The 20th year of this annual event in Townsend, Tennessee is going to be a non-stop celebration. Friday and Saturday May 4th & 5th there will be bluegrass music concerts and jam sessions, clogging, all kinds of arts and crafts, Appalachian skills demonstrations, storytelling, wildflower walks, and tasty foods amidst the beauty of springtime in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Up to 8,000 people usually attend this great gateway town festival and music is one of the main attractions.
Jeanie Hilten, manager of special events for the Blount Partnership, says the spring festival is “a great opportunity to see the full range of Appalachian traditions being passed down from young to old.” Saturday is Old Timers Day and Hilten says, “To have old timers in the future, you need young people now! This is how we pass it on.”
Friday clogging lessons start at 11 am then a long list of bands play from noon till 9 pm. The festival has a real focus on nurturing young musicians. Friday night at 7:30 there's a Young Bluegrass Band Concert at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center that features the Sons of Bluegrass from Johnson City, TN. The group is a popular product of the East Tennessee State University bluegrass and traditional mountain music program and the concert is sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission.
On Old Timers Day Saturday, the music starts at 11 am and goes till 9 pm at the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center. There’s also a Young Pickers Talent Contest Saturday afternoon.
Events at this outdoor fest are spread over four locations. The Townsend Visitor Center’s large expanse of meadows has plenty of space to park and enjoy music at the pavilion, arts and crafts demonstrations, diverse food vendors (BBQ, ice cream, specialty sandwiches, hot dog booths, kettle corn, and other good food), and more.
Another venue, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, is just up the road from Townsend toward the park entrance. At Trillium Cove Shopping Village there’s a Black Bear Expo, so “the emphasis is on natural history and conservation of the Smokies’ famous symbol,” says Hilten.
Cades Cove, a hidden valley in the Smokies that is an extremely popular loop motor tour, is another location. Many of the attendees have roots in the Cades Cove settlement that ended with establishment of the park. Folks head into the Cove early Saturday morning to the Cable Mill area for picnics and informal musical gatherings. Many visitors to the Cove come back to the Townsend Visitor Center in afternoon and stay into the evening.
Musical offerings also include a stirring celebration of Southern Appalachian Scottish heritage at 6:30 pm on Friday in front of the Visitors Center with the Knoxville Pipes and Drums in a concert and parade.
Artisan and Appalachian skills demonstrations feature basketry, woodcarving, quilting, rug hooking, weaving, bee keeping and hive observation, cornmeal making, oak shingle-making, pottery, Cherokee finger-weaving, and antique weapons. There’s also old fashioned kid’s games, a Civil War regiment encampment along the bicycle path, and storytelling at a designated storytelling tent. Or take a wildflower walk with naturalist Tom Harrington. And don’t forget cake raffles, bake sales, and square dancing!
With so much to do, this year, the usual $8 parking fee is newly available online through the mail for only $5 (until April 25). Parking proceeds benefit the Townsend Volunteer Fire Department (the event is free). For more information, click here for the schedule or call 865-448-6134.
Townsend is easily reached from Pigeon Forge through the scenic Wear Valley on US 321/TN 73. That same road provides access from Marysville, Tennessee. Two entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park lie just south of Townsend.