Mountain Festival canceled file photo

Children enjoy a carnival ride at the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival in this 2019 file photo.

BLUEFIELD — In past years, officials with the Chamber of Commerce of the two Virginias would often count the number of out-of-town license plates seen at the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival. It was a way of measuring just how far people would travel to attend the popular summer gathering in Bluefield.

This year chamber officials are expecting to see even more out-of-town license plates at the festival, which gets underway today at 4 p.m. at city park. However, some of those out-of-town license plates this year will actually belong to people who recently relocated to Bluefield.

“We’ve had a multitude of people who have contacted the chamber about relocating here,” Jeff Disibbio, president and CEO of the chamber, said. “And we’ve seen an influx of out-of-state folks locating to Mercer County.”

When the pandemic began in early 2020, some fled cities where virus numbers were much higher. Many of those individuals relocated to rural areas, including Mercer and Tazewell counties. The ability to work from home in a rural setting, and away from a large city, also helped to attract more out-of-state residents to the area. That, in return, led to an uptick in homes being purchased in the Bluefield area in 2020 and so far in 2021.

“So currently we have a lot of out-of-state license plates driving through town that will soon be in-state license plates,” Dissibio said.

Beyond the newly arrived Bluefield transplants, the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival also is expected to draw visitors this year from across the two-state region and beyond.

“I think we are the largest event within the hour-and-a-half to two-hour radius,” Dissibio said of regional summer fairs and festivals.

Because city park extends through both West Virginia and Virginia, there was some question early on as to whether some — or all — of the festival would have to be relocated to the West Virginia side of the state park. However, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has now lifted most of the state’s pandemic restrictions, which will allow the festival to be held — as in year’s past – on both sides of the state line.

Now, after months of planning, the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival opens today at 4 p.m. There is a slight chance for showers and thunderstorms this afternoon, but otherwise the forecast looks warm and dry for the weekend. The festival will be longer this year, 10 days in all, continuing through Sunday, June 13.

Fireworks are planned for later tonight – the estimated launch time is around 11 p.m. – to mark the opening day of the festival. The fireworks tonight, and again on Sunday, June 13, are sponsored by Grants Super-market. Fireworks also will be held on Saturday evening during the first home game of the Bluefield Ridge Runners at Bowen Field, near the festival fairgrounds.

Free COVID-19 vaccines also will be administered during six of the 10 days. Those individuals who get a free vaccine during the festival will receive two free carnival ride tickets.

The Bland County Medical Clinic will provide the vaccines on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (or June 4, 5 and 6) and the Mercer County Health Department will provide vaccines on Wednesday, June 9, Thursday, June 10 and Friday, June 11.

In addition to the returning James H. Drew carnival, special attractions at this year’s Cole Chevy Mountain Festival include human cannonball David “The Bullet” Smith, who will be at the festival all 10-days; an aquatic acrobatic show; the band Little Roy & Lizzy; a firefighter training show for children; and the return of Rock-IT The Robot.

Local entertainers also will be performing on stage during the 10-day festival. The shows include:

• Today, Makenzie Phipps and Shane Begley will kick-off the music event at 9 p.m.

• Saturday, June 5, Cody Bragg will perform at 6 p.m. and Regan Cochran will be on stage at 8 p.m.

• Sunday, June 6, Little Roy and Lizzy, a bluegrass group/band, will have two performances on Sunday, June 6, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

• Monday, June 7, Barry Bowman will be performing at 8 p.m.

• Wednesday, June 9, Matt Deal will take the stage at 6 p.m. and Jess and Manny will follow at 8 p.m.

• Thursday, June 10, Bill Archer and Karl Miller will kick off the music event at 6 p.m.

• Friday, June 11, the Southbound CTV Band will take the stage at 6 p.m. followed by Makenzie Phipps and Shane Begley at 9 p.m.

• Saturday, June 12, Ben Thornton will be featured at 7 p.m.

• Sunday, June 13, Zack Jenkins will take the stage at 7 p.m. and Lily Comer will perform at 9 p.m.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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