Nolichucky Gorge Campground to host Summer Solstice Festival

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

ERWIN -- Who says Erwinites don't know how to have fun? This weekend, managers of the Nolichucky Gorge Campground will host the third annual Summer Solstice Festival on the riverfront, featuring a plethora of music performed by talented area artists.
   "We actually have music festivals every month during the season. May is the first one, and the last is usually in October," said L.D. O'Brien, who manages the campground located in Unicoi County on the banks of the Nolichucky River. "At this festival, we usually have anywhere from 75 to 275 people who attend."
   The festival will begin Saturday at 5 p.m. and last until midnight or longer, depending on the "celebratory atmosphere" O'Brien said. "We try to shut it down at 12, but sometimes it's like a runaway freight train - there's no stopping it."
   Musicians will perform on a "grassy knoll" beside the river on a stage that O'Brien built himself out of steel. After the festival ends, O'Brien hopes to sell the collapsible structure to any area chamber of commerce that might be interested in buying it.
   The goal of the festival is to attract musicians within a 75-mile radius to promote regional artists. This year, seven acts will perform a variety of music from different genres.
   Tim Relleva, who is also a river guide for USA Raft, is one of the artists who will play solo guitar. Relleva will also perform with the Nolichucky River Band, made up of artists like himself who work either as river guides or at the campground.
   "It's (the festival) bluegrass, hippie, rock'n'roll music; you name it - people just gettin' crazy," Relleva said. Tommy "Sugar Cane" Augustus will get the show started. According to O'Brien, Augustus sets the tone for the evening jam.
   "He usually has something very strange and unusual to start the show off with; he definitely gets people's attention," O'Brien said.
   Other featured artists will include Randy Hixson, Tomahawk, Horse Creek, and Pajama Jackson. Hixson plays acoustic guitar ballads, blues, and rock-n'-roll tunes and Horse Creek performs what O'Brien and Relleva refer to as "western bluegrass".
   "It's trottin' on your horse music. The guy wears a cowboy hat and the songs begin with a classic Johnny Cash lick," said O'Brien.
   Leeann Dynneson, who manages the campground with O'Brien, plays violin with the Nolichucky River Band. Dynneson once performed with acts such as Mannheim Steamroller, Linda Rondstadt, and B.B. King during her membership with municipal orchestras. Now, Dynneson lives a more "relaxed life" and said she is interested in teaching violin lessons.
   Saturday's festival is also kid-friendly, and O'Brien and Dynneson said sometimes unusually brave children will approach the stage and sing a song or two with the players.
   The festival will offer full concessions, and those interested in camping have a choice of using tent sites or RV sites, complete with bath houses. Alcoholic beverages are allowed on the campground; however, those who attend the festival should avoid carrying open containers and, instead, keep beverages in a plastic cup.
   Because the festival borders the Cherokee National Forest, alcoholic beverages should not leave the boundaries of the Nolichucky Gorge Campground, O'Brien said.
   The cost for the festival alone is an affordable $7, and those who choose to camp pay $12. "The weather will be beautiful - sunny, no bugs, no wind - perfect," O'Brien said. "We're excited about it."
   The campground also hosts Sunday jam sessions along with a potluck supper during the summer, and O'Brien said anyone interested in listening or playing is welcome to attend. "We try to eat at 5 or 5:30, and then we start jamming at 7 o'clock," he said.
   For more information on the festival this weekend or Sunday jams, contact L.D. O'Brien at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground at (423) 743-8876.