Old Oak Festival returns to Tusculum University with many new activities to build on traditional favorites

GREENEVILLE – Fun for the whole family will abound at the Old Oak Festival at Tusculum University, with many new activities this year complementing traditional favorites that have made this annual event on the gorgeous and historic campus a can’t-miss for people in the region.

The Old Oak Festival will feature a nice blend of musicians Saturday and a gospel music focus on Sunday.

The festival will take place throughout the campus Saturday, April 22, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, April 23, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Highlights include about 20 food vendors and more than 50 other vendors that will sell and show a wide variety of attractive items. A delightful selection of musicians will grace the stage, and a diverse set of writers will be pleased to discuss their craft with festival guests.

New activities this year include a model train show, sword fighting, axe throwing and an outdoor painting event featuring the iconic Old Oak Tree, after which the festival is named.

“That just scratches the surface,” said Kim Kidwell, Tusculum’s associate vice president of institutional advancement. “Guests will enjoy several activities that cater to their interests and generate memories that will last a lifetime. We are thrilled to connect with the community on the grounds of Tennessee’s first higher education institution, build on the many wonderful relationships we have established and meet new friends.”

The festival is a spring tradition at Tusculum and has become a popular time for many of the university’s alumni to return to campus. The campus is also abuzz with community members who enjoy strolling the pedestrian-friendly campus. They peruse the wares at the vendors’ booths, eat delicious food, sit it in the shade listening to great music and converse with local writers on Authors’ Row. They also have an opportunity to listen to creative writers read their works.

A wide array of vendors will show and sell items at the Old Oak Festival.

In 2022, festival organizers added the Old Oak Show & Shine car show to the Saturday roster, enabling owners to proudly display their classic vehicles and enthusiasts to examine them to their heart’s content. The car show is back this year, and its primary location has been moved to the front of Annie Hogan Byrd Fine Arts Center.

In a continuing effort to provide the highest level of enjoyment for guests, Tusculum family members are always exploring additional activities that might interest guests.

Junior Hughston Burnheimer, who is majoring in museum studies, has organized the model train exhibit, which will be held in the Thomas J. Garland Library from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. The Kingsport Model Train Project and the Bulls Gap Museum are coming to Tusculum to help him with the exhibit. He said the passenger and freight trains will represent ones that ran through East Tennessee.

“Most of it will either be the Southern, which ran through Greeneville and from Bristol to Knoxville, or the Clinchfield, which ran from Erwin to Kingsport,” Burnheimer said. “The railroad is still present today, but people might not understand how big it used to be and how it literally shaped communities. Most of the communities around here are what they are because that is where the trains ran.”

The Old Oak Festival is a family-friendly event.

Senior Eirik Dahlgren, who is majoring in history and museum studies, has put together the sword fighting, which will be held in an area between the Tusculum Arch and Virginia Hall from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Participants will conduct demonstrations of sparring based on historic manuals to replicate the martial arts they depict. Dahlgren refers to it as a scholarly interpretative discipline.

The audience will receive explanations about what they are seeing and be able to participate in brief lessons that do not include combat.

“This activity will help people better understand some of the heritage of our region,” Dahlgren said. “Our main goal is for people to learn about what those who participate in this activity do and potentially develop an interest or at least have it in the sphere of things they are aware of because historic European martial arts is a relatively new thing. Many of the manuals we study were only discovered only about 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a very untapped area of historic scholarship.”

Bill Bledsoe, assistant professor of art and design, will lead the painting of the Old Oak Tree at 1 p.m. Sunday. The tree is estimated to be 250-300 years old and is located next to the Old College building. It measures 273 inches in circumference and is 102 feet high, with a 124-foot average spread. The tree is one of the most prominent landmarks on campus.

Festival guests will be able to attend the Old Oak Show & Shine on the festival grounds.

The painting activity will be in the en plen air style, meaning participants will create their work outdoors. It builds on the success of the sold-out Couples Painting Night in February in which Bledsoe guided participants to paint a scene from Paris. The cost to participate in this activity is $20, with cash payment at the painting site and the number of participants limited to 20.

“The Old Oak Tree is such a beloved part of the Tusculum campus, and the festival plays an important role in bringing the community and university together,” Bledsoe said. “With that in mind, conducting an en plen air painting is a perfect opportunity to highlight the relationship between the two. Participants will develop a more complete understanding of what makes the Old Oak Tree so special as it sprouts its leaves again and provides another year of beauty.”

In addition, Bledsoe will have on display at this event a commemorative poster of this year’s festival.

Those who want further entertainment on Saturday can remain on campus after the festival concludes for the day and attend the “5 X 10 Plays” in the Behan Arena Theatre on the lower level of Annie Hogan Byrd Fine Arts Center. Another performance of the “5 X 10 Plays” will be held Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Old Oak Festival has become a popular event for Tusculum alumni to attend.

This event, presented by Theatre-at-Tusculum in association with the university’s English and Languages Department contains five plays that last about 10 minutes each. The plays provide a mix styles and tones, enabling the audience to experience the diversity of writing, directing and acting talent in the production.

Tickets for both days are $15 for anyone 13-59, $12 for those 60 and older and $5 for children 12 and younger and can be purchased at https://arts.tusculum.edu/.

Festival sponsors to date are Eastman Credit Union, Imerys and Premium Waters. Any organization or individual interested in becoming a sponsor can call Kidwell at 423-636-7303.

Admission to the festival is free, and most activities have no charge. To see the full schedule and learn more about the festival, please visit https://site.tusculum.edu/old-oak-festival/. Additional information about the university is available at www.tusculum.edu.