If bluegrass music makes you swoon, storytelling legends captivate your mind, or southern style cooking makes your mouth water, the 15th annual Townsend Fall Heritage Festival and Old Timers Day offers these treats and much more. On September 28-29, more than 20,000 people will gather at the Townsend Visitors Center, to take a step back in time and enjoy a variety of bluegrass bands, storytellers, arts and crafts booths and children's activities.

The two-day festival takes place from 9 am. to 10 pm. on Friday, and from 9.a.m to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, and admission is free. Voted several times as one of the top 20 events in the Southeast, the festival celebrates Southern Appalachian Mountain culture and heritage.

"The festival not only offers a great variety of entertainment for the whole family, but it also keeps Appalachian heritage alive in our hearts and minds," said Herb Handly, executive vice president of tourism for the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau (SMCVB). "The festival is fun, and it is educational-truly an unforgettable experience." 

The heart and soul of the festival is music, and more than 20 bluegrass bands perform on the pavilion stage and side porches in the Townsend Visitors Center. Around 200 additional musicians can be found entertaining visitors on the festival grounds.

"The music brings the mountains to life," said Handly.  "It's really amazing to see everyone from old timers to young children bring their instruments and join together to pick and play."

With the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains, and a large variety of activities, the festival is a true family event. Visitors will get a feel for Appalachian heritage through activities, such as apple butter making, chair caning, blacksmithing and pottery demonstrations.

"The demonstrations are designed to share important pieces of Appalachian heritage and tradition in order to keep them alive," said Jeanie Hilten, special events coordinator for the SMCVB. "Children and adults have often never seen this type of artistry first-hand, and most don't realize the work it used to take to get everyday products." 

Additionally, visitors can experience arts and crafts demonstrations in the Exhibit Room of the Visitors Center.  These include rug hooking, quilting, weaving and woodcarving. More than 30 arts and crafts booths with also be set up along the bike trail with unique items and souvenirs to take home.

The festival also has fun, cultural and educational entertainment planned for children, including visits and activities with bear experts, old fashioned toys and puzzles, a spinning wheel show, pottery demonstrations, nature games and hands-on activities, and specialized tours of "The Dorothy" locomotive. Children will be invited to engage in songs and tunes with Mike Clemmer, and Robin Goddard will use puppets as she goes through a book reading and nature talk. 

"Through the activities we have planned, children will not only have a great time and leave with an amazing experience, they will learn about Appalachian traditions first-hand," said Hilten.

"Harvesting and Using Herbs" will be a new program at this year's festival. D. Brown of Honey Rock Herb Farm will present this event at 10.a.m and 2 p.m. on Friday, with plants for sale all day.  Brown will showcase the importance of the Appalachian tradition of food preservation during the program.

"We will have products you make from herbs, like herbal jellies and vinegars," said Brown. "We will also be giving out recipes and explaining what to do with the harvest at that time of year."

For those who want to take an oral journey through the mountains and its past, storytellers such as Sam Venable, Robin Goddard and Dwight McCarter will share tales of Appalachian culture to entertain visitors. Additionally, two featured authors, Bill Lea, author of  "Cades Cove," and Sam Venable, author of " Mountain Hands:  A Portrait of Southern Appalachia," will have books signings during the festival and be on-hand to discuss their works

"In addition to providing a true Appalachian experience, the festivals are a community event that many non-profit organizations use as fundraisers," said Hilten.  "It varies depending on the festival, but around 10 community organizations participate in each festival."

To raise money for the Blount County Humane Society and Heritage Middle School, an auction of scarecrows and face jugs will be held on Friday. Seventh grade art students made the face jugs, which are pottery designed with funny faces, as a fundraiser for the school's arts program, while the Blount County Humane Society made scarecrows to raise money for a no-kill animal shelter. The event will allow attendees the opportunity to help the community by purchasing these items.

"The auction is an all-around positive event. Face jugs are an old-time tradition, and the seventh grade art students who made them have decided to give 50 percent of their proceeds to the Humane Society," said Hilten.

Both days there will also be a cakewalk and bake sale, with all proceeds going to the Hearts and Hands Scholarship Fund.

Visitors can enjoy a variety of food, ranging from BBQ, hamburgers and fried trout to homemade ice cream.

The festival is hosted by the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sponsors include Coca Cola, Great Smoky Mountains Association, "Bear"ly rustic Cabin Rentals, Dogwood Cabins L.L.C., Little River Realty, Parkside Realty Services, Econo Lodge, Tennessee Real Estate/Kinzel Springs, Townsend Shopping Center, The Village Market/IGA, The Carriage House, Sue Bee's BBQ, Wood N' Strings Dulcimer Shop, Woodland Homes, Citizens Bank and Blount County, Branch Bank and Trust, BankEast, WIVK-FM, WBIR-TV Channel 10,  and The Daily Times.

The festival takes place on the grounds of the Townsend Visitors Center, located 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, in Townsend, Tennessee. The festival showcases mountain culture and has been named one of the Southeast Tourism Society's top 20 fall events. Admission to the festival is free. For more information on the Townsend Fall Heritage Festival, please call the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 1-00-525-6834 or (865) 448-6134 or visit www.smokymountians.org.

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