PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) -- The 43rd annual Hillbilly Days festival kicked off Wednesday in Pikeville, bringing food, fun and a little flare to the downtown area.
Preparations for the festival were underway as vendor booths and carnival rides took over the downtown landscape.
The full festival, which is a collaboration between the City of Pikeville, Pike County, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, will begin Thursday. The carnival, however, opened to the public Wednesday night at 6.
Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones said this festival is important to the area and its growth.
"This is the 43rd Hillbilly Days Festival. And I remember the first Hillbilly Days Parade; I stood over on Second Street with my dad and watched it. To see how the event transformed over that 43-year period, the impact it's had on the local community and the good that it's done for the Shriners' crippled children's hospital, it's just truly a wonderful event," Jones said.
He encouraged the community to join in on the festivities.
"We hope everyone can make it in. It's a one-of-a-kind festival. There will literally be people from all over the country, and some from different parts of the world, that will be here for the festival," said Jones.
City representatives are also hopeful because of the growth of past events, and said they hope to see the trend continue.
"We have thousands of people that come and enjoy our carnival each year. And it just keeps getting bigger and better, by what you can see around us," said Director of Tourism Jimmy Taylor.
As the festival kicks off, Pikeville Public Safety encourages festival-goers to exercise safety precautions. Which includes everything from vehicle safety to personal safety.
"First and foremost, take your time. Be really careful when you come into town, because obviously it's going to be congested. So, don't be in a big hurry," 911 Public Safety Director Paul Maynard said.
He said the downtown area will be closed to traffic, including Hambley Boulevard, from Huffman to Pike Street. He said Bypass Road and the cut-through areas will remain open.
Public Safety also encourages anyone carrying a purse to keep it close and anyone carrying a wallet to consider keeping it in their front pocket, to avoid any temptation for crime.
"Be aware of your surroundings. Don't put yourself in a bad position. Stay on the main paths. Don't be ducking in and out of alley ways and that type of thing," Maynard said.
He also said smart use of technology is a great way to stay safe during the festival. From taking a photo of your car to remember where you parked, to using the "Find My iPhone" feature, Maynard says there are many precautions you can take. He also stressed the importance of arriving with a charged battery.
"Take a quick pic of your child as you're coming to the festival. Because, if something happens and you are separated, we have the technology here that we can get the picture out to our responders," Maynard said. "We don't only have policemen out; we have firemen and emergency management folks as well. So, that gives us a lot of eyes to be able to look for your child."
Maynard said having conversations with your child and keeping them within eye contact at all times are also encouraged.
"You know, the festival is a great time every year and we just want people to come down, be safe and have a good time," said Maynard.
Hillbilly Days will continue through Saturday night.