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Ashland's Festival of Trees and Trains works with movie theme this year

Nov. 14, 2012 @ 09:54 PM

ASHLAND -- For months, Rhonda Ballengee and her elves have been plotting and planning and making lists and checking them twice.

This weekend, the dozens of volunteers get to stand back for a moment in the 1931-built Paramount Arts Center and watch families and friends soak in the timeless magic of Christmas.

Organized by the Paramount Woman's Association, the 28th annual Festival of Trees and Trains takes over practically every inch of the historic theater with 100 decorated Christmas trees, and a G-model railroad that snakes through and over balcony on bridges and trestles.

With a movie-theme of "A Paramount Holiday On Screen," the festival kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, and runs daily through Sunday, Nov. 25 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) with the sounds, smells and sights of the Christmas season.

Daily hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with special hours for Sundays (after church hours) and Thanksgiving evening hours (4 to 9).

There are also special days including a Mad Hatter Tea Party from noon to 2 p.m. and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, on stage at the Paramount. Tickets are $12 (seating limited, advance registration suggested). Prizes for the maddest hat.

There's a special Kids Interactive Day on Wednesday, Nov. 21, with face painting, balloons and more, and Cocoa with Santa and a Santa's Workshop on both Saturdays.

Admission is a $5 donation which goes to the Paramount's Youth Education Program.

Last year, the event raised about $40,000 for the program, which helps subsidize national touring shows for area youth, as well as funding the Paramount Players, which is prepping for the Christmas production, "Miracle on 34th Street" on Dec. 6-8.

The Players will share a bit of that classic Christmas production from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday.

Ballengee, the chairperson of the Paramount Woman's Association committee of about 25 folks who organize the fest, said the movie theme is a natural springboard for imaginations.

"Last year we had the story book theme that went really well and so we wanted a theme that would just let decorator's imaginations run wild."

It only took a glance around the Paramount to see that imaginations were in full bloom as decorators ran wild with their favorite movies.

Ballengee hand-built a giant Mad Hatter hat and mushrooms for an "Alice in Wonderland" tree, while other trees celebrated films and Christmas classics new and old from "Elf" to "Miracle on 34th Street."

"I want people to understand that when you go in a museum you know an artist did that work and when you step in here these are artistically-designed and a lot of one-of-a-kind handmade trees that you just can't buy at Hobby Lobby," she said. "Come expecting museum-quality trees."

The festival features full size professionally decorated trees as well as community decorated trees and some mini trees as well that outline the balcony.

Trees will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the youth education program. New this year, the festival will also be selling $1 raffle tickets for a Frosty-themed raffle tree, Ballengee said.

Earlier this week, Brent Baker, a former Lazarus decorator whose Christmas tradition has been decorating 18 Christmas trees at his home, brought his talents to the Paramount where he was putting the finishing touches on an exquisite "Miracle on 34th Street" tree complete with a street lamp tree topper and unique ornaments emblazoned with the sights of New York City.

"To me the fun is that it is a blank canvas," Baker said. "I'll decorate on the fly because I can see in my mind what I want to go where."

Veteran decorator Jim Shope, who decorated three trees, "Ice Castles," "Little House on the Prairie" and a John Wayne tree, got a little assistance putting a final touch on his tree, "The Big Trail," an homage to the late Western star John Wayne, named after Wayne's first movie from 1930.

Complete with a mini chuckwagon piled high with blankets, cookware, a lantern and provender, and surrounded by a stone firepit, the tree is packed with everything from a handmade horse and buggy to glossy stills from Wayne's many movies.

"One of the highlights was the other day the young men from the Ramey-Estep School were here and they asked what the tree was going to be and they knew John Wayne immediately and they were like 'Well, do you have a tumbleweed?' Of all the things I had thought of, I hadn't thought of a tumbleweed," Shope said with a laugh.

So they found some wire and some hay and the boys balled up a tumbleweed beside the wagon.

A collector of vintage Christmas items, Shope said the festival unlocks that magic of Christmas -- something that never goes out of style.

"It is the magic of it and I think with all the computers and technology the kids need this. It is not about how many gifts you get but it is about all the memories that you can take with you," Shope said. "And something like this creates a lot of memories."

Above the tree line so to speak, the 54-foot-long G-model railroad takes up a good portion of the balcony with a series of elaborate trestles and bridges curving out high over the stairs enabling folks to walk underneath the mountainside of trains as they rumble around through handmade villages.

Former festival chairperson and one of the organizers of the trains, Christy Reaves, said the Paramount volunteers have created a truly unique attraction.

