And the people who are already here are dusting off their favorite lawn chair and buying plenty of sunscreen for this weekend's big lineup of bluegrass bands.
“Goin' Back To Harlan,” a celebration of bluegrass festival, will get started this evening on the grounds of the Harlan campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. The event, which is produced in conjunction with the college and the Harlan Rotary Club, will extend until late Saturday night.
“People are going to be amazed,” said Joel Eldridge, director of Harlan's KCTCS campus. “If you like bluegrass, we're going to have a ball!”
Sixteen bands are making their way to town for the first-ever Harlan bluegrass festival. Eldridge said both local talent and renowned, headlining bands will be showcased on the festival's outdoor stage, which has been set up behind the college.
Eldridge and his family and friends, plus members of the Harlan Rotary Club, have been literally working up a sweat this week in preparation for the bluegrass festival. He and Harlan Rotary Club member Jerry Blanton parked their RV's on the festival grounds, and have been living on site in order to get things ready.
The stage is up, bales of hay have been rolled out onto the grounds, and college staff, Rotary club members and Eldridge's family are now working against the deadline, hanging lights and tweaking the sound system.
While they took a break Wednesday morning in the shade of Eldridge's RV, the group talked about the festival's appeal.
“There's been an evident resurgence of bluegrass music in recent years,” Eldridge said. “And this type of music is definitely a part of our mountain culture. It's the mission of the college to preserve and promote all aspects of our culture, and this is a tremendous way of doing just that.”
Harlan Rotary Club Secretary Barbara Buckley said an event like this was good for the county.
“It provides enjoyment,” Buckley said. “It's a great community event that's going to bring tons of people into Harlan County, and that's certainly good.”
While event planners say they wanted to provide entertainment opportunities for local residents, they also said they spent a lot of money on advertisement to attract out-of-towners.
“It don't matter if you live here, or you live off from here, seems like wherever you go, you always run into somebody who has a connection to Harlan County,” said Paul Meister, president of the Harlan Rotary Club. “This place has a lot of roots.”
Blanton said the festival will also honor recently returned Harlan County National Guardsmen, who arrived home Sunday after nearly 15 months of serving their country in Iraq.
“We're in the process of trying to get up with all of them right now,” Blanton said. “During dinner time on Friday, the guardsmen will be allowed in free, and we will also be recognizing them in a special portion of the festival.”
“Goin' Back To Harlan” was made possible through a $10,000 grant that was awarded in December. In 2003, the Harlan Campus of KCTCS and the Rotary Club began partnering up in presenting bluegrass concerts. Their programming was such a success that the idea of a bluegrass festival was eventually thought up, and grant funding made the vision a reality.
“A lot of hard work and planning went into this,” Buckley said. “And we want this to become an annual event. In fact, we're sure it will.”
For more information about this weekend's “Goin' Back To Harlan” bluegrass festival, visit www.harlanbgfestival.com