Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival

The Story Behind the Annual Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival

The annual Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival brings some of music’s most successful songwriters to downtown Dunlap each summer. Dunlap’s own Cody McCarver partners with the executive director of the Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce, Janis Adams Kyser, to make the event happen. The result is music to our ears!

One of the hottest special events along the Sequatchie Valley National Scenic Byway, the festival draws visitors from all over the country. Big names in the music industry like Tony Stampley, who wrote some of Hank Williams Jr.’s greatest hits, will take the stage in downtown Dunlap. Meanwhile, the downtown streets close to accommodate the festival’s many vendors and other activities. The family-friendly event is happening on Saturday, June 22, 2024, and here’s why you shouldn’t miss it:

How it All Began

The annual Songwriters Festival in Dunlap, TN.

When asked what her favorite aspect of the festival is, Janis was quick to answer.

“My favorite part is providing local citizens and the surrounding area with an opportunity to spend time face-to-face with nationally recognized songwriters. And, I get to work with Cody McCarver,” Janis said.

She calls McCarver the hardest-working man in Dunlap. He spent 12 years on the road with the country band Confederate Railroad. Now living back in his hometown, Cody continues to change the face of country music. He opened the region’s only recording studio, Studio Dunlap. Also, he played an influential part in luring the Inspirational Country Music Association (ICMA) to move its headquarters to Dunlap. Furthermore, he has a new album of outlaw gospel songs which earned him ten nominations at the 2024 ICMA awards ceremony. A single from his Small Town America album, “God Did That,” earned the 2024 Song of the Year award.

The album and its music videos were recorded and produced at Studio Dunlap. Cody writes all his songs, and his lyrics center on faith, love, and his small-town roots. Attendees at this year’s songwriter’s festival will hear Cody perform his latest music like his newest single, “Only Heaven.”

“Heaven’s a place that someday I hope to go.

I’m sure those streets of gold are better than these backroads. 

But for now, I know I’m standing on sacred ground,

because only Heaven’s better than a small town.”

“Only Heaven” by Cody McCarver

Cody wrote “Only Heaven” with his hometown of Dunlap in mind. His success in the music business and his love of his Sequatchie Valley roots led to the formation of the Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival. With his vast network of friends from the music industry, Cody brings in successful songwriters for the annual festival. Additionally, Janis and her team at the Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce arrange the festival’s vendors and other activities. It’s a team effort and the songwriter’s festival has grown year after year.

2024 Lineup at the Downtown Historic Dunlap Songwriters Festival

Studio Dunlap
Photo courtesy of Studio Dunlap

Because downtown Dunlap offers 7 different stages, the Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival brings in numerous songwriters and can host multiple performances. These venues include Game Shack Cafe, The Dunlap Yard, The Dunlap Mercantile, and the Sequatchie Valley Brewing Company. Plus, the guitar mural outside Studio Dunlap will act as another stage.

Cody will be performing at the festival. Hear the stories behind his latest songs including “God Did That” which won Song of the Year at the 2024 ICMA awards. Plus, he has scheduled these headlining songwriters for this year’s event:

The 2024 songwriter lineup includes:

  • John Berry, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter. His 1990s mega-hits include “Your Love Amazes Me” and “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye”.
  • Tony Stampley, who wrote songs for some of classic country’s biggest stars like Hank Williams Jr., George Jones, John Anderson, and Travis Tritt. Songs such as “Whiskey on Ice,” “I’ve Been Down,” and 15 others were made famous by Williams Jr., but were written by Stampley.
  • Bernie Nelson, who wrote the Confederate Railroad hit “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Nelson worked with Cody’s former band as well as Randy Travis, Conway Twitty, Pam Tillis, John Anderson, and other country stars.

Guests at the Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival will hear exclusive stories about the songs. They will also enjoy hearing the writer sing the lyrics and meeting the people behind the hit songs.

More From the Songwriter’s Festival

Cody McCarver will be performing at the Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival.
Photo courtesy of Historic Downtown Dunlap Songwriters Festival

Craft and food vendors will fill the streets. Parking is available in the parking lot between the Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens Tri-County Bank parking lot.

This event is family-friendly and has activities that appeal to all interests. Beyond music and songwriting, attendees can craft custom hats at the Dunlap Mercantile’s hat bar. Also, try axe throwing, sponsored by Land Properties, and other activities.

Shop with local Sequatchie Valley vendors for handmade crafts, apparel, and other items. Then, indulge in delicious dishes like BBQ, Cajun food, Birria tacos, wings, hot dogs, and more.

Rubber Duck Race

Perhaps the most exciting addition to the festival for the kids is the Rubber Duck Race. Dropping from Coop’s Creek Bridge, 500 ducks will float for a quarter mile. The first three ducks to cross the finish will earn cash prizes. The Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce and the Dunlap Mercantile will begin selling ducks starting June 1. Jason Lewis Dunlap Supercenter is sponsoring the duck race.

Historic Downtown Dunlap Tour

Take the self-guided Historic Downtown Dunlap Walking & Driving Tour to discover the town’s heritage. Discover Dunlap’s oldest building, which today houses the Dunlap Mercantile. Also, learn the story behind the Chamber of Commerce’s building and many of the other historic buildings in the downtown district. Then, drive to the Dunlap Coke Ovens to learn about the area’s mining past.

Other Special Events in Dunlap

There are plenty of other special events in Dunlap too. So, as you plan your trip to the Sequatchie Valley, check the calendar for:

Click here for a comprehensive list of special events in the Sequatchie Valley.

Visiting the Sequatchie Valley National Scenic Byway

Cookie Jar Cafe in Dunlap, TN
Photo courtesy of The Cookie Jar Cafe

Dunlap is one example of the down-home fun waiting for Sequatchie Valley visitors. The town is home to some of the regions most interesting companies like Rolling Oak Distillery, Little Tail Farms, and Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch. The Sequatchie Valley National Scenic Byway is a 70-mile stretch that connects the valley’s small towns. From Pikeville to South Pittsburg, motorists can coast the byway and stop at each town along the way.

When asked about his favorite spots in the valley, Dunlap and Studio Dunlap were Cody’s first answers. He also mentioned favorite eateries like The Cookie Jar Cafe and The Dunlap Restaurant. Then, he elaborated on his love for the new byway.

“Every inch of it,” Cody answered when asked about his favorite points on the byway. “It’s beautiful. I catch myself being in a hurry, but when I take the time and go driving, I see that every inch of this valley is beautiful.”

Downtown Pikeville and Whitwell are two of Cody’s other favorite spots and he encourages travelers to choose the Sequatchie Valley when planning their next trip. Discover the region’s shopping, dining, history, and natural attractions by planning a trip to Tennessee’s Great Valley. You may find that the Sequatchie Valley is your new favorite destination!

Authored in Appalachia || Amy Morton


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