Racks by the Tracks Festival was born in 2008 out of a passion for craft beer, barbecue ribs, music, and most importantly, philanthropy. Kanishka Biddanda saw a need in the community and decided to fulfill it. He owned the Kingsport Grocery Company in Downtown Kingsport where he served craft beer and quickly realized that the community did not know what it was. He wanted to plan a community event with an educational component on craft beer for a worthy cause. After becoming alarmed at the number of children in the Appalachian area that go hungry, Kanishka got connected with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and Racks by the Tracks Festival began.
In the festival’s first year, over 450 people came out to the old train station in Downtown Kingsport for craft beer and barbecue tasting. They raised money, canned food, and raised awareness for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. The only problem was that the organizers lost money, and they weren’t sure if they could afford to do it again. However, because of the huge outpouring of community support, Kanishka went back to his partners and lobbied to put on the festival the next year. In 2009, they planned for double the attendance, but to their surprise an incredible 2,000 people showed up for the festival, and they ran out of food and beer by 4pm. The 2010 festival was a phenomenal success with over 5,000 people in attendance, and the organizers were finally able to break even and support even more local non-profits.
In the festival’s 4th year, James Phillips came on board. He met Kanishka through a young professionals organization where they became friends, and realized that they each had unique talents that complemented each other.
By 2013, the festival was moved to the Kingsport Farmer’s Market because of the need for more space. Now, 15,000 people attend Racks, which is the maximum capacity for the Farmer’s Market area. The loyalty of the attendees is a huge reason for the success and growth of the festival. People attend from across a five state region and local guests often bring their family and friends into town for the event. Over 100 rooms are booked at local hotels from people attending the festival from out of town.
“The festival has turned into a destination event that people plan ahead of time to attend. A man living in Brazil schedules trips to visit family in Kingsport intentionally around our festival date,” Kanishka said.
Kanishka and James both had different “made it” moments. James realized the success of Racks whenever they met with Food City and Food City was interested in selling the festival tickets in all their stores across the region. Kanishka felt the success after the second year when the beer tasting tickets sold out… and then continued to sell out the next 7 years in a row. Tickets are in such high demand that sometimes you can find them on Craigslist for well over the ticket’s original price!
Kanishka referred to Racks as “the festival that could.” James and Kanishka organize Racks by the Tracks for nine months out of the year in addition to having separate full-time jobs. Planning and negotiations for the next year can happen as early as the week right after the festival takes place. Racks doesn’t have any staff members – it’s all run by volunteers. Because of the community’s dedicated support and love of the event, James and Kanishka are able to improve upon the festival each year – and it just continues to grow.
Racks by the Tracks shows community spirit in one way by the dedication to local non-profit organizations. Over the years, the festival has been able to raise money and awareness for several nonprofits, such as, the A man living in Brazil schedules trips to visit family in Kingsport intentionally around our festival date,”, the Kingsport Chamber, Keep Kingsport Beautiful, Relay for Life, Kingsport Rotary Sunrise, PEAK – Kingsport Young Professionals, the Kingsport Ballet, Girls, Inc., the Sullivan County Humane Society and most recently, the Boys & Girls Club. The festival also raised money for The Skin Cancer Foundation through the Racks by the Tracks SPF 10K and 5K races. Because of the increased risk of skin cancer for those who are active outdoors, the runners’ registration goes to support this cause. Dermatology Associates of Kingsport, Tennessee have been a big part of helping this race become one of the fastest growing races in the area.
“Racks is the original craft beer tasting festival, but I think we’ve endured because it is much more than just beer,” Kanishka said.
There is truly something for everyone at the Racks by the Tracks Festival. With the Kids Station, the SPF 10K and 5K races, the barbecue tasting, the wine and beer tastings, and the all-day concert, Racks provides a family-friendly environment for people of all ages to enjoy. Children can enjoy large inflatables and face painting at the Quantum Leap Kids Station. The SPF 10K and 5K races kick off the festival on that morning. It is the flattest and the fastest course in the region, making it the ideal race for runners to come and break their personal records. There are over 700 runners that participate, with over 100 of those runners participating in the Boss Hog. The Boss Hog is a unique challenge where runners run both the 10K and the 5K race.
Barbecue vendors are comprised of both restaurants and unaffiliated teams that compete for awards voted on by attendees. People vote for their favorites in various categories such as best ribs, best restaurant, best team, best wings, best side item, and best sauce. Bare Bones and Hokie Smokie are both restaurants that started out as teams at Racks by the Tracks. After competing successfully in the festival for years, they had a huge increase in catering requests that led them to expand into restaurants. The craft beer tasting has been so successful that breweries from Japan and Germany come in for the festival, and it’s the only tasting that they do in this region. Brewers from around the United States also make it a priority to come to Racks now, with many debuting special beers just for the festival.
This year’s festival will be held on May 20th. For the 10th anniversary, Racks fans can expect new and exciting twists on some of their festival favorites. The wine tasting will have a wider selection than ever before with over 20 varieties; including bubbly and sangria. This is thanks to the new title sponsor of the wine tasting, Barefoot Wine & Bubbly. Barefoot Wine & Bubbly is the largest wine brand in the world. They are also debuting a brand new wine called “Refresh” exclusively at the festival.
For this year’s concerts, there will be five musical acts instead of the usual four. They put together a line-up of some of the most loved bands from all over the region and a few festival favorites from previous years. Sawyer Brown, with over 50 chart-topping singles and several CMT and CMA awards, is the most decorated band to ever perform at Racks. Faithfully, the premier internationally touring Journey tribute band, will be there to perform their top hits. Webb Wilder will perform what is sure to be a true Rock ‘n’ Roll show, and local favorites Hundred Acres and Russell Clark will also be performing.
Additionally, there will be over 80 craft beers for tasting and over 20 barbecue vendors for judging. This year’s festival will also have over 12 different ciders to taste with flavors such as cotton candy and passion fruit. Johnson City Brewing will also be debuting a brand new beer to go along with their Racks exclusive Smoked BBQ Porter. In honor of the 10-year anniversary and the events location at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market, they are creating the Kingsport Clamato, a tomato cream ale which uses corn.
The festival may continue to expand and change, but one tradition remains the same. Every year, James and Kanishka wake up on the Sunday morning after the festival and meet at Food City. They each order two breakfast platters, discuss the previous day, and then head out to clean up the festival grounds. Afterwards, they go see a movie in theaters to relax after a year’s worth of hard work on Racks by the Tracks. They’ve definitely earned it.
“I’m amazed at how far the festival has come in the past 10 years, and we’re looking forward to the next 10 years,” said James.
They expressed their gratitude for their sponsors, the nonprofit organizations that are involved with the festival, Food City, the Downtown Kingsport Association, and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. However, they really wanted to share their appreciation to the community and the festival attendees. The public’s love for the event is what drives them to work so hard and continue making the festival bigger and better each year.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit RacksByTheTracks.com.