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Fall festivals are much in doubt


With a global pandemic underway, it’s not looking good for festival season this year.

Blackey and Neon have already canceled their festivals. Isom hasn’t posted a schedule. The Mountain Heritage Festival and Jenkins Homecoming Days Festival are still wavering.

The Rob Run car show has been canceled, and most of the Levitt AMP Concert Series was also canceled. There will be a Levitt AMP drive-in concert in downtown Whitesburg on July 17.

Seedtime on the Cumberlands in Whitesburg would have been in June, but it was canceled in favor of online music offerings, May Fest was canceled entirely. There is no word yet on Oktoberfest.

Jenkins Mayor Todd Depriest said he expects the annual Jenkins Homecoming Festival will not be held, but the committee in charge hasn’t made a decision yet. The main body of the festival, including souvenir and food booths, carnival rides and concerts, is usually held in the city park, which is no bigger than football field.

“There’s really no way to social distance,” he said.

Lee Adams, chairwoman of the Mountain Heritage Committee in Whitesburg, said the committee was supposed to meet last night, but had to cancel because of a family health issue. She said if the festival is still to be held, it will have to submit an action plan to the state showing it is able to keep people safe.

“If we get to have the festival, we would follow all the guidelines put out by the state,” she said.

Adams said even the food booths used at the festival are too small for people to properly social distance. Health officials advise that people wear masks and stay at least six feet apart to prevent the spread of the virus.

Scott Lockard, Kentucky River District Health Director, said he’s been talking to representatives of different festivals all over the area about the difficulty of social distancing in those types of events.

“They’re like, ‘Are we going to be back in good shape by September?’” Lockard said. “Well, no, we’re not.”

According to the Kentucky Association of Fairs and Horse Shows, at least 30 communities across the state have canceled or postponed their events, and that doesn’t even count the ones in Letcher County.

Hazard is still having the Black Gold Festival, but Pike County’s Hillbilly Days, usually held in April, was canceled. London’s Chicken Festival, probably the largest of all in the region, has already canceled as well. Lockard said some festivals are trying to figure out if they can scale down and be safe, but that is going to be “really hard,” Lockard said.

“As public health director, I don’t know how it can be done safely,” he said.

Lockard said he doesn’t want to spoil it for everyone, but large gatherings, even when the virus seems to be waning, will create another spike in cases.

“These festivals are so important to our local economy and important to our mental health, people look forward to them all year, but it’s a high, high risk,” Lockard said.

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