"The Dukes of Hazzard" raced off television screens 35 years ago, but love for the action-packed show and its cast drew thousands of fans to Hazzard Fest, held Friday and Saturday at the Greene County fairgrounds.
Some of the show’s central characters made personal appearances, including Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke; and Tom Wopat, who portrayed Luke Duke.
Numerous other personalities were also booked for Hazzard Fest, including Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox, the stars of another long-running television hit, "CHiPs."
National recording acts like Ricky Skaggs and Little Texas provided musical entertainment. Professional wrestling greats were also on hand, including Ricky Morton and Larry Gibson, winners of tag team titles as “The Rock ’N Roll Express.” Morton operates the School of Morton in Chuckey for aspiring wrestlers.
Loyal fans waited in line for up to three hours to meet Bach and get an autographed photo or picture. Others making appearances at Hazzard Fest were also sought out by fans. They weren’t disappointed.
Reality show personalities like “Turtleman,” from the Animal Planet network series “Call of the Wildman,” were happy to interact with fans. Ernie Brown Jr. broke out in a spontaneous dance with fan Aliyah Gibson. The Greeneville woman smiled ear to ear.
Gibson went to Hazzard Fest to meet characters like Brown with her grandmother, Brenda Beach.
“They’re all so friendly. They make you feel like they have known you all of their lives,” Beach said.
The fourth annual Hazzard Fest was held for the first time at the Greene County fairgrounds. Some fans drove hundreds of miles to attend, attesting to the staying power of the show.
“It’s just overwhelming. These are pretty dedicated fans,” promoter Justin Thurman said.
Hazzard Fest crowds continue to grow. The first event was held in Johnson City, the second in Rogersville and the third last year at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap.
Wopat, as Lucas K. “Luke” Duke, was a central character in the series, along with Jon Schneider as cousin Bo Duke and Bach as cousin Daisy Duke. The rambunctious Duke boys were watched over by their Uncle Jessie, played by the late Denver Pyle, as they outwitted Hazzard County’s wiliest resident, Boss J.D. Hogg, and Sheriff Rosco B. Coltrane.
Viewers could count on a weekly car chase involving “General Lee,” the Dukes’ souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger, and the hapless sheriff and his deputies as the Dukes regularly foiled Boss Hogg’s money-making schemes.
Wopat is appreciative of the loyalty of fans who love the show, which ran from 1979 to 1985.
“It’s good, good. It’s always a pleasure,” Wopat said.
Byron Cherry played Coy Vance, another cousin who came to live with Uncle Jessie for one season while Wopat and Schneider were involved in a real-life contract dispute. Cherry has made appearances at each Hazzard Fest.
“It’s great. I can’t believe the turnout and it gets better every year,” he said.
Actor Kevin Sorbo is known as the star of the television show “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” one of the cast members of the TV show “Andromeda” and also as the star of Christian-inspired drama movies like “God’s Not Dead.”
He appears at other events similar to this past weekend’s Hazzard Fest, and was impressed with Saturday’s crowd. He also reaches out online with those who follow his work.
“I have a lot of fans all over the world,” Sorbo said.
Dressed in similar overalls and cap the late Denver Pyle wore portraying Uncle Jessie Duke, David Daniels keeps the character alive at events like Hazzard Fest.
“I enjoy it very much. We’re very busy and having a good time and meeting a lot of nice people,” Daniels said.
The Dukes of Hazzard has a big following overseas, he said. In addition to shows all over the U.S., Daniels said he has been approached to appear in England.
Daniels said the show’s focus was on family oriented entertainment. Despite some references to the Confederacy in character names, images and the General Lee, he said the show’s intent was always to convey a positive message.
“I don’t understand why it’s not back on TV. It’s just too much politics and too much crying on shoulders,” said Daniels, who lives in McMinn County.
James Best, who played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, passed away in 2015. Orbin Alley, dressed in the same type of uniform Best wore in the role, has appeared as the Coltrane character in many promotions connected to The Dukes of Hazzard.
“I’ve done it for 14 years. From my viewpoint, it’s getting better,” Alley said in terms of turnout at events like Hazzard Fest.
“The show was always good, clean fun,” the Virginia native said.
Alley has spent many years associating with cast members.
“It’s like family,” he said.
Christopher Hensel played Jeb Stuart Duke, a motorcycle motocross champion and Duke family member who appeared as a regular character in one season. Hensel now writes, produces and directs Christian-themed projects and enjoys attending events celebrating the show such as Hazzard Fest.
“I love it because it’s all about family, the Duke family. It’s stood the test of time and that’s what I write about, family faith-based movies,” he said.
Hensel said he “tries to put as much of the (Dukes of Hazzard) cast as I can” in his projects.
Cherry is cast in a movie filmed earlier this year by Hensel, “Salvage Yard ‘Shine’ Boys.”
“It’s just (about) God, family and country and doing the right thing, but doing it together,” Hensel said about his filmmaking philosophy.
Vendors did well at Hazzard Fest, selling merchandise connected to the personalities there and food items like barbecue. Johnboy’s BBQ, based in Oliver Springs, was doing a brisk business and catering to many of those who made appearances at the event.
“It’s wild, having so many celebrities come here and eating with me,” owner John Caddell said.
Well-known wrestlers also appeared at Hazzard Fest, including “The Rock ’N Roll Express.” Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson proudly displayed their World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame Rings.
Young wrestlers come to School of Morton to learn the subtleties of the science from the pros.
One of the most enthusiastic students is Kerry Morton, Ricky Morton’s son. Morton, 20, already competes at bouts across the country on the independent circuit.
“I’m a third-generation wrestler. I’m one of the top independent prospects in the business,” Morton confidently said. “I think everyone’s goal eventually is to get to The Main Event (WWE show) and Wrestlemania. My goal is just to live my dream out.”
So far, “It’s a dream come true,” he said.
Kerry Morton said many prospects come out of the School of Morton, which provided a series of wrestling matches in an outside ring for an enthusiastic Hazzard Fest crowd.
”What a turnout. This is one of a kind. This is amazing,” Kerry Morton said.
Promoter Thurman liked what he saw this weekend and looks forward to future local Hazzard Fest events.
“We’ve definitely grown every year,” he said.