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Strawberry Festival returns May 15

By Richard Rourk

Strawberries and a festival to celebrate them have become an annual rite of spring in Unicoi.

Once again, the Town of Unicoi will host the 18th annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival, presented by Scott’s Strawberries and Tomato Farms, with something to appeal to everyone.

The festival, which will be held Saturday, May 15, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Unicoi Elementary School, will celebrate all things strawberry while also offering new festivities this year.

From the festival’s newest addition, the East Tennessee Model-A Restorers Car Show sponsored by KNK Automotive, to the live music and delicious food, festival organizers strive to offer something everyone will like.

Other festivities will include the Miss Strawberry Festival Pageant, the Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s MHK Strawberry Recipe Contest and an expanded Kids’ Zone featuring inflatables, Mary’s Cow Train, the Army National Guard’s Fit for Fun and Seed Starting with Single Dad Homesteading.

After being cancelled in 2020, it’s clear that the festival has returned from the pandemic stronger than ever. 

“The festival has gone through some major changes this year,” explained Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton. “We’ve added quite a few activities, lots of new vendors and even some new musical styles, so I think guests are definitely in for a treat after not having any festivals last season.”

The event will feature craft and retail vendors showcasing various items including pottery, soaps, jewelry, home decor and more, as well as food vendors serving hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, chicken, funnel cakes, Italian ices and other festival classics, as well as fresh Scott’s strawberries available by the basket, in strawberry shortcake and even as jams and jellies.

The festival will also include old favorites such as the Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s MHK Strawberry Recipe Contest which offers $75 for first place, $50 for second and $25 for third place. Entries may be dropped off at the Booth No. 3 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and winners will be announced on the main stage at 12:30 p.m.

The return of the Little Miss Strawberry Festival Pageant hosted by Little Miss Southern Sparkle offers another opportunity for competition at this year’s event. The pageant begins at 10 a.m. in the Unicoi Elementary Gym and winners will be announced on the stage at 12:30 p.m. For more information, contact Valerie Hendrix at [email protected]@gmail.com or visit Little Miss Southern Sparkle on Facebook.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen said that live musical performances will also be an integral part of the festival.  

“The music is such an important part of any festival,” Bullen said. “And I’m proud that we can shine a spotlight on our local musicians.”

The Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band will kick the festivities off at 10 a.m. followed by the festival debut of Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies House Band at 11:30 a.m. 

“Tennessee Hills has become a thriving musical venue in Unicoi,” Bullen said. “So it’s fun to give everyone a taste of what a night out in this town sounds like because we have some amazing talent all around us.”

Local favorite Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires will entertain the lunch crowd at 1 p.m. with their classic sounds of Johnny Cash, Elvis and other country music and rockabilly legends.

“We’ve had Zach and the band at a few of our events over the past couple of years,” Shelton said. “The crowds just love their genuine attitudes and their love of the music itself. It really resonates with them and, of course, they sound great and you can’t help but tap your feet.”

Powershift will take the stage at 2:30 p.m. for its debut on the Strawberry Festival Stage and will feature ‘90s country and classic rock tunes. “This band is out of Elizabethton and its members are all local emergency personnel,” Shelton said. “That really struck a chord – we support all emergency workers so showcasing their musical talent and who they are outside of those jobs is exciting.”

Brian Keener and Blue Steel, another band debuting on the festival stage, will close out the day  from 4 to 5 p.m. by playing a variety of genres including classic,traditional and modern country music, Elvis, Conway, Cash, oldies rock, rockabilly and gospel. Visit ExploreUnicoi.com/events for a performance schedule.

 Festival sponsors include Scott’s Strawberry and Tomato Farms, Ambrosound, Bank of Tennessee, KNK Automotive, Mountain Commerce Bank, Bank of Tennessee, East Tennessee Model-A Restorers Club, Mountain Harvest Kitchen, Little Miss Southern Sparkle, Clinchfield Credit Union, Constellis, LLC, Earth Effects, Family Auto Care, Farm Bureau , H&H Auto Sales, IW Trailers, Jones Hardware, Los Jalapenos, Maple Grove Restaurant, Maple Grove Wine & Liquor, BWXT Nuclear Fuel Service, Primo’s, Reflections Health & Wellness, Robert Ledford Funeral Home, Specialty Tire of America, State Farm Insurance Brian Poston Agency, Steel Rails Coffee House, The Peterson Brothers / Hurd Realty, Tsubaki Nakashimi, Unicoi Wine & Spirits, Wiseman’s Clothing, Walmart, Bays Mountain, East TN Rent-Alls, ET Golf Cart & Power Sport, China Kitchen, Shults Law Office, Advance Auto Parts, Food City, Food Lion, Limestone Cove Market and Deli and Lowes in Johnson City.

Festival partners are Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unicoi Police Department and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office. 

Anyone interested in volunteering at the event should call the Tourist Information Center at (423) 735-0517 or email [email protected] 

Vendor registration deadline is May 12. Additional information is available on the town’s website at ExploreUnicoi.com.