Main and Market streets were closed Thursday night in preparation for the Umoja Festival scheduled to run Friday and Saturday. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
As the streets of downtown Johnson City started shutting down Thursday evening, vendors moved into place to begin setting up booths, tents and tables in preparation for the start of the 17th annual Umoja Festival today.
Lorraine Washington, vendor coordinator of the festival, said everything was going according to plan and said this year’s vendors will be offering a wide variety for festival-goers.
“We’ll have cuisine from around the world. We’ll have Greek food, we have Italian food, we have Mexican food, we have African food, we have soul food,” Washington said. “You name it, we’ll have it.”
She said craft vendors will also be at the festival, including out-of-state vendors from Maryland, New Orleans, Atlanta, Texas and New Jersey.
“We have a lot of art (vendors). We’ll have a lot of homemade items,” Washington said.
Bill Coleman, facilities liaison for the Umoja Festival, said he’d been working on the setup of the festival in between the rain Thursday, as he helped mark off streets and vendor spots.
“My responsibility is security and traffic and the layout of the festival grounds,” Coleman said.
He said construction, including near Fountain Square where the festival’s Main Stage is located, will not have too much affect on the festival.
“The most critical part for us is the Main Stage area. Our spectators can bring their chairs and still sit and it’ll just be ... more like being on gravel or grass,” Coleman said. “The city has done an excellent job of cleaning it up and providing us with power,” Coleman said. “All of the departments of the city have been most cooperative.”
He said Johnson City police personnel will also be around the downtown area, helping with festival safety.
Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said active construction in the downtown Johnson City area ceased Wednesday, knowing committee members would be setting up Thursday.
Pindzola said besides the section between Main and Market streets that is closed to traffic, festival-goers will have access to the rest of the downtown area during the festival.
“We’re there to support them and their endeavors. We are not aware that there’s anything that we have on site ... that would interfere with the festival. We hope to have a very successful festival. It’s good for Johnson City,” he said.
While showers and thunderstorms are forecast for today and Saturday, the festival will kick off on schedule at 3:30 p.m., with an opening ceremony and “call to the drums” featuring the Rev. Vincent Dial and Zulu Connection stilt walkers from New Orleans.
Washington said the festival, once a small gathering at Carver Recreation Center, has grown a lot in 17 years.
“We probably had about 50 people at the most at Carver,” she said. “We moved from Carver to Freedom Hall and from Freedom Hall to downtown. Since we’ve moved downtown all we’ve seen is growth.”
Washington said it’s exciting to see people of all nationalities and cultures from the area come out to the festival.
“I absolutely love the diversity that this festival has brought to downtown,” she said. “Umoja means unity and that’s what this festival means to me. I love people and this festival brings a lot of different cultures together.”