We Are Just Right for… Festival-Goers
Festivals and Events
In the mood for festivities? Looking for a reason to celebrate? You won’t have to go far or wait long; Johnson City has a whole lineup of yearly festivals and celebrations for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Our festivals honor and applaud our colorful history, our close-knit community, and our country heritage, and we’re always coming up with new ones—so whether you’re a foodie, a music lover, or just down for a good time, we’ve got a festival for you! Our entire region will keep you busy year-round – check the Northeast Tennessee Tourism website for a regional line-up: www.northeasttennessee.org
On the First Friday of every month, downtown Johnson City comes alive as business owners extend their hours late into the evening to spend time engaging with customers and community members. First Friday is a low-cost, interactive, family-friendly event that represents downtown business owners’ enthusiasm for the community they serve, says Sara Jane Schmeltzer, interim First Friday coordinator. “It’s about getting to know your local business owners and about them getting to know you. It’s also about learning what downtown has to offer,” Schmeltzer explains. “A lot of times we’ll hear people say ‘Oh, I never knew there was a gym here’ or ‘Oh, I didn’t know we had art galleries.’ Without First Friday, you’re likely to miss out on the best parts of living here.”
The Blue Plum Festival began in 1999 with the idea of bringing awareness to Downtown Johnson City – and having a little fun! The festival, always held the first Friday and Saturday of June, consists of a 5K race, two days of music, arts and craft vendors, children’s area, food court, and much more. The goal is to create events that families and friends can enjoy and make memories for years to come. Festival organizers have brought some impressive musical acts to downtown – bring your lawn chair and sit down to enjoy. Visit www.blueplum.org for details.
Johnson City embraces people from all cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life, and that unity is celebrated at the Umoja Festival (www.umojajc.org), held annually since 1997. At this two-day event, more than 20,000 area residents gather to learn about other cultures’ traditions and customs through a sharing of music, food, storytelling, and dance. “The whole idea of the festival is to show the diversity that we have in this region,” says Umoja chairman Ralph Davis. “For all of us to come together as one and show people that we have more in common than we do differences.”
No story better represents the universal love expressed at the Umoja Festival than the story of Shaka Zulu, a stilt walker from New Orleans who attends the festival every year to perform with his band of drummers and dancers. Soon after he returned from the festival in 2005, his home in New Orleans was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. “Our group [of Umoja organizers and attendees] dipped into our pockets and were able to help him out,” Davis explains. “He said he would never forget the kindness Johnson City has showed him, and he’s never missed a festival.”
The 2016 debut of our newest yearly celebration, the Little Chicago Downtown Music & Arts Festival, was an immense success, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Downtown Johnson City Merchants Association and an enthusiastic group of volunteers. The festival was designed to celebrate Johnson City’s scandalous (but fascinating) past as a Prohibition-era hotspot with mouthwatering food, foot-stomping music, and eye-catching arts and crafts displays. Don’t worry, parents—the festival is family-friendly, with tons of attractions and activities for kids of all ages. Last year’s event was an even bigger success than the year before, and this year’s event will probably raise the bar even higher! Visit www.littlechicagofestival.com for more information.
The National Storytelling Festival began as nothing more than a small community gathering in the town square of nearby Jonesborough back in the early ‘70s. Today, the festival boasts more than 10,000 attendees who come to Jonesborough from all over the world each October to gather and listen to incredible stories. The three-day festival features a stellar lineup of nationally and internationally renowned storytellers, each specializing in a different genre: folktales, cultural legends, personal anecdotes, “haint tales” (that’s Appalachian for “ghost stories”), and more.
Most of the festival is kid-friendly, but the Midnight Cabaret is an ever-popular portion of the festival reserved especially for grown-ups, and there’s also a Wine and Beer Garden open in front of the International Storytelling Center in historic downtown Jonesborough. For more information about the National Storytelling Festival and the International Storytelling Center itself, visit the center’s website at www.storytellingcenter.net. And if you’re interested in learning more about neighboring Jonesborough, Tennessee’s first and oldest town, check out www.jonesborough.com and www.jonesboroughtn.org.
Each Friday, May through September, Music on the Square takes place on Main Street in downtown Jonesborough. Main Street is blocked off to through traffic so everyone can kick back and enjoy the free concert on the old courthouse steps. Enjoy dinner at one of the quaint downtown eateries, bring your lawn chair, and relax and enjoy.
Our yearly Appalachian Fair has been a cherished tradition in the Tri-Cities for over 90 years. Featuring pageants, talent shows, contests, livestock showings, agricultural exhibits, carnival games, and more than 30 fantastic rides, it’s always a fair to remember! You also won’t want to miss the exhibits unique to the Appalachian Fair, such as the ever-popular Barnyard Nursery, the Tennessee Wildlife Building, and the Farm and Home History Museum Building, where you can get a glimpse of what life was like in rural Tennessee around the time the fair first opened back in 1926. Oh, and did we mention the concerts, the motorsports events, and of course the fabulous fair food?
We hope that you’ll come on down to this year’s fair and make one of our favorite traditions one of yours as well. For more information, check out the fair’s website at www.appalachianfair.com.
Other Festivals and Events
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There’s always something to do in the region! To find out what’s currently going on around town, check out any of these resources: