Foothills Fall Festival: Entertainers wow crowds but Groff says volunteers, city workers are real stars

It is 12:45 a.m., Friday, Oct. 16, - approximately 17 hours before the gates open to the 2009 Foothills Fall Festival.

Many with passes for the three-day music fest are anticipating a weekend of performances from the likes of Kansas, Alan Jackson, Rodney Adkins and Sawyer Brown. At 12:45 a.m., however, they are asleep in their own beds.

Four Blount County residents have a different idea. They’re sleeping in lawn chairs on the sidewalk across from First Baptist Church Maryville on East Lamar Alexander Parkway at the entrance to the festival.

They have their own reasons for sacrificing comfort, but their common theme is simple: They want good seats, and they just want to enjoy the festival.

Lucille Weathersby of Friendsville is first in line. “I love it,” she says of the festival. I’m a volunteer. I enjoy the festival. It’s family-oriented, and we’re all like one big family.”

Brenda Anderson is second in line and moved from Spring, Texas, four weeks ago settling in Friendsville. Of all the acts, she wants to see Alan Jackson the most. “This is my first year of being here. and I’m hanging out,” she says. “I’m here to enjoy the whole thing.”

Caleb Crisp of Maryville says he just enjoys the festival and doesn’t mind waiting more than half a day in line to get the best seats. “I’ve done it early the last two years. I’ll have someone relieve me in the morning,” he says. “It’s always a fun time, and I never get bored.”

Joshua Wenzel of Maryville had a simple motivation. “I want good seats,” he says. “We’ve been out here early the past four years.”

Weathersby says the volunteers who organize and put on the event work hard each year. “There’s no alcohol or drugs. I think it’s wonderful,” she says. “I’m glad they do it that way.”

The entertainment at this year’s Foothills Fall Festival drew thousands but the city’s special events coordinator reserved her biggest praise for those who helped pull together the entire event.

Jane Groff said the crowds at Bicentennial Greenbelt Park on Friday seemed as large as before. On Saturday night, Oct. 17, the area was packed for Alan Jackson. By Sunday, Oct. 18, when Sawyer Brown played, the bank below Ruby Tuesday corporate headquarters was full of spectators, she said.

“Overall, the shows were great,” said Groff. “We have received lots of positive comments about all the entertainment, especially Alan Jackson, Rodney Adkins, Sawyer Brown and Trailer Choir,” she said.

Groff said it is obvious people are impressed each year when the volunteers and city employees are able to pull off the festival. “People are amazed by what this small town can do and how so many people work so hard to make it come together,” she said. “It’s an endeavor that has to be supported by everyone. That’s the only way it will work and continue to be such a big, big deal and one that’s recognized throughout the Southeast as such a unique and fun event. We are so happy so many people do work together to make it work.”

Groff said that overall she was pleased with how things turned out despite the weather. “With the adversity of the rain during setup week and the saturated ground we’ve had the past two months, the crews, especially the public works crew is to be especially commended,” she said.

This year everyone pulled more than their normal share of responsibility just to get the festival set up and open, Groff said.

Groff said it was gratifying to see so many happy folks came out and enjoy themselves. “Right now people are just looking for some unique ways to entertain themselves and not have to spend a fortune, and I think people were really appreciative,” she said. “The turnout, despite the weather, exemplifies that.”

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