Rail Grass: Kingsportas fall festival getting new look, new name

Rick Wagner • Sep 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Railroads, bluegrass, arts and crafts and photography are converging in downtown at the end of the month.

A longtime city fall festival, rebranded and retooled as Rail Grass, will celebrate the region’s railroad and bluegrass roots.

It will include the chance to dine in a 36-seat rail dining car after waiting in a 48-seat rail passenger car.

It also will have a bus excursion into Southwest Virginia.

A photography contest, which so far has drawn almost 600 photos, and art display will have plenty of railroad imagery for the three-day event Sept. 26-28.

The Downtown Kingsport Association announced plans for the event Wednesday at DKA headquarters in the old Gem Theater downtown.

“We’ve had this festival for 30 years,” said Mark Freeman, a local architect who is president of DKA and chairman of Rail Grass.

He said Daniel Jones, who works for Kingsport, suggested the focus for what once was an arts and crafts event and harvest fair. He said Alderman Ken Marsh, a rail enthusiast, also has helped and that the event will have railroad exhibits and local railroad enthusiasts showcasing antique railroad memorabilia and model trains.

In addition, arts and crafts booths will be set up.

Freeman said the event ties together the railroads that helped build modern Kingsport, chartered in 1917, and the region’s musical heritage, including bluegrass, mountain music and other types.

The ETSU Bluegrass band will perform Sept. 26, with Tennessee Skyline the opening band. Brinley Addition will perform Sept. 27, with Greg Bates opening. Benny Wilson, sponsored by 12 Bones and the Kingsport Grocery Company, also will entertain at free concerts. Lawn chairs are recommended.

Music performances will occur on the main stage and another stage past On the Trax Cafe.

“We’re going to have a lot of bluegrass on the street, just little jam sessions going on,” Freeman said. “We’ll have a little bit of music for everybody.”

The photography contest and exhibit will be at the DKA, 140 W. Main St., where visitors can vote for the People’s Choice Award.

The art exhibits also will include steam punk art, which is found object art related to railroads. Artists interested in participating in the free exhibit should contact DKA.

The dining car, sponsored by Mark Freeman Association, will have a pancake breakfast sponsored by On the Trax Cafe, a champagne brunch Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, a casual pizza lunch all three days and various dinner menus, including one Sept. 28 from Stir Fry Cafe. Reservations are required.

The excursions, on a city-owned 24-passenger bus and sponsored by Citizens Bank, will include stops at Speers Ferry as well as Duffield, where participants will tour the Fannon family’s railroad collection housed in a railroad station building.

The cost will be $5 per person but reservations are required.

The group also will go to Natural Tunnel State Park, which Larry Crawford, DKA president elect, said some Kingsporters have never visited.

Freeman said in years to come the plan is to have motor coaches for the excursion. He said using railroad passenger cars would be all but impossible because of the boom in railroad traffic in the area.

The plan is to have two excursions Sept. 26, two Sept. 27 and one or two Sept. 28, depending on demand.

A poker run for motorcycle riders is set for Sept. 27 and storytelling venues also are planned, including one on the rail car.

The HOG Rally and Poker Run, sponsored by WRZK The HOG, has a registration fee of $10. Proceeds will benefit the Veterans Memorial Fund. Pre-registration is recommended.

“We’re really trying to make this a heritage event,” Freeman said.

Freeman said DKA officials hope to grow the event into a regional draw.

Its dates were sandwiched between events like the Rhythm and Roots festival in Bristol and the Heritage Days Festival in Rogersville and National Storytelling Festival.

The closest other community festival the same weekend is Surgoinsville’s Riverfront Festival.

Sponsors of Rail Grass are Indian Path Medical Center, Mark Freeman Associates, Citizens Bank and Holston Valley Broadcasting, which has WKPT-TV 19, WKPT AM 1400, 98.5 FM WTFM, 95.9 FM The HOG and 102.7 FM Classic Hits.

The Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau is helping promote the event.

For more information or to make reservations for an event, call 246-6550, e-mail palley@downtownkingpsort.org or go to www.downtownkingsport.org.

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