The hills come alive to the sound of music: Townsend Spring Festival returns this weekend | Entertainment

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Jay Tipton came out of the house a few weeks ago and made his way to Rocky Branch, the community center where pickers congregate to play music on weekends. It was a strange experience.

Under normal circumstances, this would not have been the case. Tipton, after all, has been playing Rocky Branch since he was a teenager and could do nothing more than a crass version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and it dates back a few decades. Today, the 39-year-old Great Smoky Mountains National Park employee is also (since 2017) Music Director of the Spring Festival, which returns to the Townsend Visitor Center this weekend.

After a year of loneliness from COVID-19, however, Tipton’s current circumstances, like those of so many others, are anything but normal, and coming back in public thanks to a visit to Rocky Branch was a bit nerve-wracking, he said. he told The Daily Times recently.

“It took me a while to get used to being around people, and I’ll tell you it affected my nerves,” he said. “You’ve heard of cabin fever – well, I had something like that. Until the other day, I haven’t picked or played for a year, not after all those shows we had (with his bluegrass band, Walking in Tradition) were canceled. We wanted to go play, but there was nowhere to go.

“So when Rocky Branch rebooted I had to make do, because I was so used to not being available to me. Part of me was thinking, ‘I’m going to go up there, and people are going to be weird, and I’m not going to have a good time,’ until my wife urged me to go. So I went – and had a great time!

It didn’t take long, he added, for the old feelings of camaraderie and camaraderie to reassert itself, and that, he says, will be as big a crowd engine as any in the center of the crowd. Townsend visitors this weekend.

“I think it’s going to be really big, because people want to go out,” Tipton said. “I spoke to a couple from North Carolina (the other day), and they’re about 80 years old, but they’re vaccinated and ready to go. They want to come and choose. People are above it, and they want normalcy – and that’s what I want too.

Nothing means normalcy more than the annual Townsend Spring and Fall Festivals, which have taken place every year since 1992, when former festival director Charlie Monday and a group of volunteers hosted the event in an effort to relieve the congestion at Cades Cove for the annual Old. Celebration of the day of timers. To help alleviate the stress from the National Park Service, they organized a one-night event, but before the last orchestra performed, passers-by had filled the parking lot at the Little River Railroad Museum and parked along the way. shoulder of the road.

The following year the festival moved to the visitor center, but it was still a laid back affair; the founding volunteers wandered the festival grounds, found a group of gatherers playing together, and asked them to take the stage and perform until they could find another group willing to do the same. It was all local, but word eventually spread, and outside pickers and professional musicians began to show up, wanting to play.

Almost three decades later, the festival has grown into a weekend event that is equally a celebration, a musical showcase, and a history class. From craft demonstrations to the kitchen, from guided walks of wild flowers to storytelling, from book dedications to bluegrass music, it is a tribute to a lifestyle intimately woven into the fiber of the Tennessians of the East, and it became a showcase for the small mountain hamlet where Tipton grew up. up.

“These festivals have always been crucial for me to learn, perform and experience, and music kept me out of trouble when I was younger,” he said. “What I want is for more gatherers to go there, especially young people who need to get into this music. I need young people to play video games and learn to play. I want them to pick up and play anything, because music – not just bluegrass, but all music – is a good form of therapy.

And after the spring and fall festivals were canceled last year, it’s the therapy that’s likely to be in high demand this weekend, Tipton added. After the launch of COVID last year, the spring festival was shut down altogether, but like so many event planners across the country, the folks at Blount Partnership – the festival’s presenting organization – had the hope infection rates would turn around over the summer, allowing for the fall event. go forward. Needless to say, this did not happen.

“The fall one really hit us as we expected it to be in the spring but we were hopeful things would get back to normal in time for the fall one,” said Tipton. “This is why we are all very excited about this year. I think people have learned to take their own precautions and social distancing as they see fit, and that’s what we recommend. If people want to wear a mask, we encourage them to wear a mask. “

And although this year’s festival is a week later than normal, the Partnership made changes during last year’s downtime to prepare for bigger crowds: the old barn which once stood on the land where the festival-goers park was demolished, and the whole field is now part of the visitors center.

“People are ready,” Tipton said. “Now that they have the entirety of this area, they have the potential to have a lot more people and do bigger things in the future, I hope.

Steve Wildsmith was editor and writer for The Daily Times for almost 17 years; a recovering drug addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, an addiction and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at [email protected]



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