Experience Appalachia

Townsend festival brings traditions alive with music, storytelling, crafts

Finding a place to pick and play together at the Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival are Mary Buntley, Michael Bolden, Ann Flick, Mike Massey and Gary Clark.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Finding a place to pick and play together at the Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival are Mary Buntley, Michael Bolden, Ann Flick, Mike Massey and Gary Clark.

Many may not know the rich history behind cast iron cookware, but Columbus listed it in his manifest when he discovered the Americas, Lewis & Clark carried it with them on their journey to explore the West, and Martha Washington treasured her cookware so much, she is said to have listed it in her will.

You can see demonstrations and indulge in the tastes of traditional cast iron cooking, while enjoying guided walks in the wildflowers, listening to bluegrass music and stories of old Appalachia, and having old-fashioned fun for the whole family at the 19th Annual Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival and Old Timers Day. Held May 6-7, the event allows young and old alike to celebrate and experience Appalachian heritage through these activities and more.

“Just a year shy of its 20th anniversary, the Townsend Spring Festival has grown into an event that gives visitors of all ages a chance to learn Appalachian history and culture and experience what makes East Tennessee unique,” said Herb Handly, executive vice president of tourism for the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Whether you enjoy exploring the outdoors, shopping for one-of-a-kind crafts, learning about the culture of an area or just listening to music and stories in the shadows of the smokies, the festival has such a variety of weekend activities that there is really something for everyone.”

This year’s festival features book signings with authors Doris Gove and Roy Oliver, storytelling with Sam Venable, a special concert by “Six Mile Express,” and traditional cast iron cooking from members of the Blount County Fire Protection District. The festival will also have plenty of bluegrass music, 32 arts and crafts booths, cake raffles, family art activities, shape note singing, pipers and drummers, and a wide variety of food. Visitors can also experience Appalachian artisans and demonstrations including: beekeeping, basketry, quilting, woodcarving, rug hooking, spinning, and drawing.

“Old Timers Day,” which takes place Saturday, May 7, is an eventful day giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy East Tennessee bluegrass music with more stage performances, jam sessions, and the annual Young Pickers Talent Contest. Storytelling, shape note singing, and square dancing are among the activities for all ages to enjoy.

The heart and soul of the spring festival is the timeless bluegrass music, and numerous musicians gather to perform on stage and for informal jam sessions in all areas of the festival grounds. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to bring lawn chairs to sit back, relax and enjoy the music from noon to 10 p.m. on May 6 and 7.

For musicians ages 18 and under, the annual Young Pickers Talent Contest will be held on May 7 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center located on old Highway 73, Townsend, TN 37882. The contest gives young musicians the opportunity to showcase their talent and compete for prizes.

Festival visitors will be able to enjoy musical activities including the Knoxville Pipes and Drums Concert and Parade on May 6 at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Townsend Visitors Center. Sponsored by the Highland Manor Inn and EconoLodge, the event will give visitors the opportunity to enjoy Highland music in celebration of Scottish heritage.

A free-admission concert featuring “Six Mile Express,” a young bluegrass band, will be the night’s special entertainment on May 6 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be held at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center and is funded by an Arts Build Communities Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Additionally, the East Tennessee Old Harp Singers will perform on Saturday, May 7, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the storytelling tent, and a square dance with caller, Don Tipton, and music by the Carolina Bluegrass Boys will begin at 8 p.m.

Always a highlight of the Festival are the bluegrass bands playing on the stage from noon to 10 p.m. and lots of East Tennessee bluegrass pickin’ on the porch and in the grove on Friday and Saturday.

The festival grounds will be covered with arts and crafts booths and local artisans demonstrating their craft while visitors watch. This spring’s artisan demonstrations will include basketry, woodcarving, quilting, rug hooking, weaving, charcoal and pencil art, and spinning on the Great Wheel, and will take place in the Exhibit Room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Storytelling is a tradition as old as the Smoky Mountains, and at the Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival and Old Timers Day, local storytellers will educate and entertain visitors on Saturday, May 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the storytelling tent. Local storytellers include Lendel Abbott, Robin Goddard, and special guest, Sam Venable.

There are many events geared toward children at this year’s spring festival. On Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, a Family Art Fair led by the Townsend Artisan Guild in the storytelling tent will give children and their families the opportunity to participate in many art activities. Hand-building and wheel-throwing pottery demonstrations with Carol Ware will also be held in the storytelling tent.

In addition, old-fashioned kids’ games will be held in the field behind the Townsend Visitors Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Walking on stilts, bean bag games, seesaws, and face painting are only a few of the activities children can enjoy.

During the two-day festival, visitors will have a chance to take wildflower walks, garden tours, learn gardening tips, and attend plant sales. Wildflower walks on Chestnut Top Trail with expert naturalist Tom Harrington will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. and then 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, May 6. The walks are limited in space, and reservations are recommended. Please call 865-448-6134 for reservations and further details.

Festival visitors can also participate in tours of Hedgewood Gardens, private gardens featuring more than 500 species of wild flowers, located at 411 Bethel Church Road in Townsend. Tours will take place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on May 6 and 7. In addition, gardening tips and plant sales will be given by Trillium Cove Home and Garden in front of the Townsend Visitors Center on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A festival celebrating the Appalachian culture and heritage of the Smoky Mountains would not be complete without a variety of traditional Southern food. Food vendors will be scattered about the festival grounds each day serving barbeque, ice cream, specialty sandwiches, hot dogs, kettle corn, and other good food. The Blount County Fire Protection District will be performing cast iron cooking demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, where visitors will enjoy food including corn bread, biscuits, beans, greens, and cobbler.

Another festival tradition, the cake raffle and bake sale, will take place at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. on Friday and go throughout the day on Saturday to raise money for the Hearts and Hands Scholarship Fund.

The Townsend in the Smokies festivals are green events, where visitors are encouraged to dispose of their trash properly to “leave no trace.” With the help of Keep Blount Beautiful and Spectra, Inc., recycling containers for plastic bottles and aluminum cans are placed throughout the festival grounds. Proceeds will go to the Hearts and Hands Scholarship Fund.

The festival takes place on the grounds of the Townsend Visitors Center, located at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, in Townsend. For more information on the Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival and Old Timers Day, including updates on the schedule, please call the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-525-6834 or 865-448-6134 or visit www.smokymountains.org or www.smokymountainfestivals.org.

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