"For people who've never seen the train, there is nothing like it in the country," Reaves said. "From how it is set up to how you are interactive underneath the train, there is really nothing like it. If they can spare a $5 donation to the Paramount then they can see one of the biggest temporary layouts ever done."

Reaves said their team, which includes a couple master carpenters, started loading and setting up the train on Thursday.

By Tuesday, the trains were running and volunteers were working on completing the two new buildings, a bakery and school house that will be located along a trolley stop that runs in front of a ski resort with a working ski lift taking skiers to the top of a mini mountain.

"It's like a thousand-piece puzzle -- everything is matched, marked and labeled with a Sharpie," Reaves said. "It is a thrill for everybody. These guys are thrilled to bring it, and we're excited for the public to get to see it."

Although the festival takes the better part of a year to plan and a solid week of set up (not to mention tear down time), Reaves said there is no place like the Paramount where they see families and friends strolling into their magical land.

"I think my favorite part is just when time stands still," Reaves said. "When people come in here, if they've never been, they think of it just as coming into an arena or somewhere for a trade show, but you come in and you have the choir singing and all the people quietly milling about and you can get a hot cocoa and eat popcorn with your kid and it's just family time and you don't have to go anywhere. There's no daylight in here, and you don't even care what time it is."

All aboard the Festival of Trees and Trains

The 28th annual Festival of Trees and Trains has started at the Paramount Arts Center, 1300 Winchester Ave., Ashland, with a theme of "A Paramount Holiday on Screen."

Here's a closer look at the schedule:

KIDS DAY: Kids Interactive Day: Wednesday, Nov. 21 with face painting, balloons and more.

The Mad Hatter Tea Party: From noon to 2 p.m. and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, on stage at the Paramount. Tickets are $12.

GIFT SHOP: Open to public, no festival admission necessary. Open daily through Sunday, Nov. 25.

ON THE WEB go online at www.pacfestival.com

Saturday, Nov. 17

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens/Ticket Booth

10 a.m. - Noon -- "Miracle on 34th Street" by Paramount Players

Noon - 3 p.m. -- Cocoa With Santa & Workshop

5 p.m. -- Heritage Hoedowners

6 p.m. -- Wizard's of Dance

7 p.m. -- Katie Owens and Levi Ausmus

8 p.m. -- Bridget Reynolds

Sunday, Nov. 18

Noon - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

1 p.m. -- Ashland Regional Youth Ballet

2 p.m. -- Isaac Stevens

3 p.m. -- River Magic Chorus

4 p.m. -- Kings Way Church

5 p.m. -- Kelly's Bridge Band

6 p.m. -- Advance Methodist Hand Bell Choir

7 p.m. -- Tammy Jo's Studio and River Cities Dance Company

8 p.m. -- International Folklanders

Monday, Nov. 19

9 a.m. 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

Noon -- Mad Hatter Tea Party

2:30 p.m. -- Mad Hatter Tea Party

6 p.m. -- C K Alumni Band

7 p.m. -- Katie Owens and Levi Ausmus

8 p.m. -- Roger Smith

Tuesday, Nov. 20

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Family Day Admission $10/ Family Day

6 p.m. -- Ashland Christmas Parade

Wednesday, Nov. 21

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Kids Interactive Day on Stage, Children's Trains, Face painting, Balloons & More

Thursday, Nov. 22

4 p.m. - 9 p.m. -- Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, Nov. 23

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

5 p.m. -- Bronson Bush & Tom Stephens

6 p.m. -- John Thornsberry

7 p.m. -- Michael Garvin & Kentucky Memories

8 p.m. -- Sister Redden Hair

Saturday, Nov. 24

9 a.m. - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

Noon - 3 p.m. -- Cocoa With Santa & Workshop

5 p.m. -- Huntington Harmonica Club

6 p.m. -- Wurtland Church of God Choir

7 p.m. -- Bronson Bush

8 p.m. -- Tim Preston and Pink Slip

Sunday, Nov. 25

Noon - 9 p.m. -- Festival Opens

1 p.m. -- Paramount Youth Choir

2 p.m. -- Ashland Regional Dance Theater

3 p.m. -- Rock Hill High School Chorus

4 p.m. -- Mycah & David Pemberton

5 p.m. -- West Portsmouth High School Choir

6 p.m. -- Steve Free

7 p.m. -- Raffle Drawings & Awards Announced

7 p.m. -- Ritch Collins

8 p.m. -- Phillip Osborne

9 p.m. -- Festival Closes