The birthplace of America’s legendary country-music scene, it’s hard to think of Tennessee without instantly bringing to mind the dance halls that rose to prominence here in the early 20th century. Today the state’s musical heritage continues to burn brightly in the urbanised centres of Nashville and Memphis, where honky tonks and blues bars are set against the backdrop of heather-coloured peaks, lush green valleys and sultry lowlands.
Tennessee’s rich music scene has given rise to a number of renowned music festivals that take place every year. And over the years they’ve been joined by several other popular festivals and fairs that celebrate a particular aspect of the state’s culture and history. Below are 20 you should look out for.
Mid-South Jewelry and Accessories Fair
First held in 1974, this jewellery and accessories fair has grown to become one of the region’s most popular events of its kind and a major landmark on the jewellery industry’s annual calendar. Each year some 5,000 wholesale buyers and 200 booths descend on Agricenter International in Memphis to peruse and showcase a huge assortment of trinkets and accessorising items.
LOCATION Agricenter International, Memphis DATES 5-7 February 2021
A popular Columbia tradition for nearly 170 years, Mule Day has come a long way since its origins as a humble livestock show and mule market. Today the event attracts over 200,000 people and takes place over four days, featuring authentic Appalachian food, music, dancing to augment the fun-filled programme of mule-related activities. Flagship events include a mule pulling contest and a “Mule Day Parade” which sees floats compete for prizes in a range of categories.
LOCATION Maury County Park, Columbia DATES 3 April 2021
Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival
A family-friendly celebration of spring and Japanese culture, the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival is a sight to behold, with visitors invited to come and admire blooming cherry trees dotted across Nashville Public Square. There are a whole host of activities to enjoy during the festival, including Japanese music and dance, martial arts demonstrations, arts & crafts, cultural lectures and exhibits, children’s activities, sumo-suit wrestling, and mouth-watering Japanese cuisine.
LOCATION Metro Courthouse, Nashville Public Square DATES 10 April 2021
Polk County Ramp Tramp Festival
For over six decades this festival has been drawing large crowds to the historic district of Reliance in Polk County with its heady mix of food and music. As the name indicates, the culinary offerings revolve around “ramp”, a wild plant that grows in mountainous regions in the eastern United States, with festival-goers invited to tuck into a meal featuring the plant. Live music is of the Bluegrass and Gospel variety and there’s also arts and crafts to peruse and purchase.
LOCATION Camp McCroy 4 H, Reliance DATES 23-24 April 2021
Sweet Tea & Sunshine Family Festival and Craft Fair
This family-friendly festival plays host to a huge and diverse assortment of fun-packed events and activities each year in the expansive grounds of Greenway Park & Pavilion. Perennial highlights include craft vendors, mouth-watering food trucks, live stage entertainment, pony rides, a petting zoo, a kids’ beauty pageant, inflatables, games, and plenty more.
LOCATION Greenway Park & Pavilion, Cleveland DATES 24 April 2021
Africa In April Festival
With a focus on a different country each year, Africa In April is an annual springtime cultural festival that immerses visitors in African culture through arts and crafts, music, food, history and even economics, helping to raise awareness of these topics. The event is routinely attended by African dignitaries and ambassadors who help to bring an authentic voice and presence to the occasion.
LOCATION Robert R. Church Park, Memphis DATES April 2021
Beale Street Music Festival
Part of the one-month epic Memphis in May International Festival, this three-day music extravaganza has become renowned for its stellar line-up of performers spanning the genres of alternative rock, hip hop, blues, soul, indie rock and electronic music. Notable acts to appear in recent years include rapper Cardi B and acclaimed rock outfit Dave Matthews Band.
LOCATION Tom Lee Park, Memphis DATES 1-3 May 2021
Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival
Back in the early 20th century Portland’s big industry was strawberries and in 1941 the city held its inaugural festival to celebrate this heritage. Each year the event enjoys a different theme and for 2021 the focus will be on “Super Berries” in all of their oh-so-sweet wonder. As well as enough strawberries to shake a stick at, there’s also live music, food stalls, a game stage, pancake breakfasts, craft vendors, bingo competitions, a 5k walk/run and a colourful parade.
LOCATION Downtown Portland DATES 7-8 May 2021
World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
Barbecuing is a big deal across much of the US, but nowhere more so than in Memphis. Each year, as part of the Memphis in May Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest sees some 200 teams from across the US and beyond come together in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River to compete for prizes, cash and the salivating adulation of carnivorous spectators.
LOCATION Tom Lee Park, Memphis DATES 12-15 May 2021
High on the Hog Festival
Another celebration of Tennessee’s time-honoured BBQ traditions, this festival features around 70 teams – including professional and amateur competitor – hailing from all over the country. Taking place in the picturesque environs of Tim’s Ford Lake in the city of Winchester, as well as the hotly contested cooking tournaments the packed festival programme includes a carnival, motorcycle poker run, beauty contest 5k run/walk, live entertainment, crafts, and food vendors.
