By Brad Hicks
The streets of downtown Erwin began to fill early Friday morning for the 39th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival.
Throughout the weekend, visitors to Unicoi County’s biggest annual happening took in live music, dined on a variety of foods, picked up a bevy of crafts, and participated in a number of activities held during the two-day event. And, of course, many bought up all the apples they could carry.
But just past the boundaries of all the Friday afternoon bustle, things were much more subdued at the A.R. Brown House on South Main Avenue. There, a small group of folks had gathered to share memories, catch up and look over some old photographs brought by one member of the group.
Many have referred to the Unicoi County Apple Festival as a large reunion for the community, and members of the Unicoi County High School’s Class of 1966 felt the weekend of the festival was the perfect time to hold their 50th class reunion.
“We thought it would be a prime time to try and get as many classmates together as we possibly could,” said Brenda White-Shaw, one of the reunion’s organizers.
This, White-Shaw said, is because so many return to Erwin during the Apple Festival to visit family and friends. She said 145 invitations were sent out to members of the Class of 1966, with more than 50 percent responding that they would be attending the reunion.
“It’s just been so exciting,” White-Shaw said. “We’re so happy to have this location here because it has allowed us to come together, mingle and meet each other after 50 years.”
The Class of 1966 currently has the distinction of being the class to graduate in the midpoint of UCHS’s history. The school held its 100th commencement this past May, and the Class of 1966 had plans to mark this milestone. On Saturday, the Class of 1966’s class president dedicated a picture of the old high school, then known as Erwin High School, to the current UCHS class president during an afternoon ceremony.
The class capped off its 50th reunion with a dinner held Sunday at the Bramble in downtown Erwin.
“It’s just turned out to be wonderful,” White-Shaw said. “We have a wonderful committee. We have done nothing but eat and sleep reunion for the last year.”
Much like the Class of 1966’s reunion, planning for the 39th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival has been going on for the better part of the past year, as organizers begin planning the next year’s festival as soon as the current year’s has ended. And, like the Class of 1966’s 50th high school reunion, this year’s Apple Festival proved to be a success.
“The festival was a huge success, despite the rain showers that we had this year,” said Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp. “We still had a tremendous crowd come out. Although the weather was kind of wet and damp, it certainly did not dampen the spirits of festival-goers.”
There were more than 370 booths set up at this year’s Apple Festival, with nearly 300 vendors on hand to offer a variety of goods and festival fare.
Washington County-based Stanley’s Produce is one of the festival’s longtime vendors, having offered a variety of fresh apples and a plethora of apple treats to festival attendees for nearly 20 years. Tracy Darr with Stanley’s said it’s the crowds that keep Stanley’s coming back.
“It’s just the people are great,” she said. “It’s one of my biggest shows that I do the whole year.”
Darr also agreed that the rainy weather did little to deter those hankering for galas, wine saps, honey crisps and freshly-fried apple pies.
“It’s just wonderful. It’s just great,” Darr said of the festival. “It don’t matter if it’s raining, snowing, whatever, they’ll come out.”
Narcissa Evans is an Apple Festival veteran, having regularly attended the event in years past. However, she wanted to see the festival from the other side. This year marked Evans’ first festival as a vendor.
“We usually come every year as a guest, and we just love the atmosphere so we thought we’d try it out,” Evans said.
From her booth, Hazzard County Naturals, Evans sold several homemade items, including soy candles, fragrance oils, melts for warmers and room sprays. Evans named her business after “The Dukes of Hazzard,” her daughter’s favorite television show, and some of the items she sold are named for characters on the show.
Evans said her first Apple Festival as a vendor went well and that she was making plans to return as a seller at next year’s event.
“It’s actually been really, really exciting and excellent,” she said. “The people have been friendly. It’s been great.”
Also new to this year’s festival was a tailgate event held Saturday at the Bramble. This portion of the Apple Festival allowed attendees to step in out of the weather, grab some food and enjoy some ice cream while taking in Saturday’s college football action. Delp said the tailgate could become a staple of the Apple Festival.
“I know Saturday evening, we heard quite a few cheers early when UT was scoring, then we would hear some not-so-happy people at the end of the game, but I think they enjoyed being able to go in and watch the game,” Delp said.
Delp said the feedback from a large number of vendors was positive, as many had a successful festival experience despite the weekend’s wet weather.
“Most of the vendors we talked to said they did very well this year, even though it rained,” Delp said. “Of course, they were down from previous years when we’ve had beautiful, sunny weather. However, they also said they were very pleased given the weather conditions. We did have several come to us early on Saturday and say that they were packing up, going home, because they were sold out, which is always a great problem to have.”