Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 24, 2014

Lana Bellamy: Kentucky festival fever: 04/25/14

ASHLAND — Going to county festivals each year is just part of growing up in a rural Kentucky area. Some counties have Court Days and others have fairs, but I grew up going to Hillbilly Days in Pikeville.

The grand festival in the heart of the biggest Kentucky county comes each April and includes a large carnival area in the Riverfill and booths of homemade crafts stretching down Hambley Boulevard and through the city park, where local musicians play bluegrass and country music and there’s food — lots of food.

This year’s festival is already under way and will end tomorrow with the annual parade and headlining musical act, Old Crow Medicine Show, at the East Kentucky Exposition Center.

When I was young, I honestly did not know what court days were or that most counties had their own types of fairs.

So, when I moved to Rowan County for college and heard of festivals like Court Days in Montgomery County, the Greenup County Fair, the Sorghum Festival in Morgan County and Apple Days in Paintsville, I was anxious to see how other counties celebrated their cultures.

While most of the food stayed the same (deep-fried sweets, funnel cakes, chicken-on-a-stick), I realized counties brought their own unique features to the roundtable of Kentucky fairs.

Greenup had a pageant that featured girls of a large variety of ages, from toddlers to adolescents. The whole idea of a festival to celebrate sorghum products was unique enough for Morgan County. Court Days is known for its large trading opportunities and array of crafts for sale, not to mention it’s noted as the oldest festival in Kentucky. At Apple Days, patrons can find apple treats and sift through an assortment of crafts.

But at the end of the day, Hillbilly Days will always have a special place in my heart. I have watched the festival evolve each year, stretching past the city park, up to the UPike (former Pikeville College) campus and down Hambley to cover the city in people.

The festival always begins on a Thursday, and I can remember everyone in school skipping just to go to Hillbilly Days, although most of the time, it rained on opening day and skipping wasn’t worth much, anyway. Now, I hear public schools have finally given students the day off.

If you had a date, you met at Hillbilly Days. Have friends you haven’t seen in a while? Meet them at Hillbilly Days. Have a local bluegrass band and need an audience? Play for the people at Hillbilly Days.

As I understand it, the festival is a large economic boost for the county and a major tourism attraction for the entire area. At one time, it was a popular festival among people from Michigan and some Canadians living just across the border.

It may sound funny having an entire festival dedicated to our “hillbilly” culture, but it is a major part of the area’s identity and has grown sentimental value with residents.

I may be in Ashland now, but this weekend, you can bet I am driving home to see the beautiful faces of my hometown, and of course, to stuff my face with some deep-fried Oreos.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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