Dahlonega’s Gold Rush Days Festival kicks off Saturday

(Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

Dahlonega’s Gold Rush Days Festival, a weekend event in one of Georgia’s favorite mountain towns, kicks off tomorrow for its 67th year.

The Gold Rush Days Festival started in 1954 as a celebration of the city’s history, where the first major Gold Rush in the United States hit Dahlonega in 1829. In the mid-’50s, Dahlonega citizens gathered together to remember those who came before them and their town’s history.

Gold Rush volunteers set up the stage in Downtown Dahlonega, where local bands, singers and entertainers will perform over the weekend.(Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

In the 21st century, Dahlonega’s Gold Rush Days Festival is a massive event that draws tens of thousands to the region for a weekend of arts and crafts vendors, live music, food, shopping, games, dancing, competition and community togetherness.

Some of the festival’s events include the coronation of the Gold Rush king and queen, a beard-growing competition, hog calling, an old-time fashion show, cloggers and a magic show by Piedmont University professor Henry “Doc” Johnson.

The event, organized by the Gold Rush Days Festival Inc., (previously known as the Dahlonega Jaycees), is one of the largest events in Northeast Georgia.

The festival has been named one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southern Tourism Board, and the organizers expect to see “well over” 100,000 people attend over the course of the weekend. And all the money raised by the organizers goes back into the community through charity.

Gold Rush Days organizers (from left to right) Kim Harbert, Melissa Walton, Thomas Odom, Dathan Harbert and Mallory Odom have been planning this year’s festival for over a year after 2020’s festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

“The money that we raise through the selling of booth spaces, parade entries and our commemorative t-shirt sales, all of [that] money is returned back to the community,” Dathan Harbert, Gold Rush Days Inc. Treasurer says. The Gold Rush Days Festival Inc. gives back with scholarships, education, Christmas gifts for struggling families and helping community members with rent, utilities, mortgage and car troubles during tough times.

Other local organizations operate parking at the event, where parking fees support other area-based charities. The event is also a huge money-maker for local restaurants and businesses, who are prepared for their busiest weekend of the year.

The event, as a whole, is to keep Dahlonega’s community strong. Promoting tourism to bring revenue to the city and donating to local charities may seem like the biggest part of keeping Dahlonega charming, but the community relationships that thrive during the event are the lifeblood of the city.

Downtown Dahlonega will be brimming with festival-goers during the town’s signature Gold Rush event Oct. 16 & 17. (Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

Harbert says that the best part of Gold Rush Days is seeing so many people, himself included, spend time with their loved ones.

“It’s like a big family reunion in-the-streets kind of thing,” Harbert says. “Everybody’s out and about, everybody’s happy, everybody’s having a good time. I run into so many people, and that’s the fun part. You’ll see families literally having get-togethers in the street.”

If you’re still not convinced that Dahlonega’s biggest event is worth your time, Harbert says that just visiting the area for shops, wineries, gold mining museums and tours will make you fall for one of Georgia’s gems.

“The town of Dahlonega is beautiful, and even if we weren’t having an event, there would be something to offer,” Harbert says “[…] There’s lots to do here. If anything, just come back to Dahlonega during Gold Rush to fall in love with the town again.”

Gold Rush runs from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, October 16 and 17. Here’s a list of scheduled events:

Saturday, October 16th
8:00 am Gold Rush 5K sponsored by the Dahlonega Rotary
9:00 am Festival opens
10:00 am Beard Growing Contest and Hog Calling
10:30 am Kelli’s School of Dance and Conservatory
11:00 am Nealy Webster
11:30 am Old Time Fashion Show
12:00 pm The Raven Welch Band
1:15 pm GA Pick and Bow
2:00 pm King and Queen Coronation
2:15 pm Doc Johnson’s Magic Show
3:00 pm Gold Rush Parade
4:30 pm Radford Windham and Step Back Cadillac

Sunday, October 17th
9:00 am Festival opens
9:30 am Chuck Bell
10:45 am Ryan Little Eagle
11:30 am Cross-cut saw competition
12:30 pm Doc Johnson’s Magic Show
1:15 pm Synergy Cloggers
2:30 pm Out of the Blue
3:30 pm Arm Wrestling Tournament (weigh-in from 12:00 – 2:00 pm) – $25 entry fee per arm. Cash only.

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