By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
Almost a decade has passed since the first Redbud Festival welcomed spring to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
Since that first festival, visitors and area residents have flocked to the Union College campus every April to check out traditional and modern arts and crafts, live music, storytelling and quilts.
The festival’s appeal to the eyes, ears and the senses also includes a history tour in a restored trolley, craft demonstrations and lots of mouth-watering foods.
This year’s Redbud Festival — the 10th annual one — starts Friday and continues this Saturday in Barbourville.
Luanne Mitchell was part of the original committee that got the festival going in those early years. She continues with the festival today, and is in charge of the Redbud Marketplace Mall, set up inside the Robsion Gym on the Union College campus.
She noted Tuesday the emphasis on quality arts and crafts continues to drive visitors to the festival sites.
“I think people come here because of the overall experience. We stress quality handmade items, with local arts and crafts spotlighted. There’s something for everyone, and people feel comfortable coming to our festival,” Mitchell said.
They say the same for another festival activity area, the outdoor Heritage Living section which is located in what is called the “Heritage Tent.”
Festival co-chair Mary Beth Jewell pointed out the emphasis inside the tent is more on items in touch with tradition.
“We focus on the heritage-type, sustainable items. It’s more of a ‘green’ area inside the tent. This year, we’ll have an iron forger, Moses Hamblin, who will be there to make knives and other instruments. And he’ll also be selling homemade musical instruments. We’ll also have Gavin Wilson. He’s a coppersmith, and he’ll make hand-forged copper items, such as plates, bowls, signage and plaques,” she said.
“We’ve got a lot of our favorites returning this year, and this weekend. For several years, we’ve had the Biblical Quilt Show and it’s always been a big attraction. It’s back this year as well, along with storytelling and lots of live music. In addition, we’re having three quilt exhibits to the festival. And where else can you spend the weekend enjoying several workshops on sustainable living, like how to preserve your food and how to make your own laundry detergent,” added festival co-chair Betty Cole.
A couple of events begin today (Thursday) when the Biblical Quilt Show opens at the Conway Boatman Chapel from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Redbud Marketplace Mall opens from 4-6 p.m. at the Robsion Gym, while an hour later, a “Meet and Greet” reception for vendors, instructors, authors and artists will be held on the Union College campus.
Friday is the first day of full action at the festival for everyone.
The Marketplace Mall, the Heritage Tent, Biblical Quilt Show at the chapel, food booths in the parking lot and storytelling at the Rector Little Theatre all open at 9 a.m. and will continue through the morning and afternoon.
The Bluegrass sounds of “Flickertail Holler” will float in the air as the group roams around the festival site on Friday — and Saturday, too. At 1 p.m., the Redbud Warm-Up Ride for bicycling enthusiasts will start at the main Union College campus entrance on College Street. Also, a free mini-workshop on making your own natural and inexpensive cleaning supplies starts at 1 p.m. in the Heritage Tent. If traveling on a trolley is more to your liking, Barbourville trolley rides run from noon until 4 p.m. in the city’s historic downtown area.
This Saturday’s festivities include the Redbud Writers’ Row, starting at 9 a.m. inside the Marketplace Mall. On Writers’ Row, you can meet local and regional authors and learn about their books, as well as their dreams, passions and inspirations. Books of every interest can be found, including stories for young adults and children, history, regional interest, romance, poetry and adventure.
Craft demonstrations will also take place during the Redbud Festival’s Heritage Living and Folklife Event, held that day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Along with demonstrations from Hamblin and Wilson, basket maker Ruth Cross and rag doll maker Nancy O. Smith will be present.
The event will also feature sustainable living skills as they relate to contemporary living, and will include subjects like growing and passing down heirloom vegetables, making jewelry out of recycled materials, and how to make tools and decorative home accents by forging iron and other metals.
Two free workshops will be held Saturday in the Heritage Tent — the 10 a.m. workshop features learning about medicinal herbs, while the 1 p.m. workshop deals with preserving fresh produce through dehydration.
Many festival locations, such as the Redbud Marketplace Mall, food booths in the parking lot, and the Biblical Quilt Show in the chapel will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday. Many artists and craftspeople will be in the Marketplace Mall indoors, and will offer items ranging from original watercolor paintings to stained glass, hand-carved wood bowls, pottery, decorative items and hand-made jewelry.
“Probably jewelry is the biggest seller and most-asked for item at the gym. This year, we’ll have a lot of new artisans and craftspeople from all over the area and beyond. They’re mainly from the Tri-County region, but we’ve got one man from western Kentucky who will be here. He makes baskets, but he also makes jams, jellies and relishes,” Mitchell said.
The complete schedule of this year’s Redbud Festival can be found online at www.redbudfestky.com.
Jewell noted the Kentucky Travel Industry Association named both the Redbud Festival and the Heritage Living Event one of Kentucky’s Top 10 Spring Festivals and Events.
And with the hills coming to life this spring, she added it’s no wonder visitors head to Barbourville this time of year.
“It’s strictly an arts and crafts festival, and not a carnival. The people who come down here to show what they make. They show people how they make their wares and they like to share it with everyone at the festival. Kids can do planting, churn butter and listen to mountain music. And the Redbud Festival keeps evolving and changing to what interests people the most. That’s what keeps it going,” she said.