Tom Reeves, left, and T.R. Parker wave to the crowds during the Town of Erwin’s Welcome Home Veterans Parade. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County celebrated Independence Day with a bang.

The Town of Erwin kicked off its festivities early on Thursday, July 4, with a Biscuits for the Brave event at 9:30 a.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room. Mary Patton DAR hosted the event and provided coffee and biscuits from the Hardee’s on North Main Avenue, in Erwin. The Welcome Home Veterans Parade started at 10:30 a.m., and traveled from the corner of Second Street and Main Avenue and concluded at Unicoi County Veterans’ Memorial Park, located at 309 Academy St., in Erwin.

The parade featured three patriotic themed floats full of veterans. Patriotic music filled Main Avenue as the floats passed by the thousands of spectators that braved the heat to come support the region’s heroes. According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice the parade saw record crowds.

“There was probably over a thousand people on the streets waving flags,” Rice said. “The Town of Erwin gave out more than 500 flags.”

Following the veterans in the parade, was the Grand Marshall, local resident and World War II Navy Veteran, Mrs. Hazel McInturff Berry. Berry, who was preceded by local children carrying a banner of Berry, was riding in a convertible Ford Mustang and waving an American Flag.

Berry was followed by several unique vehicles including various Jeeps, ATVs and motorcycles. Reverend Craig Shelton from Sweetwater Church of God even brought out his Monster Bus that had made an appearance previously at Flag Pond’s Fourth of July Celebration that took place on June 29. Several bicycles and walkers followed the motorized vehicles and everyone met up at Unicoi County Veterans’ Memorial Park.

The community met with the veterans at Unicoi County Veteran’s Memorial Park from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and enjoyed hot dogs and inflatables provided by North Ridge Community Church.

“This hometown event just keeps getting better because multiple community partners have gotten involved,” Rice said. “Our local Hardee’s donated biscuits to our veteran breakfast that morning. A special thanks to the Mary Patton Chapter of the DAR for decorating and hosting the lovely event at Town Hall.”

According to Rice, the ladies of Farm Bureau, and Ruth and Bill Gaines helped serve another 350 hotdogs at the Veterans Park and North Ridge Community Church hosted a parade afterparty with two huge water inflatable slides, water balloons and more hotdogs.

“A special thanks to Neighborhood Ford for providing a convertible for our WWII veteran Hazel Berry, Jim Buchanan, Maria True, Rachelle Shurtz and Karen Dunlap,” Rice said. “It takes a small army to pull off an event of this size and we are so thankful to those who gave their time to give our veterans a wonderful parade.”

According to Rice, downtown Erwin will feature several more summer events, including the Farmers Market that takes place every Tuesday night from 5-8 p.m. Starting on Friday, July 12, The Nolichucky Opry will start in the Gathering Place. During the Nolichucky Opry, free live music, sponsored by the Erwin Kiwanis Club begins at 7 p.m.

• • •

The Town of Unicoi followed the Town of Erwin’s celebration with its 17th Annual Freedom Fest at Unicoi Elementary. Freedom Fest kicked off at 5 p.m. Downtown Country took the Jones & Church Farms Main Stage to start the festivities with their brand of country music at 5:15 p.m. The music continued as Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires took the stage around 6:45 p.m., and brought their mix of rockabilly, country and gospel music to those in attendance. The headlining act of the night was Daisi Rain and they played their brand of country pop from their upcoming first album release.

Around 8:30 p.m., the Town of Unicoi officials handed out glow necklaces to children and the fireworks show began after dark. Food vendors for the event included Unicoi County Ruritan and the Unicoi History Group. According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the turnout was tremendous.

“We are estimating between 3,000-4,000 people were in attendance,” Shelton said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch acknowledged that the crowd is a record for Freedom Fest.

“It was bigger and better than ever before,” Lynch said.

According to Shelton, the town wishes to thank the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department and Unaka Search and Rescue for keeping the event safe; the Unicoi County Board of Education for use of the grounds; Tony Street, Dannie Coffie and Mark Ramsey for creating an incredible fireworks display; and to the alderman and volunteers that helped make the event a success.

The Town of Unicoi will host a Community Yard Sale at the Town of Unicoi Tourist Info Center on July 12 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. On Tuesday, July 16, the Town of Unicoi will host its weekly Farmer’s Market. According to Shelton, Daytime TriCities will be airing live from the Farmers Market and Tourist Information Center and everyone is encouraged to attend.

Movies in the Park returns on Friday, July 19, at Bogart-Bowman Cabin. The movie will begin at dark and concessions will be available by Unicoi County Walmart Team to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.

On Saturday, July 20, the Unicoi Historical Group will hold an Ice Cream Social at Bogart Bowman Cabin from 2-4 p.m. A Business Alliance Kick-Off Meeting will be held on Monday, July 22, and is open to all Unicoi businesses interested in creating a positive business environment in the Town of Unicoi.

To keep up with upcoming events, please follow Town of Unicoi on Facebook.

• • •

The Fourth of July festivities concluded at USA Raft, located at 2 Jones Branch Road, in Erwin. More than 250 people celebrated Independence Day at USA Raft with more than 85 people spending the night. The gates opened at 5 p.m. and the band of the night, Doctor Ocular took the stage at 7:30 p.m.

The crowd, which included adults, children and even several dogs, danced to Doctor Ocular’s signature jam rock sound until dark. Once the sun went down, the joint fireworks show took place. USA Raft partnered with Nolichucky Gorge Campground.

“The event went off without a hitch and we collaborated with our neighbors at Nolichucky Gorge Campground to benefit their guests and ours,” USA Raft CEO and President Matt Moses said. “Doctor Ocular put on a really fun show and the lights on stage were world class.”

According to Moses, this will be an annual event going forward.

“This was our first time doing this – band and fireworks for a small fee – and we will be offering it every year for sure,” Moses said.

Moses and company already have the next large event planned for the summer at USA Raft.

“Our next big event is our favorite, Sol Slam Mountain Jam,” Moses said. “It is a very family-friendly long weekend – Labor Day – of music and fun outdoors. …

“This is our second year of doing this, and we will sell weekend, day and night passes so that everyone’s schedule is accommodated to see the bands they want. On Sunday we will have a kids’ floating parade for all that want to join; we parade in costumes upstream and all float back down in tubes or whatever you bring.”

Moses said that the event is family-friendly.

“This is so much fun and attracts families from all over the country, and we have added some big name acts for this year,” Moses said. “Danger Muffin is one the new bands joining us and we are really excited about that.”

Sol Slam Mountain Jam will take place Aug. 30-Sept. 1. As always USA Raft offers camping, lodging, rafting, tubing, kayaking and SUP. For more information or to schedule lodging, a rafting trip, SUP and One Wheel lessons, please follow USA Raft on Facebook, or call 800-872-7238.

For more photos from the events, click here.