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Ready, Willis & Able – Festival strengthens community

By Janice Willis-Barnett

The sky was blue and the air mild as my husband Leo and I climbed the hill to the pasture. I was anxious to see an animal I had never seen in East Tennessee or any place else except Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And there they were, five honest to goodness American buffalo, lying in the grass, soaking up the sun in a fenced-in pasture at Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and his wife Pat’s farm in Unicoi.

I was amazed at how silky and healthy the buffalos’ fur looked with the sun shining on it. A whole crowd of folks attending the Lynches annual Fiddlers and Fiddlehead Festival had already gathered to hear Robin and Tyler Lynch talk about the buffalo and their parents’ plans to increase the herd.

After the crowd thinned out, Leo and I stayed, watching the buffalo and enjoying the view from the hillside. I recalled a recent interview that Mayor Lynch did with Sue Guinn Legg for the Johnson City Press in which he pointed out that there are clues to the historical presence of the buffalo in Unicoi all around us. Why else would we have Buffalo Mountain, Buffalo Valley, Buffalo Creek, and even churches with buffalo in their name?  So why wouldn’t we have the buffalo as the official image for the town of Unicoi?

As Leo and I walked back down the hill to the antique car show, it dawned on me that the reason I enjoy this festival so much is because it does such a beautiful job of connecting the present with the past. As we entered the field where the antique car show was located, I could feel the excitement as vintage auto lovers exchanged tales of old cars and trucks rescued or lost.

Then we made our way to a cluster of open-sided tents where musicians were jamming.  In one tent, three elderly men held what looked like vintage fiddles. There was something incredibly beautiful about the reverence with which the men handled the instruments and the way they were taking turns playing for one another.

I felt like I had already enjoyed a feast for the soul, but my stomach said, “Hey,what about me? What about some of Pat Lynch’s chicken salad served on her homemade sourdough bread?” So off I ran to find it while Leo got in line for a big barbecue pork sandwich served up by Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch, who was wearing plastic gloves that went nearly all the way to his elbows. Then we took our meals and sat with friends and family in the building where the old-time bands were playing lively kick-up-your- heels tunes.

Before stopping at the Fiddlers Fest, Leo and I had spent time at the inaugural Great Outdoors Festival in downtown Erwin. I felt a great sense of community at both festivals and a determination to face whatever lies ahead. We will make it.