Everybody's a hillbilly at state's second-largest festival

Hillbilly Days parade, April 21, 2018

PIKEVILLE, KENTUCKY (WDKY)-- Once a year, country folks come down out of the mountains to join the city slickers in Pikeville. They come to play music, dance and try out their vehicles out on pavement. They come from the hills and hollers to hoot and holler and show that it's slick to be a hick.

"You can tell I'm highly educated and cultured," says co-founder Howard Stratton, dressed in overalls covered with buttons and patches.

Another woman roams the streets, wearing a dress made out of fast food bags. She says it's from Saks (sacks, get it).

This is pure silliness and a sources of joy. Hillbilly Days started 42 years ago to support the Shriners Hospital for Children. The founders decided to turn an eastern Kentucky stereotype to their advantage.

Stratton says, "We raise a whole lot of money and have fun doing it. The children is what it's all about."

Each year, they present a check for $60,000 to $70,000 to the hospital in Lexington.

Stratton founded the festival along with Grady Kinney after seeing a hillbilly-themed Shriners unit in southeast Ohio, but he never dreamed it would grow to be the second-largest festival in the state. Only Louisville's Kentucky Derby Festival is bigger.

Grady died in 2000, but his son carries on the tradition.

"You can see what kind of time we have" says Jimmy Kinney. "If you come to Hillbilly Days and don't have a good time, look me up. I'll give your money back."

And you don't have to be from the hills to be a hillbilly.

The Shriners now have Hillbilly clans in almost every state as well as Canada. Charlie Chastain has come from Los Angeles six times.

"These are my kind of people," he says. His hillbilly clan in LA has 400 members.

It's three days of music and madness, drawing 150,000 people to a city with a population of 7,000. Maybe the best thing about Hillbilly Days is the lack of pretentiousness. People here don't know the meaning of the word. After all, when you drive moonshine stills down the street and wave underwear like a flag, you really can't worry about what the neighbors will think.

"We're just good old country people, honorable people," Stratton says. "At least most of try to be."


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