Music by Diamond Rio, extensive craft beer selection mark sixth year for Racks by the Tracks

Jessica Fischer • May 11, 2013 at 9:06 PM

Looking back, Racks by the Tracks founder Kanishka Biddanda realizes just how far his “little” festival has come.

Since its debut in 2008, the beer, barbecue and live music festival has grown from 450 attendees at its original location on Main Street in downtown Kingsport to more than 9,500 last year at the festival’s new location, the Kingsport Farmers Market, and has raised thousands of dollars for several local non-profit organizations in the process.

That, Biddanda says, is reason to celebrate, and he and fellow festival organizer James Phillips have spent months making sure Saturday’s sixth Racks by the Tracks will be the biggest and best yet, with a new high-gravity beer tasting, an expanded tasting area and entertainment by the Grammy Award-winning country group Diamond Rio.

“This community has been supporting Racks by the Tracks now for the past five years, and we’ve been able to generate tens of thousands of dollars for five local non-profits, so we wanted to give back to our community,” Biddanda said. “We wanted to bring in a show that people from all parts of the Tri-Cities region, even as far outside of our region as Knoxville, Asheville, N.C. and Greenville, S.C., would enjoy. We wanted to draw people into our region and showcase what our region has to offer.”

Since forming in 1984, Diamond Rio has sold more than 10 million albums and landed 33 singles on the Billboard chart, including “Meet in the Middle,” “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” “Norma Jean Riley,” “Beautiful Mess,” “Love a Little Stronger” and “One More Day.”

Diamond Rio has won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year award four times and been named the Academy of Country Music’s Vocal Group of the Year twice. The band has also received 13 Grammy nominations, including a win for its Christian album “The Reason.”

Opening for Diamond Rio will be roots rocker Webb Wilder, taking the stage at 6 p.m. The festival lineup also includes performances by Mac Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues at noon, The Billy Crawford Band at 4 p.m. and local favorite Benny Wilson, who will hit the stage at 9:30 p.m., after Diamond Rio’s concert at 8.

Entrance to the concert area requires a ticket, which can be purchased for $10 online at www.racksbythetracks.com or at any Food City Location.

Tickets are also required for the craft beer tasting, happening from 2 to 7 p.m. in a tasting area that’s twice the size of last year’s. Of the more than 40 craft beers available for sampling this year, 35 have never before been featured at a beer tasting festival in the area, Biddanda said.

“Five years in, we have a much more savvy craft beer audience. They’ve caught up to us, so we’ve accomplished what we set out to do five years ago and now it’s time for us to kick into the next gear, shift and spin it, and continue to bring beers that people haven’t sampled,” he said. “We had customers let us know that they wanted to continue trying beers that they haven’t had before, so we’ve spent half a year, six months, searching high and low to find really great, hard-to-get beers.”

Tickets for the craft beer tasting are $35, and are available at Food City stores and on the festival website. The cost to sample this year’s new high-gravity, or high alcohol, beer selection is $45, and those tickets are available only online. All tickets include a souvenir tasting glass and access to the festival’s concert area.

“Tennessee recently passed a new law that allows for high-gravity beers to be distributed in our area,” Biddanda said. “High-gravity beers are already a really big thing nationally and internationally, and now they’re starting to penetrate the Tennessee market, so we want to showcase this to the Tri-Cities region. These have been the fastest-moving tickets we’ve ever offered. The high-gravity section is already three-fourths sold out.”

Returning this year is the BBQ Cook-Off Competition, which gives attendees a chance to cast their vote in four different people’s choice categories, along with a free Kid’s Station, sponsored by Leaping Lizards.

Admission to the festival grounds is free, and food can be purchased from vendors at menu prices.

Yet another new addition is the Racks by the Tracks SPF 5K Race & Kid’s Mile, which kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on festival day at the Kingsport Higher Education Center, 300 W. Market St.

Pre-registration is $20 for the 5K and $15 for the Kid’s Mile, and includes a race performance T-shirt; after May 16, the cost increases to $25 and $17, respectively. All runners will also receive a miniature-sized bottle of Blue Lizard sunscreen. More than 75 awards are up for grabs for the winners.

Proceeds from the race will benefit the Skin Cancer Foundation. In addition, race presenter Dermatology Associates will provide free skin cancer testing from 5:30 to 8 p.m., June 11 at its office.

“This certified 5K course is one of the flattest courses in the region, and a flat course means a fast course,” Biddanda said. “This is kind of a must-run for both serious runners and also people who are just out there having fun.

“After they’re done with the race, there’s going to be an after-race party area on Clinchfield Street, where we’ll have a cooling station. We’ve timed it so at that point, all the food is going to be starting up, and we’ll have beer and non-alcoholic beverages for sale, and blues legend Mac Arnold will kick off the festival at 12 o’clock.”

Proceeds from the festival will benefit several regional non-profit organizations, including the Sullivan County Humane Society, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, Keep Kingsport Beautiful, the Downtown Kingsport Association and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.

Festival sponsors are Food City, Pepsi, Libation Station, Lagunitas Brewing, Sapporo Beer, Dermatology Associates, Leaping Lizards, Barberitos of Kingsport, Cumulus Broadcasting, WCYB, VIP Seen and Times Digital Group.

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