Popular eastern Kentucky festival begins Thursday
Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023
By Joe Asher
The 68th Annual Poke Sallet Festival is set to kick off in downtown Harlan on June 1, bringing several days of fun, food, live entertainment, vendors and multiple attractions for all ages.
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Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley provided a preview of this year’s festivities.
“There are a lot of activities planned this year,” Mosley said. “We’ve got a lot of music booked for the three days.”
There are activities taking place even before the festival officially begins.
“Everything kicks off on Tuesday, May 30, with the Miss Harlan County Pageant,” Mosley said. “It will be at Harlan High School this year. I think there are about a dozen high school ladies who will be competing for the Miss Harlan County title and scholarship money.”
On Wednesday, May 31, a treat for the younger folks is on tap.
“4H Kid’s Day will take place in Huff Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Mosley said. “They’ve got a lot of stuff planned. It’s a really great event that brings out a lot of people to kick off the festival.”
Later that evening, more preliminary activities will be available for those chomping at the bit to get their festival experience underway.
“Wednesday night, the carnival will open, I anticipate at around 5 p.m.,” Mosley said.
The carnival section of the festival is known to include all sorts of carnival rides and activities for the delight of the young and the young at heart.
The Poke Sallet Festival officially kicks off on Thursday, June 1, with vendors spending the first part of the day getting set up and ready to roll.
“The festival gets underway at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday,” Mosley said. “For the last 11 years or so, we’ve done Contemporary Christian music on Thursday night. We’re going to continue that this year.”
Contemporary Christian artist Stephen McWhirter will headline Thursday night’s live entertainment.
“He was a crystal meth addict who found God, recovered and is now using music to share his testimony about overcoming substance abuse issues,” Mosley said. “We’re trying to build the night around overcoming, having hope, and trying to get people who are addicted or are in recovery to come and share their stories and experiences.”
Mosley said he hopes people come away inspired by the evening’s message.
“That’s our goal for that evening, is to try and let those testimonies be on display so it gives people inspiration and shows that there is a higher power that can get us through these things,” he said.
Friday, June 2, will see the festival getting into full swing.
“Friday is the first full day,” Mosley said. “The Civic Center will be open with the arts and crafters inside, and of course, all the vendors will be open.”
Live entertainment will be onstage throughout the day, beginning at noon with the classic rock band Midnight Rider.
“We’ve got music scheduled all day Friday,” Mosley said. “Friday night, we’ve got a killer Journey tribute band.”
The Journey tribute band Resurrection is slated to headline Friday.
“They’re based out of Nashville,” Mosley said. “They’re nationally renowned. They’ve been all over. I saw where they were in Buffalo, New York, a few nights ago. They were in Lexington back in April. They’ve been all over.”
Mosley noted Resurrection features a new lead vocalist.
“I was joking with some folks the other night that they sound more like Journey than Journey,” Mosley joked. “They’re impressive…This is something I think will be a big hit.”
On Saturday, June 3, the festival will feature a full slate of attractions.
“Of course, on Saturday, the Civic Center will be open, vendors will be open, and there will be music all day,” Mosley said. “We have the Gospel stage lineup set. We’re having the Bluegrass stage again this year. It will be at the gazebo on the courthouse lawn.”
The Gospel stage will be set up beneath a tent at the Harlan Center Plaza as in previous years, with performances beginning at noon and going until 8 p.m. Performers will include Nikki & Chip Headly, Lawana Blevins, and headliners Griffith and Company.
Mosley said three bands will perform two sets each on the Bluegrass stage.
“Pine Mountain Grass, Cross Country Grass and Kentucky Just Us will perform on the Bluegrass stage,” Mosley said. “That’s from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday.”
Other events on the schedule for Saturday, June 3, include a car show on the courthouse square hosted by the Harlan County Christian School and a pet show sponsored by Harlan County Friends of the Shelter and Tri-city Paws.
An entertainer is headlining the Poke Sallet Festival many will be familiar with due to the television program American Idol.
“We’ll have Noah Thompson on Saturday night,” Mosley said. “He won American Idol last year. He’s from Louisa, Kentucky, he had a great run through the American Idol process. He was a carpenter for Addiction Recovery Care and did a lot of work on their centers. He’s originally from Louisa. He’s a Kentucky boy doing well. He’s written some songs and has been in Nashville recording. We’re excited to have him here in Harlan County to headline the festival.”
Mosley noted the food vendors are a big part of every Poke Sallet Festival, and this year is no different.
“I think it’s going to be one of the most diverse food lineups we’ve ever seen,” Mosley said. “We’ll have typical festival foods like cheeseburgers, polish dogs, corn dogs, funnel cake and things like that. But, if like deep-fried snacks, that’s going to be available. There’s going to be a vendor making mini donuts. We have a group called Tortilla Junction, they do things like tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and chimichangas. We’ll have a hibachi vendor this year. That’s new.”
Also available will be snow cones, lemonade, soft drinks, and an assortment of desserts.
Mosley said other events in the planning stage will be announced as they are confirmed.
For further information and updates, go to the Poke Sallet Festival Facebook page or https://www.pokesalletfestival.com.