Winterfest starts next week
Lights are going up along the main roads in all three cities as they get ready for the Smoky Mountain Winterfest kickoff celebrations next week.
For the first time this year, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge will kick off events on the same day as both cities will host their events Tuesday, Nov. 12. Gatlinburg’s kickoff follows on Nov. 13.
Sevierville’s Music, Lights & Magic event has the earliest kickoff, with festivities starting at 3 p.m.
Its celebration has come to resemble a neighborhood street festival on the Municipal Complex campus, with city offices closing early and a stage set up near the Chamber of Commerce.
Attendees can enjoy free seasonal refreshments including apple cider and popcorn. The on stage entertainment has always included a number of local acts, and this year it will also feature two sets by a Christian rock band, Bone Prophet.
The lighting ceremony will start at 7:05 p.m. and will also feature fireworks.
The northbound lanes of Gary Wade Blvd., between Bruce Street and East Main Street, will be closed from approximately 9 until 9 p.m. for event setup and for the safety of event attendees.
In Pigeon Forge, the Winterfest kickoff features an additional element as the city has made it a tradition the last few years to host a Salute to Veterans Parade at the same time because the kickoff comes on the heels of Veterans Day.
This year’s marshal is Vietnam War veteran and NFL legend Rocky Bleier.
Bleier was drafted by the U.S. Army shortly after he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He joined the Army after his rookie year in the NFL, volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was wounded in combat, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
After concluding his service, he returned to the Steelers and became a weapon in their backfield and a member of four Super Bowl championship teams.
“Rocky Belier is an inspiration to anyone facing adversity,” said Leon Downey executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “We are honored to have him to pay tribute to our veterans by being grand marshal of our Salute to Veterans parade.”
The parade starts at 4:30 p.m. at Jehu Street and proceeds to Patriot Park; it is expected to last about an hour.
The Winterfest Kickoff festivities at the park start at about 6 p.m. and include illumination of the lights, fireworks, a children’s play area, musical entertainment and concessions. Guests can bring lawn chairs to the park.
The event concludes with free rides on the Trolley Tour of Lights starting at 8 p.m.
Gatlinburg finishes off the kickoff events with the Chili Cookoff and Winter Magic Kickoff on the Parkway from 5 until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The Chili Cookoff will include teams from local businesses, service organizations and restaurants, and attendees can get tickets for unlimited chili tasting for $10. It also includes a hot chili eating contest, and live music from Nashville-based country music band Natalie Stovall & The Drive on one side and local Celtic/rock band Tuatha Dea at the other. A portion of the ticket sales will go to Pi Beta Phi Elementary School’s PTA.
“We have something for everybody to celebrate the holiday season in Gatlinburg,” said Darrell Manis, special events director for the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights will start at 6:30 p.m.; tickets are $5.