Food, fireworks, foot-tappin’ fun fill festival’s finale

J. H. Osborne • Jul 20, 2013 at 10:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Fun Fest 2013 ended under clear skies Saturday evening, as crowds of thousands ebbed and flowed to and from — and to and from — the Memorial Park, J. Fred Johnson Stadium, and Fort Henry Drive area where many of the annual festival’s quintessential last-day events were clustered.

The day began with Breakfast with the Balloons at Taste of Tri-Cities, as hot air balloons floated up, up and away for the first of two times Saturday.

The event always draws a crowd and this year was no different.

Festivities continued in and around the Fort Henry Drive area throughout the morning, but Fun Fest events elsewhere siphoned some of the crowds away — until midafternoon, when people began to trickle back to settle in for the day’s finale.

For festival faithful, Fun Fest’s final day is about, well, fun, of course, and food, fireworks and finding your foot-tapping spot for the concert.

This year’s Sunset Concert Series for Saturday night brought Chicago and Gavin DeGraw to the stage inside J. Fred Johnson Stadium.

Storms and rain have caused havoc this week in the Model City, but weather didn’t deter determined fun-seekers from showing up in droves for the concert, and while a dark cloud passed over the general festival area between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. — looking south on Fort Henry Drive from Memorial Park, festival-goers could see rain falling a few blocks away near Kingsport Town Center — it was clear skies and no rain in sight for the rest of the evening.

As is standard for the last night of Fun Fest, more people seemed to gather outside the stadium than inside — and a casual observer might think many groups had been there all week, their lawn and camp chairs circled around a blanket or tarpaulin in what seemed to be the same spot from Friday night, when Hunter Hayes, The Henningsens and Ella Mae Bowen were on stage in the stadium.

But the iffy weather early on Saturday afternoon did seem to slow the crowd’s return before the evening’s concert.

At 5 p.m., there was plenty of room to navigate up and down the closed-to-vehicles Fort Henry Drive on foot. There even remained quite a bit of unclaimed, grass-covered ground.

But at that point it was looking like rain. Pre-placed tarpaulins scattered about provided more blue spots on the ground than could be seen in the sky.

The line of ticket holders to get in the stadium reached from the gate nearly to the intersection of Fort Henry Drive and Eastman Road, and a steady stream of last-minute ticket buyers filed to and from the Fun Fest sales tent.

Once the dark skies cleared, and as the concert’s 6:30 start time approached, the area was inundated with people.

By 6 p.m., parking lots at Big Lots and nearby businesses on Sherwood Road, and across the street at Kingsport Town Center, were becoming full of festival-goers’ cars — and in some cases, the that’s as far as the fun-seekers went, as well.

Many came mainly to see the fireworks, not scheduled to go off until 10 p.m. — some sat in lawn chairs on the sidewalks as far away as Big Lots and the mall.

A few sat on their cars.

And others sat outside the businesses, under overhangs and covered walkways.

At about 7 p.m., they were able to practice their skyward gazes, as the hot air balloons drifted aloft for the second time of the day.

While Fun Fest 2013 featured many returning events, it also included a host of new activities that aimed to get the community up and moving for a healthier Kingsport and a healthier Tri-Cities.

Among those were events for runners, walkers, bicycle riders, dancers, artists and more.

Saturday included the first Move It Kingsport Walk, the “Stroll R Walk” after the hot air balloon launch around 7 a.m. Later in the day, groups of walkers took a “Walk Along the River,” a 2.1-mile walk on the Riverfront section of the city’s Greenbelt linear park.

This was Fun Fest’s 32nd year.

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