Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 14, 2013

Bland County Festival of Leaves comes to a close

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLAND, Va. — Even with an abundance of regional festivals to choose from last weekend, the Bland County Festival of Leaves still attracted thousands of visitors to the county fairgrounds for the two-day celebration, inspired by the annual transformation of Bland’s green-cloaked forests, to the colorful tie-dye majesty that heralds the arrival of fall.

“We had about 3,000 people here on Saturday, even with the threatening rain clouds,” Henry Blessing of Bastian, Va., said. Blessing is chairman of the Bland County Board of Supervisors. “There doesn’t seem to be as many people here (on Sunday) as there were (on Saturday), but there is still a good crowd. The vendors seem to be enjoying it.”

Henry and his wife, Susan Blessing, were seated in their tent directly across from the entertainment. The Blessings were selling gift bags of apples, but seemed more excited about cuddling the family’s newest blessing — Margaret Claire Blessing, their infant granddaughter.

“This is the 20th year for our Festival of Leaves,” Henry Blessing said. “It has grown every year.”

The Blessing family had front row seats for two days of incredible performances from the Bland County Band, the BCHS cheerleaders, Jerry Vencil, Albert Newberry, the Appalachian Hoedowners, a Minnie Pearl presenter, 4-H talent, a Patsy Montana presenter, Truegrass and the Hollybrook Band on Saturday.

Sunday’s activities started with the flag raising by the VFW and American Legion, presentation of the Masonic Community Builder’s Award, Wytheville Community College’s 50th anniversary, festival honors which were not available Sunday afternoon, an impressive performance by the Bastian Church of God Choir, a worship service led by the Reverend Paul Looney — pastor of the Bastian Union Church — followed by alternating performances by an Elvis presenter and Wonder.

“The Bastian Church of God Choir was incredible,” Sarah Brackens said as she kept a close watch out for the next group scheduled to perform. “We’re ecstatic with the turn-out this year. The fact that it was not great weather didn’t seem to stop people from coming out to enjoy the festival.”

Brackens coordinated the talent for the festival while Kathy Pruett coordinated the vendors. Pruett said that 107 vendors were participating in this year’s festival, including 22 new vendors. “I’m really excited about the new vendors we have this year,” Pruett said.

This year marks the third year that Wendy “Woo” Hartung of Independence, Va., has brought her “Woo’s Q Brew” barbecue sauce to the festival. “It’s made of a combination of five different styles of sauces including Georgia, Texas, Memphis style, South Carolina mustard and North Carolina vinegar,” Hartung said. “There are 27 different ingredients in there.”

Hartung said that she’s been making the sauce for 10 years, and was able to quit her day job three years ago to concentrate on traveling to fairs and festivals throughout the region. “My husband, Larry, still has his day job,” Hartung said.

Sherri Hull of Bastian said that she and her family usually come to the festival. “We’ve only missed two or three since it started,” Hull said. “We happened on the first one by accident when it was in the courthouse yard. I really like it. There’s something here for everyone. I like it that they have the entire 4-H hall filled with projects that were done by young students.”

Victor Cuen, 16, of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, a senior exchange student at Graham High School who is staying with the Bowling family of Bluefield, Va., was taking in the Elvis presenter show and enjoying a full house at the pavilion on the fairgrounds.

“It is different ... In a good way,” Cuen, a member of the GHS cross-country team said. He arrived in the United States on July 6, and already speaks excellent English. “I’ve been studying English since I was six-years-old,” he said. He has enjoyed experiencing festivals and other events in the community. He attended the most recent Graham-Beaver game and observed: “It’s just like a football game — soccer game — back at home,” he said.

Cuen said his aunt Mary was also an exchange student at GHS, and also stayed with the Bowling family 15 years ago.

The Festival of Leaves featured duck runs, hayrides, kids’ activities, 4-H face painting, the Fire Department bucket brigade, a horseshoe tournament and much more.

— Contact Bill Archer at