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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fun Fest Finds its "Rhythm"



KINGSPORT — Kids ran to the choo-choo train for a ride. Others used bubble wands to create large bubbles while others enjoyed inflatables.

Those fun activities were held as part of Rhythm in Riverview at V.O. Dobbins Field on Monday. The event also included vendors, face painting, games, music and a lollipop contest.

“The event is really almost like a block party,” said Johnnie Mae Swagerty, event organizer and director of South Central Kingsport Community Development, Inc.

This year had the most vendors yet with 14 — varying from soul food, to Caribbean, to cool refreshments and funnel cakes.

The National Guard provided games and a race car for attendees to enjoy. Friends and Neighbors, Inc. also had a tent at the event.

A lollipop contest was held for children ages 5 to 8. Children were given a lollipop and the child to finish licking it the fastest, without biting or chewing, won. First and second place won a prize. Each child in the contest also received a participation prize.

A new addition to the event this year was a masseuse from Bristol, Va.

“It’s really where the community can come together and see what we’re doing in the community,” Swagerty said.

Another new part of Rhythm in Riverview this year was to have been Gospel Fest. Gospel Fest was originally scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. but was cancelled while event organizers tried to dodge storms in the area. Swagerty says, the choir-singing will be rescheduled because so many people enjoy it.

“It just gives everybody the opportunity to hear a gospel band,” Swagerty said. “A lot of singers in the community want to hear some gospel music, so we’re bringing that into Rhythm in Riverview.”

The words 'oh no' were a familiar refraim because of weather that had been spotty, rainy, and sometimes stormy.

First to utter them was Swagerty, when an announcer came over the loud speaker while crowds were gathering.

It was a direct order for hundreds of people to evacuate the ballfield because of one approaching strong thunderstorm with lightning.


"I thought everybody would go to the Douglass gym to wait that one out," she says. "The building was opened up just for that purpose. But we didn't get to make the announcement because they killed the power to the stage and the microphone because of the evacuation. Nobody knew they could go to the nearby gym instead of going to their cars or going back home. I think everybody understood we had to look at the safety of everybody here and bad weather."

"The key was getting them to come back for the concert."

The second 'oh no' came from the concert's main event singer.

"I've got a phobia about rain," laughs Jay Storm, leader of the headline band Jaystorm Project. "You can guess why.. I get teased a lot when storms come to town. People say, 'Jay Storm's coming to town..oh no, it's gonna rain.' It's in my name, so what can I do?"

"It's not every day that your sound check becomes your concert," he continued. "You just go with the flow.. that's what we're best at. We're experienced in going quick if we have to. If it's playing a full set, that's OK.. if it's an hour, that's OK, too."

"We kinda go by the rules of the weather rock," says Fun Fest director Lucy Fleming, who never misses a Rhythm In Riverview concert. "If the rock is wet, it's raining and it will slow down what we're doing. We have outdoor events at Fun Fest that could be delayed or cancelled if heavy rain or lightning is in the area, or the ground is too wet to get started."

"Today, we had to wait to put the stage up on the Dobbins ballfield and start the music because we were waiting for breaks in the bad weather and we could be sure the rain was over for a while. It was kinda like shooting through the holes in the clouds.. you might hit clear sky at some point. That gave us a late start."

Fleming says, Fun Fest organizers learn from every rain situation.

"As we study different, large events in other cities around the country," she says, "we pay attention to what seems to be safe practice for them. We want to get people to where they are safe if there is thunder and lightning around. We practice getting people to their cars or into nearby buildings as quickly as possible."

We saw first-hand why tents are not really safe places during a storm, because winds often accompany heavy rain, and we saw that first-hand early Monday evening about 5:30. "Even last year, we went through the Grand Flood, and tents were the last place people needed to be. Those that sought shelter found out the hard way that tents went up like kites and balloons."

"Fortunately, there were no injuries or casualties because of safe practices," says Fleming.

"We want to keep it that way."

Once again, a storm cell approaching Kingsport from the southwest, once again, put the event planners on alert.

"We figured we'd could let the band play for an hour," Fleming says. "With that storm approaching, we decided to cut them off at 8:30, to make sure they could finish on a high note, and the crowd could get home before the heavy rain started back up again. At the same time, ending early would give the technicians time to take down all the lights and sound equipment and get it all packed away quickly enough."

Most of the crowds did come back, and the band kept them entertained until about 8:45.

"People didn't get to hear everything we have to offer," says Storm, "but that's OK. What we didn't have time to do was our original songs. We're an original band. We've got songs that make friends, that get people used to our sound and our performances. Tonight, we had to do what we could do between the weather events, and sometimes you have to make adjustments. We've always got to stay versatile when you're outside and you're having to stand the game around the weather."

"The people did seem to like what we had to offer," he says. "Every crowd is different. We're giving our all out there, and sometimes people are grooving, sometimes not. In your mind, you gotta keep on going, keep on giving 100%, hard and strong despite the weather, and hope that you're giving everybody what they like."

Once he checks the band's schedule, Storm says "we'd love to come back and show the crowd what we're really about."

Rhythm In Riverview is symbolic of the community's comeback. The concert has taken place for 33 years.

Chairman Kenneth Calvert said South Central Kingsport Community Development, Inc., was founded to improve the community and support events like the concert.

“The South Central incorporation began in 1994 after a six-year-old was shot by a drug dealer,” said Calvert, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. “From that, the community came together and has been doing improvements since then. Up until about 2004, this area was considered one of the hottest spots in Kingsport for drugs and other illicit activity. Now, this is probably one of the safest communities in Kingsport. That’s a documented fact mainly because we’re able to partner with the city, with the police department, with the fire department and HOPE VI. It was a cleanup campaign. After it all ended, with the help of the police department and everyone else, we have not had any major serious incidents in Riverview since and we were having shootouts almost daily before then.”

“America provides opportunity and for this southwestern Kingsport community development and the community we support, great things can come from it. It’s like seeing a dream come true for the Kingsport community,” Calvert said.
Rhythm in Riverview was sponsored by South Central Kingsport Community Development, Inc., the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Eastman and WKPT, and as the 2014 party in the 'View' drew to a quick close, Fleming says, she hated that the event had to be cut short.

"Rhythm in Riverview is a special event in Kingsport," she says, "and it's special to Fun Fest. It's the first big concert in Fun Fest. I love it for the food and the people. It's a good, small party and so many people come to it and enjoy it for the closeness. We want to see it go on when it can."

Fleming says, several outdoor Fun Fest activities had to be postponed because of heavy rain, or cut short because it was too wet to start back up.

"It was good we were able to work around the weather with Rhythm In Riverview," she said.

"It's good this one went on."