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Blue Ridge Marathon, Down by Downtown mean activity-filled weekend for Roanoke

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ROANOKE, Va. – This weekend marks one of the busiest tourism weekends of the year for the Star City, the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. With the marathon comes a weekend full of music as the Down by Downtown festival is in full swing as well. 

This year’s festival marks two major firsts for the event, a nationally known band coming to perform as part of the festival and the grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation to help lower the cost of tickets. 

The legendary jam band, moe., will be taking the stage at Elmwood Park on Saturday night. The performance is being called a major get for Roanoke, as the band has been touring for more than 20 years, performing all over the country and around the world.

Originally, the cost of an all-access pass that gets music lovers into all 12 venues and the moe. concert on Saturday night was $75. Thanks to a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, the price of that all-access pass has dropped to $50. 

Whether you plan to attend as many shows as possible, or are just looking for free performances, Pete Eshelman with the Roanoke Outside Foundation says this year’s lineup has something for everyone. 

“You can wander from different venues. If you walk into one and don’t like that music, walk around the corner and there’s going to be another one,” he says. “We have everything from a free concert Friday night, all day Saturday in Elmwood Park and then a ticketed concert Saturday night as well.”

Elmwood Park is one of the biggest venues for concerts this weekend, but there will also be performances at the Five Points Music Sanctuary and the Spot on Kirk, as well as breweries and restaurants throughout downtown Roanoke. 

It’s a weekend of music that’s centered around America’s toughest road marathon, the Blue Ridge Marathon, which has the most elevation change of any road race in the United States. 

“It’s one of the most gorgeous courses as well,” says Julia Boas, the events manager for the Blue Ridge Marathon. “Because you’re going up three mountains, you get these huge vista overlooks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It really showcases the special nature of our city.”

Runners will be climbing Mill Mountain, Peakwood Mountain and Roanoke Mountain, for a total elevation change of more than 7,200 ft.

It’s a race that’s bringing out nearly 2,700 runners, including first-time marathoner Susan Stinson. Susan works part-time at Fleet Feet and says hearing the excitement of customers coming in who were signing up for the marathon and talking about their training plans made her want to get involved too.

“Around the new year I decided I was going to challenge myself with a new first, because that energy and enthusiasm and excitement is really contagious,” she says. “ So I decided on the Blue Ridge Marathon. I’ve never done one before and decided, why not do the hardest in the country?”

While the race will feature hundreds of local runners, like Susan, there are also competitors from 50 states as well as a handful of countries around the world. 

The race kicks off at 7:35 Saturday morning. If you are headed downtown, keep in mind there will be road closures in place throughout the day, including parts of downtown, Old Southwest Roanoke and leading up to Mill Mountain.