‘Just like it has been for the last 39 years’: Organizers, vendors excited for Fun Fest 2021

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – One of the Tri-Cities’ largest festivals is slated to return this summer. Kingsport’s Fun Fest is set to take place July 16-24, with some new and old activities and events.

Organizers told News Channel 11 that the traditional events equivalent to the concept of “Fun Fest” will return in 2021, after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 safety issues.

“We are absolutely looking forward to the 40th anniversary of Fun Fest, we know how hard it was on us and the community and those that are used to coming to Fun Fest, to have to skip a year. So we’re really looking forward to what this 40th anniversary is going to hold,” Emily Thompson, director of Fun Fest and special events with Visit Kingsport said.

Thompson said the events that visitors expect, are likely to happen this year, especially after the cancellation last year.

“I think you’ll see some favorites from years past come back. Some new events, you know, like Fun Fest every year, there’s some events that take a time out. There’s new events that come on so it’s gonna be just like that this year, a lot of new things, some things that maybe look a little different. They’re really that true community feel a family festival for nine days of fun, just like it has been for the last 39 years,” she said.

“I can tell you that most all the iconic, what you would call an iconic Fun Fest event some of those that you’ve mentioned. Crazy 8’s, they’re already accepting registrations. The hot air balloons are currently in planning. Everybody has been in a planning phase for months. You know we all understand that yes COVID is going to have some effects on some of those events. There are some smaller events, maybe some indoor events that are going to do things differently.”

The Crazy 8’s race is ready and set to kick off as soon as the festival does, organizer Hank Brown told News Channel 11.

The race is 8 km in distance, in the figure eight through the neighborhoods surrounding Dobyns Bennett High School’s football stadium, in which the race’s finish line will be found.

“The crowds gather to watch the race, it’s a very spectator-friendly race, it’s at night, which is unusual. It’s the 8K starts, just as it’s, as the sun is setting so it’s kind of a beautiful setting. And when the runners are finishing inside the stadium, it’s getting dark, and you have the lights in the stadium. So we, you know, it’s kind of a crazy and wild event. It’s not like your typical running event held on early on a Saturday morning, it’s even more raucous, we have a lot of loud music playing and like I said it’s in the football stadium where we finish and run through the neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods, they put sandbag luminaries out on the streets to help light the street so just a lot of things together to make it what it is,” Brown explained.

He said the past 12-15 months have been difficult for everyone, so they hope to eliminate any COVID restrictions for the Crazy 8’s race this year, expecting to accommodate well over 3,500 people.

“We don’t anticipate putting any limits on our numbers. We think we’ll be just fine as far as being people being safe. And if you need to space out, people can space out, but we think we have plenty of room to do that. And again, we want to stress that we’ll be as safe as we need to be. But the main thing is, we want to get everyone together and just kind of put the past behind us and just have a good time,” Brown said.

The festival is known for attracting vendors from across the Tri-Cities to showcase products and services. This year, vendors said they are looking forward to using the festival for advertising missed out on in 2020.

“We rely on Fun Fest a lot for word of mouth advertising, and you know we booked caterings and things off that day but probably first and foremost is just getting out in the community and talking with people and getting to interact face is one of those events we do word allows us to really interact with the people you know the guest customers is coming through so we really enjoyed that aspect of it,” Shannon Vaugh, Bare Bones BBQ owner said.

Vaughn said Bare Bones BBQ has been a vendor at Fun Fest for almost a decade.

“I’m sure there’ll be some type of COVID restrictions on it, the sanitation safety is absolutely first and foremost for us. It being in July might be a little tough wearing a mask back there but you know we’ve cooked under hot weather down there before so yeah we’ll probably mix it up a little bit we try to improve every year just a little,” he said.

He added that missing Fun Fest in 2020 due to COVID-19 was tough, but hopes to make up for lost time this year.

“We got put on hiatus for a year and I think everybody’s kind of ready to get back to normal, and get out and you know, just to see some of those faces that come through year after year that’s from out of town. Getting to visit with those people because they’ll come through, you know the, like I’ve been waiting on this smoked bologna sandwich for a year now it’s been two. So yeah, just getting a visit with, with our customers and our friends down there and kind of interact a little more, I think that’s that’s probably the most important part to us,” Vaugh said.

Organizers told News Channel 11 the fireworks display after the last concert on the final night of the nine-day festival. Most of those plans are still in the works and organizers said those detail will be released in the coming weeks.

Follow News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

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