because a car show, which kicks off with a parade of old cars held in conjunction with the weekly Foothills Cruise In, draws everyone from gear heads to kids who can’t even see over a steering wheel.
“We’ll average about 150 cars, everything from local restores to stuff that’s never been seen before to newer cars that are coming out,” Lopata said. “We get quite a bit of traffic, depending on the weather. Some years, we’ve had some weather issues, but last year, my food vendors ran out of food. We have them set up, a deejay playing music all through the show, giveaways, a silent auction and the NASCAR simulator.”
In a way, Summer on Broadway is as close to the old county fairs as Blount gets these days. There are no carny rides, but the craft booths and children’s events and food and entertainment and the car show all combine for a distinctive homespun feel, and the backdrop of downtown Maryville makes the event practically idyllic, Lopata added.
“I think a lot of people like the old downtown feel,” he said. “We do a lot of car shows where they do a similar situation — they shut down the old part of the city, and people just like to sit around the old buildings, in the shade. It just gives it a different feel versus just being in a parking lot somewhere. And when you add in the DockDogs and the farmers’ market and the barbecue, there’s just a lot of things to do.”