Those who live in East Tennessee have ample reason to celebrate their environs. The natural beauty, changes of season and opportunity to enjoy a wealth of outside activities add up to a lifestyle that’s satisfying and rewarding for families and retirees alike.
There’s also an extra incentive that draws residents and visitors together. It has to do with the special history and heritage of East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains in particular, traditions that have been celebrated for more than 25 years with the annual Townsend Fall Festival and Old Timers Day.
This much-anticipated event will bring both residents and visitors to the Townsend Visitors Center for two days of entertainment, education and appreciation Friday and Saturday.
Sponsored by LeafFilter North of Tennessee, Renewal by Anderson, Big Meadow Campground & RV, Great Smoky Mountains Association, Smoky Mountain River Rat, Tremont Lodge and Resort and the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, the weekend offers an array of activities that include live music from several bluegrass bands, as well as food, family activities, dancing, storytelling and Appalachian arts and artisans. More than 50 vendors will be on-site to sell their wares and offer demonstrations that focus on cultivating and creating crafts and wares inherently unique to the region.
Over the years, attendance has grown along with the number of attractions. When the festival began in the early ’90s, annual attendance was estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 people. Jeff Muir, communications director for the Blount Partnership, the organization that helps market and promote the event, said that as many as 9,000 people are expected to attend the festival Sept. 27 and 28.
“It marks the beginning of the fall season, when leaves begin to change color in the park and the air turns a little bit cooler,” Muir said, acknowledging the fact that this year the hotter weather likely will linger through the weekend. “It’s a last chance to enjoy the Smokies at the end of the summer season. People really enjoy it both for the entertainment and for the opportunity to renew an emotional connection.”
This year’s musical lineup will include Carolina Bluegrass, Oakland Road, Steve Jordan Band, the Wilson Family, Blackberry Jam, Blue Shadows, Appalachian Grass, the Grandview Pickers, the Rail Riders and Blue Ridge Grass, among others. Muir said the music will continue throughout the days and into the evenings, with opportunities for jamming and impromptu performances in between the regular performances.
While the music is the main impetus, Muir said that those who attend the festival year after year come for other reasons as well.
“It’s like a family reunion,” he said. “People make the pilgrimage from all over the Southeast. It offers them the chance to reconnect with the friends and family they meet at the festival year after year. Many of them plan their vacations around this event.”
Area businesses also benefit, especially local hotels and restaurants. Several offer their own entertainment and attractions, among them, the shops at Trillium Cove and the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center will play host to the 13th Annual Blue Ribbon Country Fair on Saturday, a featured event that will include such popular activities as a hog-calling contest, a rooster-crowing competition and the lodge ladies’ skillet throw, as well as a chance to corral a greased pig. In addition, it will stage the Blue Ribbon kickoff concert, featuring music from local favorite and guitar virtuoso Steve Kaufman.
Muir said free shuttle buses will provide transportation between the various venues. The buses, donated by the Heritage Center, will take visitors between the Heritage Center, Little Arrow, Big Meadow Campground and RV, Little River Railroad Museum, Cades Cove Cellars, Apple Valley and the Townsend Visitors Center. They’ll run from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
Muir did admit that the warmer weather the area’s experienced lately may seem out of sync for a fall festival.
“It may be the hottest fall festival we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’re advising people to stay hydrated, bring their umbrellas and remain cautious.”