LOCATION Winchester City Park, Winchester DATES 21-22 May 2021
The Country Music Association plays a crucial role in preserving Tennessee’s musical legacy. Each year the association hosts the CMA festival which sees much of downtown Nashville transformed into a veritable concert venue, with multiple stages set up in renowned public spaces including Riverfront Park and the Walk of Fame Park, while nightly concerts are staged in front of some 50,000 spectators at the city’s famous NFL arena, Nissan Stadium. There’s also a dedicated expo area where visitors can pick up souvenirs, watch intimate stage shows, and enjoy meet and greets with performers.
LOCATION Downtown Nashville DATES 10-13 June 2021
Maypop Music & Arts Festival
Contrary to expectations, the name of this festival isn’t a reference to pop music in May, but rather to Tennessee’s state wildflower of the same name, the distinctly purple – not to mention rather psychedelic-looking – Maypop. For three full days, the 105 beautiful acres of Further Farms in Nashville celebrates the eye-catching flower by hosting live music, camping, fire spinning, art displays, great food, and more.
LOCATION Further Farms, Nashville DATES 25-27 June 2021
Gatlinburg Summer Craftsmen’s Fair
Twice a year the Gatlinburg Convention Center is transformed into a veritable mecca to all things arts and crafts. Held in both July and October, the summer edition sees local craftsmen and artisans present their creative wares in front of a captive audience, with everything from homemade jams to handcrafted jewellery and pottery on offer. Meanwhile those attending with little ones in tow can make use of a dedicated Kid’s Corner, where children can join hands-on sand art and painting projects and other DIY craft activities. An entertainment stage featuring musical acts and comedy add a festival-esque flavour to the event.
LOCATION Gatlinburg Convention Center, Gatlinburg DATES 9-18 July 2021
Grainger County Tomato Festival
Created to celebrate the world famous tomatoes that are grown in Grainger County, this summer festival has grown significantly since its debut in 1992. Today, as well as showcasing delectable tomatoes, the event serves to promote all of the county’s diverse agricultural products, as well as local artists, authors, and craftsmen. Fearless visitors may want to join in the festival’s now-legendary Tomato Wars, which sees contestants throw tomatoes at each other in a fiercely contested, messy, but undeniably fun battle.
LOCATION Rutledge Elementary School, Rutledge, Grainger County DATES 23-25 July 2021
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
One of America’s biggest and most well-established music festivals, Bonnaroo is something of a throwback to the Swinging Sixties when America’s music scene enjoyed a golden era. Fun, friendly and inclusive, each year the festival boasts a curated line-up of acts that blend mainstream tastes with jam band appeal, including distinguished performers across a range of genres.
LOCATION Great Stage Park, Manchester DATES 2-5 September 2021
Union County Heritage Festival
This fantastic Fall festival honours Appalachian culture and heritage with a full day of entertainment and activities for all the family. Taking place in the city of Maynardville in Union County, there’s fine handmade arts and crafts, moonshine making, a quilt show, a bounce house, horse rides, a petting zoo, live stage music, more than 100 vendors, and a variety of tantalising food and beverages.
LOCATION Wilson Park, UC Museum, Snodderly House, Maynardville DATES 2 October 2021
Collegedale Apple Festival
October is prime apple season in the US south and this festival marks the annual proliferation of the humble fruit with plenty of apple-themed fun, including variety tastings and a range of apple products to sample and purchase. More than 150 vendors including food trucks and craft sellers attend the event and there’s also a petting zoo, pony rides, inflatables and a host of other entertainment.
LOCATION Collegedale Commons, Collegedale DATES 22-23 October 2021
Nashville Film Festival
One of America’s longest running film festivals, the Nashville Film Festival draws dedicated movie lovers from far and wide with its enticing mix of big city festival vibes and relaxed Southern atmosphere. During the event more than 200 top class screenings take place, including films from multiple countries, while a screenplay competition, live music and parties contribute to the fun.
LOCATION Venues across Nashville DATES October 2021
Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival
Billed as the world’s biggest songwriter festival, this renowned annual event in Nashville – aka ‘Music City’ – is dedicated to songs and those who write and create them. A particular focus is placed on highlighting emerging songwriters from across the US and internationally too, with performers invited to come and showcase their talents in front of live audiences during the week-long festival.
LOCATION Venues across Nashville DATES 16-20 November 2021
Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies
Held in the heart of the mountain town of Pigeon Forge during the build up to Christmas each year, Bluegrass Christmas in the Smokies is a hugely popular holiday tradition that combines quintessential festive cheer with top notch Bluegrass music. Together with the toe-tapping musical acts on show, an on-site food truck provide scrumptious sustenance to help warm the cockles.
LOCATION Evergreen & Smoky Mountain Lodge & Convention Center, Pigeon Forge DATES 8-11 December 2021