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Kingsport Comes Together Through Art and Entertainment

City has vibrant array of annual festivals and regular cultural events

By Cary Estes on April 26, 2018

Kingsport, TN
Kingsport / Lynne Harty

In 1981, Kingsport officials began an event called Fun Fest that was designed to promote community unity. Since then, a wide range of other festivals and programs have popped up that not only bring the community together but also bring attention to Kingsport’s robust arts and entertainment scene.

There are events celebrating wings and wine. There are car shows and garden shows. There are holiday happenings throughout the year, capped off by a Christmas parade and visit from the Santa Train. There is live theater and live music, a ballet and a symphony. And throughout it all, the city is decorated with a growing collection of public art that includes sculptures and colorful murals.

“We have a vibrant community,†Kingsport Fun Fest Director Lucy Fleming says. “Our arts community is innovative and growing. It’s surprising for some people who don’t realize that there is an audience for these programs here, with very professional performers. I think the level of talent and performances would surprise people who are not aware of this area.”

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The biggest event of the year is Fun Fest, which has grown into a nine-day extravaganza, with more than 100 events spread out over 50-plus locations. Highlights include a hot-air balloon rally, a concert series with national acts, running and fishing competitions, and a fireworks display.

“We try to offer something for almost everyone,†Fleming says. “The variety of events that we have is extensive. We appeal to families, but we also have activities that will be more attractive to singles and various age groups.

“The original purpose of Fun Fest was to unite the community for a positive experience. People working together toward a common goal. Now we use it to showcase our community to people who are coming in, and also to show our residents all the great venues that they have right here in their town.”

Art Surprise

The look of Kingsport began to change in 2006, when city officials created a committee to “enhance the quality of life of the Kingsport community by the nurturing and management of its public art.”

The city began with a single outdoor sculpture, then local residents purchased several pieces for display. That was followed by the creation of a mural arts program, which has now spread throughout the downtown area.

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“They are just delightful to see as you drive or walk by. You see people all the time taking photos in front of them,†said Bonnie Macdonald, manager for the Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts. “They really make the whole community a very creative place, and it gives our residents the opportunity to express themselves. We will continue to look for spaces and places and themes that we can celebrate through public art.”

‘Always Something Going On’

There is never a lack of entertainment options in Kingsport. Ribs and live music have long been served up at the annual Racks by the Tracks event, and now it is joined by the Wing Fling the day before.

“It’s a meat eaters weekend,†Fleming says.

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There are special events throughout the year at the Exchange Place, a living history farm from the 1800s. Highlights include the Spring Garden Fair, Farm Fest, the Fall Folk Arts Festival, ghost stories at Halloween, and a Christmas in the Country celebration.

Vintage autos are on display at the annual Allandale Car Show, a Kingsport tradition since the 1970s. Other popular events include the Tri-Cities Chinese Association New Year Festival, the Downtown Kingsport Wine Festival (which is moving from August to October this year), and the Kingsport Halloween Bash (with parties for both children and adults).

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Kingsport ends the year with multiple Christmas events. The Santa Train, which has been making stops throughout the region for more than 70 years, continues to arrive in town for the holidays. And now the train depot also is the site of an afternoon of free activities for children. That is followed a week later by the annual Christmas parade and tree lighting.

“It has given us two good weekends to celebrate Christmas,†Fleming says.

And all this doesn’t even include regular performances throughout the year by the city’s symphony, ballet company and theater guild, as well as a live concert series every Friday night during the summer.

“We have a number of different, very accomplished arts and entertainment organizations that offer high quality for our public,†Macdonald says. “We want people to expect that they can find things to do here. Because there’s always something going on.”

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