Thousands expected at annual RAM Southern Tequila & Taco Fest

Thousands are expected to flock to the 4th Annual Southern Tequila & Taco Fest to sample the fare and support Remote Area Medical.

Hosted by Abuelo’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Turkey Creek, the festival will be held, rain or shine, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 27, in the parking lot of the former Gander Mountain parking lot, 11501 Parkside Drive.

It features more than 20 beverage providers giving out samples of 100 different types of tequila, eight food vendors and country music artist John Stone, the scheduled performer.

All the while, the event’s proceeds benefit RAM, which provides free dental, vision and medical care around the world to men, women and children who cannot afford it.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the public to come and enjoy the different restaurants from Knoxville while supporting a great cause,” said Chris Hall, chief operations officer of Rockford-based RAM. “RAM is honored to partner with great organizations that want to make a difference here in Tennessee.”

“I think it’s absolutely marvelous what Abuelo’s has been doing for the past [four] years,” said English philanthropist Stan Brock, founder and president of RAM. “I’ve seen the crowds increasing every year, and the support it provides our programs is wonderful, so high marks for Abuelo’s,”

John Volpe, Abuelo’s proprietor and festival coordinator, said he chose to benefit RAM because “it’s really a good cause.

“It does a lot of good for the community, and it doesn’t get any federal funding at all,” Volpe said. “It’s all from donations.

“I’m excited about hosting the event.”

Volpe started the event in 2015. While he had done several tequila events in the past to benefit RAM, he was asked to do a larger one in 2015, and decided to hold a festival.

Since then, the festival has taken off, and Volpe said he has seen the number of attendees increase each year. This year, he expects about 1,800 to 2,000 to attend.

“All the proceeds go directly to RAM,” Hall said. “The proceeds give RAM the ability to provide free care to patients in our backyard.”

Last year, Hall said the event raised more than $20,000 for the organization.

“The funds were used to provide a larger clinic at our Knoxville location,” he said.

At a Rotary Club of Farragut meeting March 28, the club presented speaker Jeff Eastman, RAM CEO, with a $1,000 donation.

In the United States, Eastman said RAM operates mobile clinics from Florida to California and from New York to the Texas border. It also provides disaster response, which Brock said it has done since Hurricane Katrina.

Advance tickets for the 2018 Southern Tequila and Taco Fest are $40 per person general admission, for which the price includes five tokens to sample tequilas, cocktails or beer and three tokens for tacos. At-the-door general admission price is $45 per person.

While the gate for general admission opens at 6 p.m., attendees can pay $50 per person to be admitted at 5 p.m. That price includes six tokens to sample tequilas, cocktails or beer and three tickets for tacos.

Since alcohol is being served, Volpe said attendees must be 21 years old to get in the gate.

There also is a designated driver ticket, $15 per person, which pays for three taco food tickets and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Tickets available online at

Brock is famous for co-hosting Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, an wilderness adventure TV show that ran from 1963 until 1988.

“He stepped away from fame and fortune and moved to East Tennessee, to Knoxville … and started Remote Area Medical,” Eastman said. “He discovered there are people in need here in the U.S., and started the service in Sneedville.”

Eastman said RAM was started in 1985 based on Brock’s vision: to bring dental, vision and medical care to people in remote areas.

“I come from a background in an era that many people today would consider extreme hardship, living without electricity, living without air conditioning, living without roads, missing a lot of meals and not having a lot of healthcare,” Brock said. “So, I can identify with all of these people who come to our (clinic) events — because I’ve been one of them, and I understand what it’s like to be poor and without access to these services.”

Thirty-three years later, “We just had our 900th clinic here in Knoxville the first part of January,” Eastman said.

However, RAM also provides medical services in remote areas of the world, such as Guyana.

“I’m happy to say that today, as we have done for many years, we have a program in that location in South America, and keep an airplane down there that flies free ambulance service.

“In fact, I will be going down there, in two weeks time to see what needs to be done to continue improving the services that we provide,” he said.

At 82, Brock still pilots a plane.

“It’s rather challenging flying, going into remote air strips, picking up patients and flying them to hospitals,” he said.