To the Editor:
The Smoky Mountain Submarine Veterans, the Knoxville chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans, has had a booth and performed a Tolling of the Boats Ceremony at the Secret City Festival for the last 11 years. I was very disappointed with the festival this year (Celebrate Our Heroes weekend). It was difficult to deal with the committee in charge of the event; each was helpful but compartmentalized and hard to communicate with as many were volunteers that had day jobs. There were no invitations to planning meetings for participants to get a feel for the event, get emergency information, or face-to-face communication. The parks and recreation people who we normally were able to get help from did not have the information I have found so helpful in the past.
I liked the idea of a separate weekend for veterans, but it seemed to have the effect of diluting the festival and participation was diminished. The food vendors had small or no lines. One of the speakers was Ed Harrell, a survivor of the USS Indianapolis sinking in World War II. Rather than speak to bleachers full of people facing the building and the many people strolling by on the main walkway through the festival, he was on the opposite side of the stage with a limited audience. There were no bleachers as there have been every other year. I have heard Ed speak in the past; this was a loss for those who may have heard him in a denser population of festival attendees.
The festival had fences everywhere dividing it into many individual venues rather than an open festival style setup that encourages a mingling social interface that feeds a festival atmosphere. Like a shopping center that entices people in to see many stores and stroll the halls, a festival is a community function, not a single endpoint of interest.
There was poor information in advance on the layout of the festival and associated parking like festival maps in the past. When people came, there were limited informational signs or people to guide anyone on where to park or even where the entrance to the festival was. There were plenty of golf carts for transportation of people in the festival grounds, but there was no shuttle to any designated parking for those not able to walk the distance to the festival grounds.
The bands that were booked for the festival I have never heard of. I am sure that they are good for certain demographics but, at a festival that intends to attract people to a nostalgic remembrance of Oak Ridge and veterans, they seem to miss the mark. Three Dog Night, Village People, Charlie Daniels, and other oldies bands drew big crowds so I do not understand why that should be changed. Perhaps multiple stages at night would continue the festival environment that was fostered in past events.
I hope next weekend’s Celebrate Oak Ridge is better. But as for this last weekend’s Celebrate Our Heroes, please return to one weekend, don’t fence us in, don’t fix what is not broken, and leave the management of the parks to Oak Ridge Parks and Recreation.
Smoky Mountain Submarine Veterans Base Commander
US Submarine Veterans Central Region District Five Commander
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