Thousands line up to enjoy final night of 50th Covered Bridge Celebration

Published 5:00 pm Monday, June 13, 2016

Photo Contributed  Marty Raybon, pictured with Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce director Tonya Stevens, headlined the final night of 'Music in the Park'.

Photo Contributed
Marty Raybon, pictured with Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Director Tonya Stevens, headlined the final night of ‘Music in the Park’.

It was only fitting that the 50th anniversary of the Covered Bridge Celebration ended with a big bang.
The four day event concluded on Saturday with thousands lined up to take part in the various activities, vendors and ‘Music in the Park’ that featured multiple Grammy award winning artist Marty Raybon Shenandoah. A special fireworks presentation, sponsored by Snap-On, rounded out the night with a visual spectacle for all of downtown to see.
With 4,000 to 6,000 individuals estimated in attendance for Saturday, Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Director Tonya Stevens said it was the largest event she has been part of.
“Out of the festivals I’ve been part of, I would definitely say it was one of the largest crowds we had,” she said. “When I looked out from the stage area and you see the park filled with people up to Elk Avenue … it was a great success.”
Stevens thanked each of the sponsors and volunteers that assisted with the festival.
“I’ve said it so many times, but we couldn’t do this without our sponsors,” she said. “We encourage everyone to visit with these folks. We had volunteers and members of the Chamber from Carter County Bank and Sycamore Shoals help during the event along with so many others. It was their effort that allowed us to have the musical entertainment provided free of charge for the public.”
Entertainment sponsors included Carter County Tourism, Carter County Bank, Farm Bureau Instance and Dr. Enuf. The food court sponsor was Select Seven Bank, Kids Island was sponsored Sycamore Shoals Hospital and the hospitality, ‘Little Hillbilly’ and ‘Water Wars’ sponsors were Red Legacy, Carnegie Hotel of Johnson City, Double CC Western Supply and Food City of Elizabethton.
Other sponsors for the event included Blackburn, Childers and Steagall CPA, Citizens Bank, Roan Highlands Nursing Center, Downtown Chiropractic, Eastern Eight Community Development, Margaret Moses, CPA, Meredith Valley Cabins, Ritchie’s Inc and Sugar Hollow Retreat.
Daniel Grindstaff, with the local Farm Bureau office, played a hand in assisting with musical entertainment, along performing with Raybon on Saturday and serving as master of ceremonies on Thursday.
“The festival really came together well,” Grindstaff said. “Elizabeth (White) and Tonya at the Chamber, just everyone who really helped with the festival did a great job. The community came together and did its part. We had J’s Corner cater the food for Marty … everybody pitched in and did their part. By the time 8 p.m. rolled around Saturday, there were people everywhere you looked.”
Grindstaff is a longtime friend of Marty, and his brother, Tim. When discussing Marty’s time in town, he said the well-renown performer enjoyed his time and had fun signing autographs for attendees.
“I guess the biggest compliment I heard was from a gentleman named Howard Ensor,” Grindstaff said. “He tracked down my phone number Sunday, I hadn’t heard from him in awhile. He called and said, ‘you know, I came out to the event … I drove around and around looking for a parking place. I’ve been to many, many Covered Bridge Celebrations, I turned a corner and all I saw was a sea of people’. Ensor said he got out and saw all these people smiling and said ‘with all you hear that is wrong with America, and all the complaints going on, if they just wanted it right for a little while … they needed to be in Elizabethton Saturday night’. It was the best compliment I ever heard.”
Raybon had his fair share of busy times leading up to Saturday working down in Nashville, but Grindstaff said the stage was perfectly set for his arrival.
“He said it was a very stress free atmosphere,” Grindstaff added. “It’s been a long time since he and his brother have been up this way. The Chamber, Carter County Sheriff’s Department and Elizabethton Police Department really did their part in making it into a great show.”
Along with Raybon, the Covered Bridge Celebration featured a loaded deck of country, gospel and bluegrass musicians, according to WBEJ’s David Miller.
“Without a doubt, this year we had the biggest crowd in many years,” he said. “That was for a lot of different reasons. The good Lord blessed us with great weather each of the four days, the entertainment was very good with Carson Peters, guys like Grant Meredith and Brad Puckett, who have a large fan base, locally, then on Saturday we had Bullseye, a local group, and Jessica Nixon from Johnson City. Having Marty Raybon Saturday and promoting it before the festival brought tremendous interest into this year’s show. Things go up and down each year, but this year was definitely higher. I believe it was like because of the work put in by people from the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce, Daniel Grindstaff and everyone who helped put the lineup together.”
Edward Jordan, founder of Carter County Proud, provided special thanks to community for their organization’s first time at the Celebration during Wednesday and Thursday nonprofit nights.
“The Carter County Proud nonprofit booth was a smashing success over the past two evenings,” Jordan told The Elizabethton Star. “Thanks to all that participated and helped out at the booth. We could not have done it without your support.”
Jordan went on to thank Ross Garland, Tyrone Simerly, Rebekah Price, Kayla Carter, Lu Ann Perkins, Ed Basconi, Michelle McLellan and daughter, Sidney, Elizabethton Lion Club members Yolanda Vestal and Gary Kemp and his wife, Kathy, Bobbie Dietz, TDOT and the Keep America Beautiful and Keep Tennessee Beautiful groups for their support.
“We are excited because we know that when we all join arms, we can make a different and stomp out this litter problem,” Jordan said.
With the festival at a close, Grindstaff added the community will work together to make 2017 just as good, if not better.
“Each night was community involvement and bringing consistent entertainment in,” he said. “They had a huge close out for Saturday but had big crowds the three nights before. Our goal is to keep building off that for people to keeping enjoying what Elizabethton and Carter County have to offer.”

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