By Keeli Parkey

The 39th Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival has arrived.

Set for Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8, the festival, which draws more than 110,000 annual attendees, has been consistently named one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 events in the southeast and is a three-year winner of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association’s Pinnacle Award, will once again take over the streets of downtown Erwin, bringing unique vendors, entertainment and more to visitors and residents. The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is coordinating the Apple Festival again this year.

“We work on the Apple Festival year round,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp recently told The Erwin Record. “We are really trying hard to make it bigger and better – that is our goal every year.”

Attendees will see a different layout to the festival grounds in 2016, according to Delp.

“We are making some changes that we think will enhance the festival,” she added. “One, will be stage locations. The stage we had in the Commons Area, which was located in the parking lot behind the courthouse, we are pulling that stage out of the parking lot and putting it on Gay Street. In previous years, that stage was hidden. We want to make it more visible. The music lineup for this stage will be very good again this year.”

This pro, touring stage will be placed almost in front of Liberty Lumber, facing toward Main Avenue. Booth spaces lost by the placement of the stage on Gay Street have been moved to the parking lot.

Delp said the stage that has “traditionally been the Southern gospel stage” will be repositioned this year.

“We are moving this stage onto Love Street at the corner of Love and Church Street with the sound amplifying down Love Street,” she added. “We will have seating in front of the stage and will use the parking lot where the stage was located in previous years for food vendors and sponsor booths.”

The format of this stage will also slightly change, according to Delp.

“We have had a lot of people in recent years tell us they would like to see some contemporary Christian acts perform,” she added. “We are going to do a mix of Southern gospel and contemporary Christian artists and groups. We are also bringing in a pro, touring stage this year.”

Delp said coordinators hope the contemporary Christian acts will appeal to the teenage demographic.

“The festival had something for every age group, except, maybe, the teen demographic,” Delp said. “We believe the contemporary Christian acts will be a draw for teenagers.”

The Gathering Place stage will again be located in that park on Main Avenue between Keesecker’s and Plant Palace, Delp said. For 2016, this stage will be mostly dedicated to bluegrass music with some local acts, such as line dancers, performing on that stage once again.

“We want our local favorites to take a stage at the festival every year,” Delp said.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to compete in a cornhole tournament this year.

“We announced last year we planned to host the tournament,” Delp said, “but, the inclement weather we had during the festival forced us to cancel it. We are going to bring that back this year.”

Applications for the tournament are available at the Chamber office.

Hundreds of vendors are again expected to sell their wares on Oct. 7 and 8.

“Our booth spaces are all full,” Delp said. “We have a very interesting group of vendors scheduled to come to the festival this year.”

Many of these booths will be occupied by culinary craftsmen in their own right.

“You can enjoy everything from Chinese to Greek foods, traditional foods such as barbecue, homemade hamburgers and hot wings to apple pies and apple dumplings,” Delp said. “For your convenience, three food courts, including tables and chairs, have been established.”

The young and young at heart will find fun at the children’s area.

“The large children’s area is a festival within a festival, uniquely designed for the young festivalgoers, complete with rides, games, concessions and much more,” Delp said. “Located in the parking lot of Erwin Town Hall, the 2016 festival children’s area, sponsored by the Unicoi County Family YMCA, will feature exciting attractions, including The Fun Factory’s Adrenaline Rush, Bungee Run, Joust, Saber-Tooth Tiger Slide, Bungee Trampoline and the King Kong Slide. Children and adults of all ages are invited to participate. The train ride, a children’s favorite from years past, will also be part of this year’s events.”

Also running in conjunction with the festival is the 37th annual Blue Ridge Pottery Show and Sale – a Unicoi County institution in its own right.

“Held at the Unicoi County Intermediate School, the show is a must-see for Blue Ridge pottery collectors and admirers,” Delp said. “Rare pieces can often be found during the show. Blue Ridge Pottery, now sought after by collectors worldwide, originated in Unicoi County.”

For more information about the Apple Festival and its related events, call the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce at 743-3000 or visit its office at 100 S. Main Ave. in downtown Erwin. The festival will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 8.

From Interstate 26, take Exit 37 into downtown Erwin to reach the festival grounds. Several parking areas around Exit 37 have been secured for festival attendees, according to the Chamber. 

To ensure the safety of the large number of attendees, festival organizers ask that you please do not bring pets onto the festival grounds. Bicycles and skateboards are also not permitted on festival grounds.