Bethel Community Preparing for The Big Blast; 4,000 People Expected for July 4th Celebration

Published Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 9:37 am

An estimated 4,000 people make their way into the lovely Bethel Valley each year to celebrate Independence Day during one of the area’s fastest-growing annual events.

Sherrie Norris

What might once have been considered the best kept secret in the pastoral Bethel community west of Boone is a secret no more, but instead, is definitely among the biggest and best Independence Day celebrations for miles around.

The Bethel Blast is already underway with much work to be done before the crowd winds its way into Bethel next week for the 14th annual all-star extravaganza.

What started out as a 150th anniversary celebration for Bethel Baptist Church, and evolving into a community outreach for a few hundred, has expanded each year and has now grown into an incredible event that attracts about 4,000 people annually.

Continuing as a project of the church, which has experienced significant growing pains since the outreach began, Pastor Charlie Martin said it was originally designed to bring the people of the community together for fellowship, but now involves the opportunity to share God’s love and the gospel message with thousands during the evening — through feeding the crowd, providing family-friendly entertainment and a fireworks display comparable to none.

“Bethel Blast has served as a springboard for our church,” said Martin. “The name recognition, our identity and association with the one-day event has brought visitors into the church nearly every time the door opens. It has made a tremendous difference and has taken a small family reunion of sorts to a massive community event. We have people come from everywhere to be a part of Bethel Blast, and we love seeing those cars start rounding the curve into the valley that day.”

Behind the Scenes

Church member and music leader Carter Dishman who serves as event director, explained how the Fourth of July celebration doesn’t just happen, but requires a lot of work for days prior to the event.

Sean Ulmer helps pull it all together (literally) for the crowds coming to enjoy some great barbecue every year at the Bethel Blast.

“This is certainly a busy week in the life of our church, with everyone pitching in behind the scenes to get everything ready,” he said. “We have a great church family that comes together, and by now, everyone knows what needs to be done. The same volunteers have been doing their same job for years and they just get in there and do it. We had our first official planning meeting Sunday night, but of course, we’ve all been talking about it for months, now, so there are no surprises and everything works out like it should.”

It takes a lot of time and effort to cook over 2,000 pounds of pork, wash, dry, wrap and bake about 3,500 potatoes, and cook 80 gallons of (dry) beans, Dishman said, as well as cut up hundreds of watermelons, and make sure everything is picked up or delivered, including a mountain of coleslaw from Mike’s Inland, pallets of Coke products, tea and lemonade — and everything else needed for the big day.

Dishman’s mother prepares the beans, “a special recipe,” he said, which takes two-three days to get “just right,” 10 pots at a time.

Those same volunteers — 50-60 in number — are easily recognized on the big day in their bright red T shirts, welcoming guests with smiles and open arms, despite the fact that they probably haven’t slept much or rested adequately for days prior.

“There are many names we could mention,” Dishman said, “but one person we could not do without is Bill Sherwood, whose farm equipment is used to move and haul large pallets of drinks and other things we couldn’t move by hand. He’s one of the churches oldest members who does so much for us and we certainly appreciate his help.”

Dishman also credited the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and Watauga Rescue for being available for assistance, if needed. “Luckily, we haven’t had to use either one very much, but it’s good to know they are there if we need them.”


Free for All

There is no admission charge for the event, Dishman stressed, as everything is underwritten by the church. “We receive donations throughout the year, which is a great help, but we have this event in the budget and do it all out of love.”

There will also be donation containers located around the field for those who wish to help off-set the cost, “But, we don’t want anyone to feel pressured about giving anything,” he added.

Attendees who would like to help are welcomed to bring desserts “in disposable containers,” Dishman said. “Most everyone wants to contribute something, so this is a nice way to let everyone participate, and those homemade desserts are always awesome.”

