Hemlockfest celebrates fifth anniversary


The Fifth Annual Hemlockfest Music Festival will be held November 6-8 at Starbridge Retreat near Dahlonega, Georgia. Festival organizers are celebrating this grassroots benefit held to combat parasites, which are killing the native hemlock trees of the Blueridge Mountains.

It’s like a story from a classic 1930s movie: some regular people discover a serious problem that affects their hometown. Their passion drives them to do something about it. In this case, the people were a loosely-organized group of outdoors types, environmentalists, and just average citizens who called themselves the Lumpkin Coalition. The problem they discovered was that a parasite called the wooly adelgid was killing the native hemlock trees of the North Georgia mountains. The solution they came up with was to hold a music festival, called Hemlockfest, to raise funds to fight the adelgids. This year Hemlockfest will mark its fifth anniversary on November 6-8 at the beautiful Starbridge Retreat near Dahlonega, Georgia.

The festival is a three-day celebration of bluegrass, blues, and rock music held on a scenic 50-acre private resort in the foothills of the Appalachians. It’s a family-friendly event with something to interest people of all ages. Visitors can come for a day, or camp out for the weekend, and enjoy unique food and beverages under the verandas of a 150-year-old cabin on the property.

There are demonstrations of traditional handicrafts and skills such as crosscut sawing and archery. There are dozens of booths containing art and interesting merchandise from Georgia and all over the world. There are opportunities all weekend to learn more about the natural world of the Blueridge Mountains, with guided nature walks and exhibits of native animals, as well as discussions of environmental issues. Visitors can relax while paddling a canoe around the peaceful five-acre pond on the grounds, or let their hair down to the beat of unique music by bands and songwriters from around the region.

“Hemlockfest draws people from every single group you can imagine,” according to Forest Hilyer the man who started it all. He notes that festival goers range in age literally from 8 months to 80 years old and include people from all different backgrounds united by two goals: to have fun and help out with a good cause at the same time. The Lumpkin Coalition, which organizes the event, is every bit as diverse as the crowd at the festival. They note with pride that the organization has raised over US$100,000 for laboratories at several universities in the region to raise and release beetles that eat wooly adelgids.

The coalition is an all-volunteer group, and they pride themselves on the fact that all proceeds of Hemlockfest go toward the cause of saving the hemlocks. At first, “None of us knew what we were getting into”, said Hilyer, but five years further on, the festival continues to attract a growing following with great music, a beautiful one-of-a-kind venue, and glowing reviews from delighted fans. Visit the festival website at http://www.lumpkincoalition.org/HemlockFest.htm.