Back with a bang! Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge Days festival returns

Published 12:50 pm Friday, August 13, 2021

By Lynn J. Richardson
Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge Days are back, and festival-goers will see quite a few changes while enjoying many of the traditions that have made the event so popular for well over 50 years.
The festival was cancelled last year in the wake of COVID-19, but it is back for 2021 with two major changes — the date and the leadership.
Covered Bridge Days 2021 will be in the fall this year — September 24-26 — mainly due to summertime construction on both the Elk Avenue Bridge and at Edwards Island rendering the area inaccessible.
This will also be the first year the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department will direct the event, taking it on after the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber decided to move in another direction. 
“We got excited right away when we got the opportunity to lead this years’-old festival,” said Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains. “It’s an honor. The Chamber had this event for years and years, and we appreciate all they’ve done throughout the years. 
“Now we want to take what they’ve done and build on that. Change is very important in some cases and we believe fans of this festival will have a lot to look forward to. We are hoping to bring some new ideas and we are especially trying to get kids more involved so we can help our local families.”
To that end, Mains said eight large inflatables will be available for kids to enjoy at no cost. While other types of games may have a small fee, children will also be able to enjoy a “cast of characters” wandering throughout the festival grounds, a magic show and a Youth Business Fair which showcases young entrepreneurs.
As always there will be lots of entertainment, starting at noon on Friday, with bluegrass, country, southern rock and more, and continuing on through Sunday afternoon, concluding with gospel and praise music. Headliners for this year will include International Bluegrass Music Association’s New Artist of the Year nominee Merle Monroe, who will perform Friday evening; and T.G. Sheppard, who has 21 number one country hits under his belt, will take the stage on Saturday night.
Youngsters will vie for the title of King and Queen of the Doe and for those who enjoyed this year’s spectacular fireworks show during the 4th of July, get ready, Mains says, promising another big show in the nighttime sky.
Athletic events planned include a pickleball tournament and a volleyball co-ed tournament, with still others to be confirmed. Late evening entertainment on Third Block is also in the final planning stages.
The festival will also have its share of craft and food vendors, but this year, downtown businesses will be in the mix, adding their own flavor with special sales, entertainment and more.
“We’ve encouraged our downtown businesses to get more involved with the event this year,” Mains said. “We are encouraging them to think outside of the box, to think of unique ways how they could naturally come into this event. After all, we aren’t just promoting the Covered Bridge, but the entire downtown and all that we have here.”
To underscore that, the Parks and Rec team will be launching a vigorous marketing campaign to promote Covered Bridge Days 2021, utilizing print, broadcast, social media and outdoor advertising to get the word out.
“This festival is just one of many things Elizabethton has to offer,” Mains said, noting his department is already making plans to bring even more entertainment to the city in the months ahead, with bigger names as well as local talent.
“When we put that banner up over the street downtown and it says ‘Welcome to Elizabethton Covered Bridge Days,’ it’s all about welcoming people to our downtown so they can get to know what a special place we have,” Mains said. 
“We want them to enjoy the beauty along the Doe River and to see all that Elizabethton has to offer during Covered Bridge Days, but we also want them to know that Elizabethton is a special place all year long.”