The Greene County Partnership’s annual Iris Festival was created in 1994 and has become the community’s major festival of the year, featuring artists, craftsmen, merchants, food vendors and entertainers from across the country.
The festival is designed to offer entertaining local and regional talent, and is promoted as a juried arts/crafts festival. As a juried festival, participating artists and craftsmen must meet certain criteria and can only sell handmade items. All applications are reviewed by a committee, which studies submitted photographs and information before accepting or denying each applicant. This insures that all items are handmade and reduces duplication of arts and crafts.
More than 160 crafters and merchants line the streets and fill the parking lots of the festival area, some of which demonstrate arts like wheel-thrown pottery, crocheting and woodworking. Many of the crafters provide samples like homemade apple butter and jellies to guests during the event.
The festival traditionally draws more than 25,000 spectators who enjoy the aromas and tastes of dozens of delicacies from the festival's Food Court. Culinary delights have spanned the globe -- from China to Greece, with such taste-tempting items as gyros, stir-fry, bloomin' onions and spiral spuds. Booths feature vendors specializing in down-home favorites like ice cream, fudge, fresh-squeezed lemonade and snow cones.
Visitors also are drawn to the Iris Festival's entertainment and dance stages. The entertainment stage features blues, gospel, bluegrass and country music performers during the two-day event, and the dance stage is a crowd pleaser at the opposite end of the festival area, featuring a varied lineup of performances, including jazz and tap, square dancing, line dancing and clogging.
The festival’s central area is surrounded by history and enhanced by Richland Creek which is lined with native Iris and is always a draw for the younger generation on hot festival days. On each of the four corners in the heart of the festival are monuments to Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States. A statue of Andrew Johnson, his early home, a replica of his birthplace and the Andrew Johnson Visitor Center are featured attractions.
The Annual Woodcarving Show is held each year in conjunction with the festival, attracting noted woodcarvers from across the southeast. The talented craftsmen not only show and sell their wares, but also compete for prizes during the weekend.
The festival also features the Miss Iris Festival Pageant which is held in the lecture hall of Greeneville High School.
Hundreds of volunteers are involved in making the festival a success. Not only do they provide the manpower for the information booths, soft drink booths and festival memorabilia sales, they assist with the extensive decorating efforts that take place the day and evening before the festival. Thousands of yards of gossamer and ribbons enhance the stages, railways and light poles in the downtown area. Participating vendors often comment that they had never participated in a festival where so much effort is expended in decorating and making the event so attractive.