Unveiling of sculpture highlights 16th annual Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival

Carmen Musick • Aug 25, 2018 at 4:30 PM

When the toe-tapping sounds of Appalachian music return to Natural Tunnel State Park this Labor Day weekend, there'll be one noticeable difference. A presence, of sorts. One that, though always there in spirit, will remain long after the 16th Annual Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival has ended.

The Cove Ridge Foundation and its Cultural Arts Council will unveil a sculpture of the festival's beloved founder and namesake during the annual Duffield Daze event which gets underway at 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 2, at the Natural Tunnel State Park amphitheater.

“There was a desire to do something that would be lasting to honor Papa Joe,” said Nina Ketron, a member of the planning committee and the Cultural Arts Council. “That's really going to be special this year.”

A long-time educator, musician and entertainer, Dr. Joseph C. “Papa Joe” Smiddy passed away May 1, 2017, at the age of 96. A talented banjo player with the Reedy Creek bluegrass band for over 44 years, “Papa Joe” sought to preserve Appalachian music by teaching and inspiring greatness in the youth of the community. He was a prolific storyteller and audiences remember him fondly. He worked tirelessly to promote the old-time, bluegrass and good old mountain music of our region for decades, and the Cove Ridge Foundation honors his legacy each year through its “Pickin’ in the Park”​ summer series and the annual Labor Day weekend event bearing his name.

“Pickin' in the Park was Papa Joe's idea. Each month of it, there's a featured band and an open mic,” Ketron explained. “And, each year, one of the bands is selected to kick off the festival.”

And this year is no exception.

Poplar Hill Reunion - selected from this year's series - will kick things off at 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 2. They'll be followed by the Miss Ellie Stringband, named for the late Sue Ella Boatwright-Wells who was instrumental in establishing the Mountain Empire Community College’s Mountain Music School.

At that point in the festivities, around 4:20 p.m., the music will give way to the unveiling ceremony for the sculpture honoring Papa Joe. The sculpture was crafted by Johnny Hagerman.

After that, Big Stone Gap native Tyler Hughes will take the reins and get the audience to moving a litle bit. You don't even need any experience to join the fun as Hughes, an accomplished caller, with music by Andrew Barnes & Friends, will guide participants all the way through some fast-paced square dancing fun.

Following the square dance, the evening's music will get underway with radio personality Tom Taylor returning to emcee the event chock full of musical talent. The audience will be treated to performances by the UVA-Wise Bluegrass Band, the ETSU Old Time Ramblers, ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band and, of course, Dr. Joe Smiddy and Reedy Creek. Aside from Dr. Joe Smiddy, Reedy Creek includes Jerry and Susie Keys and David and Steve Edwards.

Festival-goers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket. Concessions and food vendors will be on site with a variety of food offerings available for purchase.

Advance tickets are $10 each and can be purchased online at www.coveridge.com, by phone at (276) 940-2674 or in person at Addington Oil in Weber City, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce or Natural Tunnel State Park. Tickets at the gate will be $15 each. Children under 12 will be admitted free with a paying adult.

The festival is held annually on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

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