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The best time
Crowds, cars fill downtown
1 Festival pic3
Matt Tolbert of Dawson County helps son, Nathan, 2, off a pony Sunday at the Mountain Moonshine Festival. - photo by Frank Reddy DCN regional staff

It’s been more than four decades since the Mountain Moonshine Festival rumbled to life, and locals say it grows larger each year.


What started as three wooden tables and four 1940 Fords outside the courthouse has grown to a fall gathering that draws crowds in the thousands.

The festival-goers flock to downtown Dawsonville each year to see the old cars, sample sweet and salty foods and listen to bluegrass and gospel music.


Organizer Gordon Pirkle said last weekend’s 42nd annual event was the biggest yet, with attendance totaling 110,000, a record.


“We had lots of people and lots of beautiful cars,” Pirkle said Monday.


Pirkle is vice president of KARE for Kids, a nonprofit organization that works to provide for underprivileged children in Dawson County. This year’s festival raised $125,000 for the group.


“I think it’s the best festival we’ve ever had,” he said.


Few would have disagreed Sunday.


“There are so many people this year,” said longtime volunteer Jeanette Walker of Dawson County. “Traffic’s backed up for miles and miles.”


Walker watched granddaughter Reagan McClure, 7, as she bounced atop a souped-up trampoline carnival ride.


“She’s having the best time today,” said Walker with a smile. “She got so happy when I told her we were coming here.”


Brenda Scarlett of Dawson County brought her 2-year-old grandson, Nathan Tolbert, watching as he rode a pony. Father Matt Tolbert guided them along.

Scarlett said the family comes every year.


“Everybody has fun,” she said. “We enjoy all the activities and food.”


Dick Rockwell of Dawson County enjoyed the antique cars. He leaned in to examine the engine of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.


“It’s nice,” Rockwell said. “It’s really nice. I wouldn’t mind having a car like this one.”


Sally Heard and her husband, Morris, enjoyed the antique cars so much they parked their lawn chairs behind a row of 1940 Fords. From there, the Cumming couple sat and watched the festivities.


“It’s grown like you wouldn’t believe ... people are spreading the news,” said Heard, whose family has been coming to the festival for 20 years.


“One guy came up to us earlier and said, ‘What in the world is going on in this little town?’ They’d never seen anything like it.”


Janet Robinson came from Atlanta with her husband, Grady.


“We go to a lot of fall festivals every year,” Robinson said. “This is the first time we’ve been to the Moonshine Festival. It’s pretty cool.”


She added that they “couldn’t ask for better weather.”


Pirkle, too, was glad for Sunday’s sunny skies.


“The weather had us scared to death Friday and Saturday morning,” Pirkle said.


“But it turned out perfect Sunday ... weather is a big, big factor for this [festival].”


Pirkle, who has been involved with the festival since its beginning, said the event’s allure lies in the county’s past.


“It’s all about the history,” Pirkle said.


“Lots of people frowned on it when we first started calling it the Moonshine Festival. They thought we were trying to glorify a bunch of outlaws, but that’s not the way it is.”


Pirkle said the skilled drivers that emerged from the Prohibition era years in north Georgia’s backwoods birthed NASCAR, “one of the biggest spectator sports in the country.”


“That rich history is what brings people out,” he said.