Friends and family of all ages who gather to celebrate their independence in Bethel each year includes, from left, Farthing Hayes, Oren Dishman, Noah Cash Dishman and Mary Hayes

The “biggest night leading up to the main event” is always the night before, Dishman said, when the volunteers come together to prepare the melons, wash and wrap the potatoes in foil and get the meat ready for an all-night, slow-cook in the big cookers. “We have the best time and always enjoy being together. We’ll fix some hotdogs while we work and go over everything so there are no surprises the next day.”

And, by 5 p.m. on July 4, the crowds are filtering in, aided by volunteers helping with traffic control and parking; others are in place at the registration tables and serving lines ready to help everyone have a great time.

Registration is necessary, Dishman explained, as a way to keep track of attendees and to follow up with them afterward. “After all, reaching out to others is the main purpose of the event.” The information is also used for door prizes that are given out during the evening.

Between registration and nightfall when the sky lights up in an awesome fireworks display (handled this year by local pyrotechnics professionals,) the stage is filled with some of the area’s best entertainers.

This year’s lineup includes Amantha Mill, Bethel Road, High Country Boomers, and always closing out the event is Blue Country providing a patriotic set with the national anthem right before the 30-minute firework show begins.

And what about all that trash that is accumulated? Not a piece of paper or a single cup can be found on the grounds by noon the next day.

“We are fortunate to be able to use the Bethel Park, which is actually school property, so we make sure to take care of it and leave it like we found it,” Dishman said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this, otherwise.”

A promotional video currently available on the church’s website gives viewers a bird’s eye view of the event and the preparation leading up to it, but according to Dishman, it’s something you just have to experience for yourself.

In that video, Pastor Martin explains how people “from all walks of life” find their way to Bethel for the event, and literally from several states and foreign countries.

Dishman added that attendees can bring their own food and/or drinks to the park, if they wish to do so, as well as small tents/canopies and of course, everyone needs to bring their own chairs.

“We have a lot of churches and families who like to come there together as a group, and we encourage that, as well.”

Bethel Blast is always held on July 4, unless that day lands on a Sunday, which in that case, it takes place on the Saturday prior. “It’s very obvious that God’s hand is on this event,” said Dishman. “It’s well coordinated with great people working together and we have had rain only twice, which is a miracle in itself, considering how summer evenings can go.”

A Few Things to Remember if you are Going to Bethel for the July 4th Celebration:

*Please — No smoking, alcohol or drugs

*No personal fireworks (including sparklers)

*No pets or bicycles

* Baked goods/desserts in disposable containers are appreciated.

*There is no charge for the event, but donation boxes will be available at Bethel Park.

* Bring your own chairs, and if you choose to do so, you may bring your own food, canopies, small tents, etc.

*Come with family and friends for an evening to remember!

More About Bethel Baptist Church

Bethel Baptist Church is among the fastest growing congregations in the High Country and has outgrown its space, currently meeting on Sunday mornings in the adjacent Bethel Elementary School. An active fundraising effort is underway, with plans to break ground next spring for much-needed expansion.

“We are blessed, Dishman said, and have one of the hardest working, people- loving pastors a church could hope for. Charlie Martin is a great asset to our community and has been a supporter of Bethel Blast since he came here. God has been good to Bethel Baptist Church in many ways and we just want to share His love with everyone we can.”

Bethel Baptist Church is located at 123 Mountain Dale Road, Vilas, and meets at the adjacent Bethel School on Sunday mornings for an 11 a.m. service. For more information, call the church at (828) 297-2694 or visit

An amazing fireworks show closes out another successful event in the otherwise quiet Bethel community.

As a crowd favorite, the music group Bethel Road, featuring members of the Bethel Baptist Church choir and friends, are part of the entertainment lineup each year.

BiIl Sherwood and friends prove to be helpful in more ways than one during the Bethel Blast

Friends and volunteers Beth Dishman, Lynn Lloyd and Heather Ulmer, always have a smile and open arms for others during the Bethel Blast.

It takes a tractor load of watermelons to feed the crowd at Bethel every year.

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