The Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band performs for a crowd at the Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Last Wednesday evening marked the midway point to the weeklong Festival of Hope and the party was not slowing down.

Previous events such as the Survivor Walk, the Building 429 concert, the Killin’ Cancer Volleyball Game and the Farmer’s Market Community Night had all been successful in raising money and awareness for the American Cancer Society. The Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event on Aug. 29 was no different, according to Renea Jones-Rogers, local Relay chair.

The Barbecue, Bags and Bluegrass event drew a large crowd for a great cause. The Unicoi County High School Bluegrass band kicked things off. During their performance, several citizens in attendance came up to pick with the band.

“This is the seventh year of the UCHS Bluegrass Band program and this year we are excited to have two bands, The Blue Devil Bluegrass Boys and the UCHS Blue Belles,” UCHS teacher and band sponsor Lori Ann Wright said. “The Blue Devil Bluegrass Boys are comprised of Connor Brackins, John Hilemon, Tate Kerns, Matthew Laws, Lucas Metz and Adam Street. Members of the UCHS Blue Belles are Hannah Edwards, Blake Hall, Sarah Grace Larkey, Emma Ledford and Macy Robinson. Lucas Swinehart and Olivia Rogers are sound technicians for this year’s band.”

This was the first performance for this group and the oldest member of the band is a sophomore. Some of the band have only been playing instruments for the past few years.

“John has been playing guitar for about two years, but just began playing bluegrass for about the past year,” said John Hilemon’s mother, Anjanette Hilemon.

What they lack in years, they more than make up for in hard work and tenacity, according to Wright.

The UCHS Bluegrass Band was actually started by the students.

“It all started about seven years ago when a student, Craig T. Shelton came to my room to pick with his friend Troy Boone,” Wright said. “I had a few girls in drama that could sing and pretty soon we had a bluegrass band.”

Shelton is now playing with East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass Band and Boone is currently a member of the band, Sideline. The UCHS Bluegrass Band has been successful in promoting members to the next level, according to Wright.

“We have about one student a year go on to play in the ETSU Bluegrass Band and we have a couple of students that have received a full ride to college,” Wright added.

The next scheduled event for the band will be in October for the Farm Bureau Insurance Dinner. There will also be a holiday event in December. Follow the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band on Facebook and Twitter for more information and upcoming events.

Also on Wednesday, the crew at Hawg-N-Dawg was busy keeping up with the hungry crowd. The smoke filled the air with the smell of the eatery’s signature barbecue.

“We were honored to be a part of this inaugural event,” Hawg-N-Dawg owner Lou Snider said.

The weather cooperated for the corn hole tournament last Wednesday. The players received T-shirts from the Relay For Life team for coming out and supporting the event. The winners of the corn hole tournament were the team of Jamie Hensley and Bobby Ramsey. Second place went to the team of John Bannister and Gary Swineheart.

Concluding the Festival of Hope were the Passport to Hope Dinner at The Bramble on Thursday, Aug. 30, which was sold out, and the Friday Night Lights of Hope on Aug. 31. There was a large crowd that braved the early storms to be a part of the Friday Night Lights of Hope. So far, the total amount received has been $41,000. Donations are still being made and can be made anytime at relayforlife.org/unicoitn. Jones-Rogers, on behalf of all with the Relay For Life, wanted to send out a thank you for all of the many faces that showed up for the events.

“We want to thank all of those who gave financial contributions or showed up to bring awareness,” she said. “It was great to see 100 percent of the community from the downtown businesses to the students at Unicoi County Schools come together to make this event a success.”

If you missed this year’s Festival of Hope and would like to support Relay For Life, please contact the local team at relayforlife.org/unicoitn to make a donation or check for upcoming events.