UNICOI — A light rain fell on the grounds of Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens Saturday, but that didn’t seem to slow down the caravan of cars entering through the covered bridge drive, eager to listen to some bluegrass music.
The 18th Annual Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival got under way around 10 a.m., but by noon visitors were sprawled out in different areas, peering at the selection of old cars that were lined up outside as the musicians were busy pickin’ away underneath tents, inside on the stage area and on the porches.
Mayor Johnny Lynch of the town of Unicoi was hanging around one of the groups playing outside on his land Saturday and said despite the weather, they had a pretty good turnout.
“It’s become one of the more popular fiddle festivals in this area ... and it’s a very laid back event,” Lynch said. “We’ve got just loads and loads of talent in this area –– young and old –– and so this is just an opportunity for all of them to get together and have a nice laid back, easygoing day of just sitting around picking. These people are into bluegrass and they’re going to come out even when it rains.”
He said while most of the groups seen playing around the festival are impromptu, informal gatherings, some of the musical acts scheduled to perform Saturday included the gospel group Headed Home and The Fiddlin’ Carson Peters Band.
Lynch said the festival volunteers were a mix of friends of his from Charleston, S.C., he knew from the art show circuit, as well as hikers off the Appalachian Trail who are brought into the area each year to gather supplies and to see the area.
“They’ll come down and they’ll help park and one guy is in there keeping the stoves fired,” he said. “There’s about a dozen of them (who) pitch their tents back here and camp. They do that every year.”
New York native Justin Lamannna, along with his dog, Taj, were visiting the festival for the first time Saturday since coming off the Appalachian Trail last year.
“I’m here for the fest. I started driving for (Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters) and ... we took a shuttle up here and (we’re) just trying to get the hikers some music,” Lamanna said.
Lamanna said he was enjoying the music and said that there’s “some great bluegrass in these hills.”
Aside from musical entertainment, the festival housed an art show with unique and colorful paintings, a variety of food ranging from barbecue, cabbage soup and desserts, as well as the creative and fun setup from James H. Garland.
“I do things with gourds. I make toys, musical instruments. I have some things pertaining to the old days of living –– dippers and clocks,” he said.
Garland said he had been coming to the festival since the first one 18 years ago, but said he always enjoys coming back each year.
“I like to have fun, see people laugh,” he said. “I enjoy the music ... the good barbecue they have and the fellowship with the people.”
Other newcomers to the festival included Johnson City resident Heather Miller and her son, Thomas Beam, who were watching two women flat-foot to one of the outdoor bands.
“There’s so much. The music is great. Great storytelling up with the gourds,” Miller said. “We like going to local things, supporting our local community. We have a lot of great talent locally.”
Lynch said past fiddle fest’s have been known to last long into the night, with a variety of musicians coming together randomly to play.
“It’s an opportunity for them to network. You may see one banjo player that might play in three different bands,” he said. “It’s so typical of the demeanor of East Tennessee people. We’re mountain people. It’s ... part of our heritage and folks around here are just laid back and this type of music fits this area so well because it started here. It’s from here.”