JOHNSON CITY — The opening festivities of Johnson City’s Blue Plum Festival were threatened by intense heat during the day and stormy skies in the evening. However, Doc Watson was there to save the day.
Sections of Main Street and Downtown Loop were packed with festival goers waiting to take in the sounds of the venerable folk and bluegrass musician.
Even as raindrops started to lightly fall and many of the thousands of revelers sought cover under business awnings, there was a noticeable buzz of anticipation in the crowd for the legendary performer.
John and Carolyn Martin, of Elizabethton, brought their grandson, Jason Marshall, out to enjoy the food, meet new people and, especially, hear the music.
“We really enjoyed the Squash Blossoms on the Roan Stage, and we were happy to see they added the jazz stage,” Carolyn Martin said. “It rained us out two years ago, then we were out of town last year, so we were really looking forward to this.”
Of course, a big part of the reason for the Martins’ anticipation was Arthel “Doc” Watson.
“We like the whole thing, but Doc Watson got us here,” Carolyn Martin said.
Likewise, Johnson City resident Jan Loveday, attending with her husband, Don Good, braved first the heat, then the threat of a storm, to be there for Watson’s performance.
“He’s just so genuine and so humble in his music and his personality,” Loveday said. “Because of his age, I suppose, any opportunity to hear him or see him play should be taken.
“He is a gem for all ages.”
Incidences of mischief and criminal activity were all but nonexistent as of about 9 p.m., due in part to the heavy police presence and also to the near 95 degree heat that kept many people away during midday and afternoon.
“It’s been really, really quiet,” Mayor Phil Roe said, just after checking in with several Johnson City Police Department officers.
“The crowd got here late today. I really think people stayed away because of how hot it’s been,” Roe said. “It’s picked up a lot since 6 p.m. though.”
Shortly after enjoying a gyro from the Greek food vendor — East Market Street was bustling with hungry festival goers while East Main Street was even more heavily trafficked, mostly due to beer sales that were set to cut off at 10:30 p.m. — Roe was on stage reading a mayoral proclamation recognizing June 6 as “Doc Watson Day” in Johnson City.
Minutes later, Watson was on stage, the oppressive heat had turned to a warm breeze, the raindrops had disappeared, and the Blue Plum crowd was happy.