By Richard Rourk
The skies will light up on Sunday, July 4, above Unicoi.
With some regional firework displays being canceled, the Town of Unicoi will move forward and host its annual Freedom Fest, presented by Jones and Church Farms, Sunday, July 4, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Unicoi Elementary School, located at 404 Massachusetts Avenue.
“The event will include plenty of food, live music and the Unicoi County Hospital Fireworks Spectacular at dark,” said Ashley Shelton, the Town of Unicoi’s communications and programs director.
Shelton noted that America’s favorite ’80s tribute band, The Breakfast Club, will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. to crank up the party in honor of America’s independence while families dance the night away to favorite rock and roll classics.
“The Breakfast Club puts on a high-energy, fun and nostalgic show that I think families are going to love,” Shelton said. ”
Powershift, a band of emergency first responders from Elizabethton, will open the evening at 5:30 p.m. and warm the crowd with their country and rock tunes full of local flavor.
“We’re ecstatic to be featuring a larger band this year,” Shelton said.
The decision to move forward with Freedom Fest came after a safe return to normalcy for the Town of Unicoi just a month ago.
“The success of the Strawberry Festival this year opened our eyes to the possibility that we might have even more visitors for our Fourth of July celebration,” explained Town of Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen. “So we want to make sure to put on a good show and expand our offerings to accommodate a larger celebration.”
As always, the Unicoi Ruritan will be serving up favorites such as barbecue, hot dogs and funnel cakes under the pavilion. Even more food options have been added this year with local church Casa de Dios offering tacos and tamales, the Hungarian Sausage King Food Truck selling hamburgers, Italian sausages and Philly cheesesteaks, and Tommy’s Italian Ice serving up sweet treats like deep-fried Oreos, funnel cakes and Italian ice.
The Unicoi County Hospital Fireworks Spectacular will close out the evening by lighting up the night sky at 9:30 p.m. with a magnificent display of colors and sounds in honor of America’s freedom. Visitors are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets for seating. Patriotic glow necklaces are available at the information booth for $1 each.
Attendees are also asked to review the event’s parking maps, which will be available on the town’s website soon, and plan ahead to minimize traffic congestion.
“Parking was an issue at the Strawberry Festival this year,” Shelton said. “So we wanted to make sure we provided more options for Freedom Fest.”
Mountain Commerce Bank is providing complimentary shuttles that will begin service at 4 p.m. and visitors are encouraged to utilize these lots before seeking downtown parking. Shuttle stops will be listed on the online parking map. “Our downtown village, around the school where the event is held, is mostly residential,” said Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle. “We will be closing some streets and rerouting traffic in that area so it will be easier for visitors to take advantage of the shuttles and avoid the congestion.”
All shuttled lots will charge $5 to $10 for parking and will be staffed by local civic, youth and church groups. Any organization interested in working a lot for the proceeds or a percentage of the proceeds depending upon the lot, should contact the communications and programs department as soon as possible.
For locals who are used to parking downtown, most churches in the village will be providing parking, either for free or for a $5 charge, including Unicoi Church of God and Unicoi United Methodist Church. Traffic will be controlled by Unicoi Police and most downtown streets will have a “traffic hold” placed on them for at least 45 minutes to an hour after the fireworks display.
“We took the traffic hold straight out of Bristol Motor Speedway’s playbook,” Slagle said. “Safety is our number one priority and giving the pedestrians a chance to move out of the area before releasing the traffic flow is the right thing to do given it’s a nighttime event. We also ask for everyone’s patience after the fireworks as our officers work to get everyone home safely.”
Designated handicap parking will also be available downtown at Unicoi United Methodist Church and in the back parking lot of Unicoi Elementary School.
Shelton said that the Town of Unicoi extends its appreciation to Jones and Church Farms, Unicoi County Hospital, Mountain Commerce Bank, East Tennessee Rent-Alls, Whistle Stop Deli and Catering, and Limestone Cove Market and Deli for their support of Freedom Fest.
She added that special thanks is due to event partners Town of Unicoi Police Department, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unicoi County Emergency Management Agency, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and Unicoi County EMS for their dedication to keeping the event and guests safe. She also thanked the many other volunteers that help make Freedom Fest possible.
Anyone interested in volunteering at Freedom Fest should call the Tourist Information Center at (423) 735-0517 or email [email protected] as soon as possible. Additional information is available on the town’s website, ExploreUnicoi.com.