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Fiddlin’ around: Unicoi, Flag Pond host annual festivals

The Spivey Mountain Boys perform at the annual Fiddlers’ & Fiddleheads Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The rain cleared out on Friday, April 26, just in time for Unicoi County to experience a weekend of community, food, and of course, traditional bluegrass music.

The Third Annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention kicked off Friday at the old Flag Pond Elementary School.

According to the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention website, the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings – those such as J.D. Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others – but also those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.

Friday night kicked off with a square dance that featured Rodney Clay Sutton calling and The Corklickers providing the music. There was also a special performance by Green Grass Cloggers.

On Saturday, April 27, the main competitions began. Winners of the Traditional Song competition were Ryan Nickerson, Andy Duckworth and Mark Kilanski. Winners in the Stringband competition were the New Macedon Rangers, The Fabulous Low Tags, and the Millenial Falconers. The winners of the Banjo competition were Rob Fong, Jake Owen, and Clark Williams. Amy Alvey, Maddy Mulaney, and Rob Fong were winners in the Fiddle competition.

The festival, which centers around the competition, also featured vendors, camping, and plenty of food, courtesy of the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park.

According to Rocky Fork State Park Ranger and picker Tim Pharis, the event was a success. “We are still counting the numbers up, but my guess is around 500 people came out, and we had around 175 performers,” Pharis said. 

The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

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On the north end of the county, another festival took place over the weekend. The 24th Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was held at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens in Unicoi.

The festival featured performances by 14 bands on three stages. Jam sessions took place all over the festival grounds. Attendees enjoyed bluegrass, country and gospel music with performances by local talent, including the Spivey Mountain Boys, the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, and many more.

There was also a “Hammer-In” for local blacksmiths to gather in the barn to show off their unique talents and creations.

In addition to the music and blacksmithing, there was a vintage car show held on the grounds. There were also numerous vendors and plenty of food options. The Unicoi County Ruritan Club was manning the grill all day, and there were plenty of fresh baked goods to eat.

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the 2019 Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was a huge success.

“Fiddle Fest had an estimated crowd of almost 3,000, and we had 14 bands on three stages,” Shelton said. “Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires drew a huge audience, as well as the Spivey Mountain Boys and the ETSU Bluegrass Gospel Band.”