There’s something about the beauty of East Tennessee that even a torrential rainfall can’t ruin. And while it might initially dampen the spirits of those who had hoped for better weather at an all day festival on the lush and sprawling grounds of the lovely Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro in Townsend Tennessee, it also proved, that regardless of the conditions, the natural setting couldn’t be better.
Of course, the weather is always a gamble when an outdoor festival is involved, but fortunately the organizers were ready. Large white tents were erected to cover the seating area, ensuring that no matter what nature had to offer, the audience would be sheltered. And given the fact that Dancing Bear is one of the finest and most upscale restaurants around, at very least, everyone was well fed.
Naturally, the music was the main draw on this first Saturday in June, and here again, the event did not disappoint. Billed as The Sweethearts of the Smokies, this initial festival in what promises to be a series of special concerts that will take place at this lovely locale, offered an array of excellent headliners of both local and national variety -- Katie Pruett, Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith, The Whiskey Gentry, and native daughter Robinella, who not only performed an impromptu acoustic set during a break in the festivities, but also headlined with her own band in tow and emceed throughout the afternoon and evening. Hers was a formidable task indeed, because it was her duty to calm the crowd during the interruptions caused by the series of storms, but also to brave the elements while the rain was coming down. Still, she held up like the champ she is, one of many reasons why she eptomizes the real reason this festival was billed the way it was. The fact is, she’s a sweetheart of the Smokies in every way possible.
Notably though, she wasn’t the only hero in attendance that day. The owners of Dancing Bear Lodge were worthy of commendation for envisioning this concert series in the first place. (Plans are underway for a second event at the end of July, a music and food festival featuring headliner Darrel Scott and East Tennessee’s own Jay Clark.) Kudos can also be accorded Knoxville radio station WDVX, which not only ranks among the best Americana radio stations in the nation but also played a major role in organizing the festivities. Then there was the inspiration provided by the Appalachian Bear Rescue, a not for profit initiative dedicated to preserving the residents of this beautiful habitat, and beneficiaries of a portion of the proceeds.
Suffice it to say, the sounds were sublime, as befitting the scenic setting. And while acoustic guitars sometimes strained to be heard over the intrusion of the elements, the distant sound of thunder added a mood and mystique that seemed to blend in surprisingly well. In fact, given the lovely scenery, the festival proved an apt testament to nature’s glory. Robinella herself acknowledged that during her early acoustic set, when she rose to the occasion with a set of rain related songs.
Yes, it rained. And then it rained some more. But ultimately it couldn’t deter the enthusiasm of those who were there. Yes, when there’s a festival, the music certainly matters. But so does the ambiance. And at this initial Sweethearts of the Smokies gathering, the spirits rose like the fog lifting from the base of those beautiful mountains.