In remembrance of the time-honored tradition of smuggling alcohol through the hills of prohibition-era Appalachia, Downtown Dawsonville will celebrate the 49th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival this weekend.
Thousands of visitors and town folk alike will descend upon Downtown, some as early as Friday morning, to begin the weekend of festivities.
The event will be kicked off with a Moonshine Run, a drive through the scenic foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, which starts at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame at 10 a.m. Friday.
The festival will officially open on Saturday with a parade at 9 a.m. followed by opening ceremonies at 10 a.m.
The Moonshine Festival is a celebration of history for many old Dawson County families, whose living descendants remember how hauling moonshine from Dawsonville to more urban areas around Atlanta was a risky job for adrenaline junkies, and how the illegal trade was the sole income for many families during the Depression era.
According to Dawsonville historian Gordon Pirkle, the late Fred Goswick hatched the idea nearly 50 years ago and was the first in Dawsonville to recognize the ‘shine trade with a museum.
The festival was built on remembering and celebrating a way of life that gave birth to stock car racing, now a popular national sport.
Pirkle was involved in the beginnings of the moonshine celebration, and can remember when it was comprised of only six booths. Slowly over the years, the festival has grown into the booming annual event it is today.
"It's about too big now for our small town," Pirkle said.
According to Pirkle, five new National Moonshine Hall of Fame inductees will ride in the Moonshine parade and be presented at the opening ceremony. The Moonshine Hall of Fame was created in 2013.
Jewel "Churnhead" Crane, Billy Crane and W.A. Hardin, all of Dawsonville, George Winston Sudderth of Sugar Hill and Jimmy Fallin of Booneville, NC are the 2016 nominees for the recognition.
Also a feature at the festival will be the presentation of five new inductees to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. The five are Ricky Williams of Fayetteville, Stan Massey of Mableton, Dick Brannan of Dawsonville, Sam Sommers of Sylvania and the late Jimmy Thomas of Columbus.
The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Class of 2016 will be formally recognized during the opening ceremony on Oct. 22 along with the Moonshine Hall of Fame inductees. They will ride in the parade as well, and will be inducted during another ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Dawsonville on Nov. 12.
The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame was founded in 2002.
Pirkle said that each member of every class has some connection to Georgia. The inductees are nominated by a 21-member panel, and are normally announced at the beginning of each September.
While many flock to the festival to see their racing heroes, regulars to the festival know that lots of food, fun and entertainment also await.
Automobile enthusiasts attend the car show, cruise-in and swap meet at the Racing Hall of Fame, where families show off their booze-toting trucks and vintage stock cars.
At least 130 vendors have signed up to sell their wares, and will peddle everything from arts and crafts, clothes and toys to jewelry, homemade soaps and candles, pottery, food and, of course, moonshine.
Dawsonville's Moonshine Distillery, located in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame on Hwy. 53, will be open during the weekend so that visitors can tour and sample the drink that inspired the festivities.
Festival hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
The event is the biggest annual fundraiser for K.A.R.E for Kids, a non-profit charity in Dawson County that provides less fortunate children with necessities throughout the year and gifts at Christmas.
See inside for more information on the festival, including the entertainment and events schedules and a parking map.