By Keith Whitson
We are in the homestretch. It is once again time for one of the biggest downtown festivals in the south. I am talking about the 39th Annual Unicoi County Apple Festival.
I know to some younger readers, that comes out to be more apples than years you’ve been alive. However, I happen to have been around for them all – just barely, of course. I even remember back when the festival started as Ole’ Joe Clark Days. I can’t tell you now who Joe Clark was but I can still see his white hair, bibbed overalls and banjo.
I am proud of our county and the fact that we take our main commodities and celebrate them. Erwin holds the Apple Festival, Unicoi has the Strawberry Festival and Flag Pond celebrates the Ramp Festival.
It speaks well for the community atmosphere of Unicoi County. These festivals not only demonstrate the remarkable group efforts found among us, but they also show our pride in what we have to offer as we invite others to come in and join us.
The Apple Festival is no small event. Without the experience of the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Erwin clean up crew and Erwin Police Department, we would end up with a congested nightmare. I can’t imagine the precision required for placing booths and providing necessary electric supplies and other necessities. Try coordinating bringing in hundreds of vendors all at one time so that they can set up and not block or interfere with each other.
Yet, the Chamber has done it for so many years that they have it down to a science. They are often bragged on by vendors for having one of the most organized shows around. I can see why.
For shoppers and visitors, it is just like magic. Overnight a complete festival goes up into high gear and by Sunday morning it has vanished and is cleaned up, as if it were all a dream.
I am sure many festival attendees look for the same booths year after year to grab up more of their favorite tried items. I know where I can find delicious nuts, muscadine juice and amazing honey.
I usually start the day out by joining my step dad along the way for a cup of coffee. He likes to come to the festival early so he can get a good parking spot and get away before the crowd gets to be too large. I usually help him carry a box or two of apples back to his car.
From that, I join my mom for a couple of the delicious Amish doughnuts. It is impossible for me to resist those warm, freshly glazed, oversized treats. Two is usually my limit for one sitting. I may return for more later in the day or the next day, depending on how long the line is for waiting.
As lunch rolls around my choices get more difficult. I usually stroll past booth after booth and look at the trailer loads of prepared food calling out to hungry festival goers like myself. It doesn’t take long to tell what the favorites are as lines start to form out from those booths.
The Apple Festival is a wonderful time to see old friends. You can hardly walk a few steps without passing someone you haven’t seen in awhile. For some, it has been as long as this time last year. I guess the festival always seems to call folks home.
I love checking out the music stages. The Chamber comes up with an amazing line up of talent which is worthy of any paid concert. But, guess what? It’s free. Where else can you find so much and not have to spend anything, which, I admit, is almost impossible.
The festival extends up some of the side streets, including Gay, which The Erwin Record is located on. The staff and I try to accomplish some work inside but soon temptation gets the best of us and we are out roaming the streets again.
I have a wonderful vantage point from my office. My desk is right beside a large window that faces Gay Street. I love to raise the window, catch the cool fresh air and hear the sounds of happiness and laughter as people pass back and forth outside.
If I had to travel to see the festival, it would be difficult. I certainly wouldn’t have gone as consistently as I have attended this one by just naturally being here. However, I find it enjoyable to spend a work day right in the heart of the action. The news is surrounding us and makes our jobs easier to cover the event and show you the highlights afterwards.
First Tennessee Bank is so gracious to share their back parking lot with us. The Record employees and the bank employees get to work early on Apple Festival Friday. Once we get a spot claimed, we usually keep it for the entire day. It is too dangerous to try and move and risk losing your valued parking space.
But, during Apple Festival, why would you want to be anywhere else? It is the kickoff of autumn, a celebration of a good harvest and the opportunity to show our downtown to outsiders. I am sure they drive away thinking “I wish I lived there.”
Mark your calendars for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8 and come enjoy all the festival has to offer.