It was the first weekend of June, way back in 1994 - the summer before I started high school. I remember being in downtown Cumberland the night before the festival began, and it was absolutely packed. Cars everywhere, people setting up booths - it was an overwhelming success.
Ditto for the next year, when the Tri-Cities were once again flooded with visitors.
Since then? Not so much.
The 13th annual Grand Reunion was held last weekend. You're forgiven if you didn't know - it might've been hard to tell unless you happened upon the one tiny stretch of Main Street that was blocked off.
Please understand that this is not at all a criticism of the reunion planners. The committee, headed by Heather Sergent and David C. Dixon, did a fantastic job. In all honesty, they inherited a run-down mess from the previous planners, and they should be commended for their hard work.
That said, I've thought long and hard about what could be done to make next year's reunion more like the reunions of old.
The most obvious problem, I would think, is green and made of paper. A shortage of money will inevitably lead to a less-than-stellar event.
According to Sergent, the committee's account had less than $700 in it when she and Dixon were chosen as the committee's vice-president and president, respectively, in January.
By way of contrast, the Poke Sallet Festival, which is operated by the county, was allotted a budget of $20,000 in March, with an additional $4,500 later added for an air show, according to Enterprise reports.
You don't have to be a math major to see what a huge difference that is.
Money is an obvious problem, and it has an obvious solution: Cumberland doesn't need two festivals a month apart.
Merriam-Webster's Web site defines superfluous as “exceeding what is sufficient or necessary; not needed.” Sounds like the Black Bear Festival to me.
Now, I'm not against the black bears. If people want to go up to the park and see them, that's fine by me.
But I don't see a big influx of tourists or former residents coming to look at bears. It doesn't appear that black bears will be the cash cow (or bear, as the case may be) that some have anticipated. Bear-watching is a nice community-building foundation for locals, but that's about all it is - and probably about all it ever will be.
There's no need to abandon the bears altogether, though. Have a day of black bear-related events at Kingdom Come State Park in conjunction with the Grand Reunion.
Combining the two events would, of course, involve working together, and that sometimes seems to be a ridiculously tricky concept in Harlan County - and especially in the Tri-Cities. One doesn't have to look any further than the three little governments struggling to stay afloat to see that we don't always want to do the most sensible thing.
The bottom line is this: Pikeville, with its much larger population and tax base, pours all its efforts and resources into Hillbilly Days once a year.
To try to stretch two festivals out of so little money only ensures that both will be subpar.
The lack of money for the reunion, in turn, results in a huge lack of activities.
The activity highlights of this year's reunion included a circus, a Cumberland High School alumni football game and an event for kids. All fine and good, but there could be more.
What about some concerts? What about some fireworks? What about ... almost anything else?
The alumni game has real potential. It's very inexpensive and not that difficult to put together. One suggestion, however: Maybe make it an alumni basketball game next year. Basketball requires fewer players at a time, and it's easier on the body. Just a thought.
The final problem can be combatted by fixing the first two: The reunion needs more vendors.
For now, this is something of a Catch-22. Vendors stay away because no one comes out - and no one comes out because there are so few vendors.
I'm not really talking about commercial vendors (i.e., the people who sell T-shirts, etc.), because I could take or leave them - and I suspect that many others feel the same way. What I really miss are the church groups and school organizations selling hot dogs and that kind of thing.
So how ‘bout it, Grand Reunion planners? How ‘bout it, tourism commission poobahs? Can we put our heads together and come up with one great product?
Or will an unwillingness/inability to work together mean the end of another good thing in Harlan County?
Jarrod Sherman can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com