Preparing for Duffield Days in this file photo, Wayne McNutt of Kingsport sets up his 1958 and 1959 Mustang lawn tractors and an old sewing machine that he converted to look like a John Deere tractor. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
DUFFIELD — For more than three decades now, every Labor Day weekend has seen the population of one small community in Scott County swell from its 91 permanent residents as thousands of guests come from across the region, and sometimes farther, to take part in one of the area’s longest-running festivals.
Now in its 32nd year, the Duffield Daze festival returns this Friday to bring three more days of music, dancing, food — and tractors — to the nearly 3,000 people expected to attend.
This year’s event will kick off Friday at Food Country in Duffield with dancing by the Lynn View Dancers at 6:30 p.m., followed by live music and the festival’s popular street dance.
The festivities will continue Saturday with the Duffield Daze Parade — which will include at least 10 floats, five area high school color guards, three local Shriner’s chapters and members of Rolling Thunder, among other participants — and an antique tractor show.
Saturday will also feature live music beginning at 1 p.m. with Yesterday Express, Jim Gates and the Key Keepers and the Mountain Music School Band set to perform and an agricultural fair sponsored by the Scott County 4-H c h a p t e r.
Other Saturday attractions include a largest pumpkin contest, a cornhole tournament and a variety of activities for children including games, inflatables and a petting zoo.
The festival will wrap up Sunday with gospel singing and the Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival.
Festival organizer and co-founder Kenny Fannon said he never would have imagined Duffield Daze growing to its current size when looking back to its beginnings in 1981 as a 1.5 mile parade that backed up traffic on U.S. Route 58.
“I kept telling people we needed to have a parade, and they said we didn’t have enough business to support one for the Fourth of July or Christmas, and we didn’t,” Fannon said. “About that time the (Duffield Industrial Park) was starting to boom, and I said ‘Well, why don’t we just have it on Labor Day and the theme will be labor.’ So all the places in the park pitched in and built beautiful floats and we had a parade.”
In 1985, Fannon and other volunteers took full control of the planning and promotion of the festival by forming the Duffield Daze Planning Committee.
Fannon has served as the de-facto chairman ever since.
“I do this because I just want to leave this place a little bit better than when I got here,” Fannon said. “I’m through working on the job, so it keeps me busy, although I’ve got a lot of other things. ... But as long as I’m able I’m going to keep going on, I reckon. Somebody will have to take over one day, but we’ve got some good people to step in, so I’m not worried about it.”
And while Fannon is quick to recognize those who help put the festival on every year, volunteers who work with him say he’s the catalyst for the event.
“Kenny is really the anchor for all this happening,” Duffield Daze Committee member Mike Carter said. “He’s the one who is really the driving force behind getting this all together and making it possible.”
Since that first parade, the event has been a permanent fixture on the town’s calendar, helping raise the community’s profile and bringing some much-needed economic activity, Duffield Mayor Gerald Miller said.
“Duffield Daze has really helped the town,” Miller said. “It’s had a big impact because it draws a couple of thousand people in here every year, and everybody knows where the town is mostly because of Duffield Daze. It really is a great draw for not only the town, but Scott County.”
Carter said the festival serves as a reunion for many since a large number of visitors are either returning home for the weekend or coming to spend time with friends and family.
“You’ll have a lot of people that moved away to another state plan their trip back home so they can come to Duffield Daze,” Carter said. “It really is like a homecoming for a lot of people and gives them a chance to spend time with friends and family members they don’t always see.”
Fannon said the family-friendly event takes about nine months to plan and is funded each year solely by donations, many of which come from industries like TempurPedic and Joy Mining that are located in Duffield.
“We start meeting in January now to start planning for next year,” Fannon said. “We have several meetings and we try to come up with something different. But it costs a lot to put on, especially by the time you pay everyone involved and all of the insurance, so it’s really good to have the sponsorship that we get.
“Everybody has been good to us over here, I can’t fuss about any of them.”
Fannon said the involvement of the local community, coupled with trying new things to draw in crowds over the years, have played important roles in the festival’s longevity.
“We’ve tried about everything. We lose something one year, but then we gain something,” Fannon said. “But we got started, when the industrial park started moving in we capitalized on that, and that’s how we got as far as we have.
“We’re one-year behind (Kingsport’s) Fun Fest, they’re on their 33rd year I’m pretty sure. But I’m pretty sure we have all the other ones around here beat.”