By Sherrie Norris
The Bethel Blast is just a few days away, but preparations are already underway with much work to be done before the crowd winds its way into Bethel on Thursday for the 15th annual event.
Among the biggest and best Independence Day celebrations for miles around, it all started as a 150th anniversary celebration for Bethel Baptist Church. Quickly evolving into a community outreach for a few hundred, it has since expanded each year to become an incredible event that now attracts between 3,000-4,000 people annually.
Continuing as a project of the church, which has experienced significant growing pains since the outreach began, Pastor Charlie Martin said in an earlier interview that it was originally designed to bring the people of the community together for fellowship. Now, however, it 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
Event director Carter Dishman, a faithful member and music leader at Bethel Baptist, explained how the celebration “doesn’t just happen,” but requires a lot of work for days prior to the event.
“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. 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.
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 near the food lines for those who wish to help offset 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.”
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, the stage is filled with some of the area’s best entertainers.
This year’s lineup includes Bryan Osbourne and the Ashe Mountain Boys, crowd favorite, Bethel Road, 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 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.”
Individuals and businesses wishing to donate to the cause may do so through Bethel Baptist Church (see contact information below.)
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. For more information, call the church at (828) 297-2694 or visit bethelbaptistchurch.us.
A Few Things to Remember if you are Going to Bethel for the July 4th Celebration:
*No smoking, alcohol or drugs
*No personal fireworks (including sparklers)
*No pets or bicycles
*Food service begins around 5:30; music at 6, fireworks at dark.
*Baked goods/desserts in disposable containers are needed and appreciated.
*There is no charge for the event, but donation boxes will be available near the food lines to help offset the costs.
*Bring your own chairs, canopies and small tents, if you desire.
*Outside food is permitted if you don’t want BBQ.
*Come with family and friends for an evening to remember!