When spring starts in January and doesn’t pause much for February, it’s easy for actual spring to sneak up on us. And while spring isn’t quite here, it’s time to talk about Festival Season. I moved it earlier last year and I’m edging a few days earlier, yet, this year. Events are starting earlier and spring seems to have already sprung, so why not? Get your calendar out and start marking off the dates.
As I noted last year – and will probably note every year until I stop noting in general – defining what to include isn’t easy. Some are obvious, but others, less so. What’s a festival? I’m going to include some recurring events which might not meet a strict definition, but I know, any blurring of the lines means I left out several similar events. As always, you are welcome to add events in the comments and maybe I’ll be able to include them in next year’s list.
This year I’m including Mardi Growl. It’s this Saturday, March 4, with the parade starting at 11:00 AM on Willow, winding through the Old City and then up Gay and over to Market Square. The event has been expanded this year to include events throughout the week, such as Mardi Gras-themed drinks and dishes throughout downtown, as well as more than a few doggie treats offered throughout the city. Check the webpage for the entire run-down.
One of the events which forced my hand to go early last year, was a new festival which was set for the second half of March. The Women in Jazz Jam Festival is back for a second year, and it’s even earlier this year, coming in March 10 – 12. This year’s three day event, organized by Kelle Jolly will start on Friday night with an all-star band at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Headliners this year include Liz Brasher and Laura Theodore.
March 17 sees the beginning of a higher profile St. Patrick’s Day celebration than Knoxville has seen in a while, with a parade on Gay Street and events in the Old City (a pub crawl) and on Market Square. The Market Square event, Shamrock Fest runs March 17 and 18 and promises fun for the whole family.
The Big Ears Festival is also a few days early this year, also arriving in March. Running from March 23 – 26, the four-day festival, billing itself as, “an international cultural gathering,” which seems to fit as well as any description for the eclectic event, a wide range of experiences are on tap once again. Film and visual art will again be included but, as always, the focus is on the music. Well known popular artists such as My Brightest Diamond, Robyn Hitchcock and Wilco, mix with more esoteric American artists such as Carla Bley and and Claire Chase and international artists such as Dakhabrahka and Nils Økland and experimental artists such as Xiu Xiu. The festival always delivers surprises, memories and an expanded musical palette for all who attend.
April kicks off with a major event which might not be termed a festival, but deserves its own mention: The Knoxville Marathon, which is actually more than a marathon. Saturday April 1 finds related races, Covenant Kids Run and Covenant Health 5K getting the weekend started. Sunday morning April 2 is the date for the marathon, half marathon, and relay races
Rhythm n Blooms follows close on the heels of Big Ears and keeps the music rolling with a more American flavor, though this year’s bent is a bit more toward indie music. The festival runs April 7 – 9 and includes headliners Young the Giant, Gogol Bordello and Dave Barnes. As always, it’s the rest of the lineup that makes the three day event sparkle, with old favorites and surprises, local and national artists and cool side events like silent disco. Nora Jane Struthers, Wild Ponies, Dave Eggar and Angaleena Presley are a few of the many fine artists which will leave concert goers exhausted and happy at the end of the third day.
The Dogwood Arts Festival actually has events starting in March, but the events really turn up a notch in April with the Chalk Walk (April 1) starting the very first day of the month. I’m delighted to find the event not falling on the same weekend as Rhythm n Blooms for the first time in (at least) several years. It’s such a great day to soak in some rays, drink some wine and watch the artists work. Art in Public Places will have the new collection of works scattered around downtown by that day providing just another great layer to the beginning of the month.
After the Rhythm n Blooms Festival (which is actually a part of the Dogwood Arts Festival), the fun continues with Hikes and Blooms (April 12) and Bikes & Blooms (April 30). Check the website for many other related events. The mother all all Dogwood events is the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square, April 28 – 30. It’s the one “can’t miss” weekend of the larger festival. I’m worthless those two days. Total fun, with visual arts, music, culinary arts and much more.
As if that wasn’t enough action for one month to bear, the 18th annual Earthfest takes place at a new location this year, as it moves to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum. As if that wouldn’t be enough, Rossini hits downtown on April 22 bringing a taste of all the arts across the entire downtown area. Opera mingles with choral music, some of the best smells of the year downtown and much more.
May is about biscuits and books. The International Biscuit Festival will run for several days, but the center of gravity for the event falls on May 20th this year, with contests, booths, music and many, many biscuits. The same day, the always awesome Children’s Festival of Reading (May 20), which includes topflight children’s and young adult authors and entertainers, along with a village of other participants is held on the World’s Fair Park. The two events actually make for a fun day: some biscuits, some books, repeat.
June traditionally signals a slowing of the pace, with children out of school and the lazy days of summer beginning. But it stays busy with downtown festivals. June 17 is F-Day (“festival,” get it?) The Big Kahuna Wing Festival is set for June 17, as is the seventh annual Knoxville Brewfest, and Pridefest. Pridefest shifts, this year, to the Mary Costa Plaza outside the Civic Coliseum for their festivities following the annual parade on Gay Street. The 28th annual Kuumba Festival runs from June 22 – 25 with events in Morningside Park and on Market Square.
Mixed in with all the festivals are a number of series that fire back up for the spring and summer. The Market Square Farmers’ Market leads off the first full week of May (May 3 and 6) serving up the food many downtown residents live off of for the summer. Jazz Tuesdays (free jazz on the square) start May 2 and Variety Thursdays (a range of free entertainment on the square) start May 4. The jazz runs through the summer and Variety Thursdays run through June. Also, the 13th Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on June 2. Bike, Bark, Brew and Boat is back for a second year on June 3.
Beyond the jazz series and Farmers’ Market, July is a month to catch our collective breath, with a pause to celebrate the 4th of July with the annual Festival on the Fourth on the World’s Fair Park. Shakespeare on the Square returns for its run on the Market Square Stage on July 13.
August is coming to mean the return of the Asian Festival (August 27). The festival grew up for a couple of years in Krutch Park Extension and last year, its third, it moved to Market Square. Thousands joined in the once small festival for a full day of food and fun, Asian style. This year promises to be another big step forward for a festival that is quickly rising on the local calendar.
September brings the annual festivals to a conclusion with the Hola Festival bringing Latin culture to the forefront with food, music and much more. The Parade of Nations alone is worth the price of admission – which is actually free – but the parade is great. The festival is centered on Market Square and runs two days, September 16 and 17.
There may be more. I couldn’t find information about the East Tennessee History Fair or Brewer’s Jam, though I suspect they just aren’t published, yet. There is another major music festival rumored to be afoot, but details haven’t been released and there could be others I’ve missed. Feel free to leave a mention in the comments if you know of something I’ve missed. I’ll post this on the festival planner page later today.
Let the fun begin!