It’s the sweetness of fried apple pies. The aroma of hot apple cider. The crackle of freshly fallen leaves. The warmth of a thick sweater. Orange orbs growing fat in the pumpkin patch.
Fall sparks a range of memories that come alive as the weather turns brisk and the summer heat subsides.
For those in the Southeast, a yearly tradition combines those vivid elements of autumn: the fall festival.
In Dawsonville, the annual celebration is steeped in the culture of longtime residents. It’s called the Mountain Moonshine Festival.
“It’s all about the history,” said event organizer Gordon Pirkle. “There is so much history here, and our history is so unique.”
Pirkle said the annual October festival began 43 years ago when Fred Goswick Jr. set up two tables in downtown Dawsonville and sold local produce and curiosities to tourists.
Goswick said the whispered tales of the illegal liquor trade were a draw for those passing through, many of whom came from Atlanta.
“At that time, in the late ’60s, there was a little moonshine being made up here, and that interested people,” Goswick said. “That got them wondering.”
Pirkle said Dawsonville’s reputation for shrewd bootleggers and homemade liquor raised some eyebrows.
But he was quick to add that “NASCAR wouldn’t be what it was today if it hadn’t been for those boys blazing the trail back then.”
Skilled moonshine runners harnessed their driving prowess on the race track to build momentum for what would become one of the world’s biggest spectator sports.
In 43 years, the celebration of Dawsonville’s rich history has grown on a massive scale. The festival attracts more than 100,000 people every year, with the money raised going to KARE for Kids.
Calvin Byrd, president of the nonprofit organization, said the festival is “essential to our ability to help local kids in need.”
“It’s a good time, and it goes to a good cause,” Byrd said.
Pirkle, who is also a KARE for Kids volunteer, said the group’s success is made possible by the funds raised during the festival.
“This is a win-win for everybody,” Pirkle said. “It helps KARE for Kids, and it lets us keep the local history alive.”
Goswick thinks the festival will continue to grow, thanks to a little bit of local lore.
“The moonshining was always interesting to people,” he said. “Now that the moonshining’s gone, more people will talk about it and it will grow into something legendary.”
The Mountain Moonshine Festival kicks off this weekend. For more information, see the special section inside this week’s print edition of the Dawson Community News.