Isn’t it great to live in a geographical location that has four pretty specific seasons? The downtown year starts off with what I’d call “Hunker Down and Endure It” season (Jan-Feb), “Festival Season” follows (March – May), “Farmers’ Market Season” (June – August) comes next, followed by “Vol Season,” with a mini “Holiday Season” at the end of the year. So, you could argue for five seasons.
But Festival Season is upon us. It’s funny how little transition time we really get. One week we’re cold and snowed in, then Mardi Growl hits and then we take off. I love all the festivals. It’s a blast seeing so many different people flooding the city – and the patrons are sometimes quite dramatically different from one weekend to the next. By the time it’s over, I’m ready for Saturday in the city to mean fresh vegetables and a little more of a calm weekend.
So, with Festival season really kicking into high gear this upcoming week, let’s take a look at the major events and festivals coming very soon to a downtown near you.
It takes off in earnest this week with the Big Ears Festival (3/27, 3/28/3/29). The headliners, as well as many of the lesser-known artists each have the capacity to amaze. The number of artists is overwhelming for the three-day event. The Kronos Quartet will play throughout the festival which will also feature Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley, tUnE-yArDs, Tyondai Braxton, Swans, Ben Frost, Max Richter and many more. In addition to music, film will be a focus again this year. The action starts Friday night and runs through Sunday night. Venues include the Bijou, the Tennessee, the Square Room, the Knoxville Museum of Art and The Standard.
You will also notice other fascinating ancillary installations and performances in and around downtown. This is likely the one festival that garners the most attention from the national press who follow the world-class acts to our city. It’s the only time of year you might run into journalists from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR and PBS on the same weekend in Knoxville. Single day tickets are $65/$75 and weekend tickets are $180/$200. Ticket sales have already far surpassed previous years – which were exceptional. The world truly comes to the city next weekend, be helpful, be nice and have a blast.
You get one weekend to recover before the next amazing three-day music festival. Rhythm N’ Blooms kicks off Friday, April 10 and runs through the 12th. Lots of Americana and Indie Artists, along with a healthy dose of rock-and-roll and country music will be found through out the Old City. Artists include headliners the Decemberists, the Dirty Guv’nahs, Delta Spirit and the Drive-by Truckers. Often it’s other artists that steal the show, however, so look out for The Apache Relay, Cereus Bright, Lanhorne Slim, *repeat repeat, Gangstagrass and a ton of others.
There are over 50 artists spread over three days, one outdoor stage and five additional venues (The Standard, Lox Salon, Pilot Light, Barley’s and Boyd’s Jig and Reel). Tickets are an incredibly reasonable $60 for the weekend or $125 for the VIP weekend pass. You can buy a single-day $30 pass if you can only make it for one day. Also included will be a series of workshops at the Emporium for musicians, as well as food trucks, free parking all around the city and a general great time. It’s really a music-lover’s feast.
The same weekend – on April 11 – is another great downtown event which is part of the Dogwood Arts Festival (as is Rhythm N’ Blooms). The annual Chalk Walk begins very early Saturday morning and runs through the day, culminating in awards that afternoon. It’s incredible every single year.
No rest for the weary: The very next weekend, April 17 -19, is the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square, the marquis event for the Dogwood Arts Festival. Held on Market Square and Krutch Park, it includes the very finest arts vendors, music, performance artists, culinary arts and much more. This is us at our high-brow best. And it’s free. Earthfest is the same Saturday on the World’s Fair Park and includes great music and eco-friendly booths, displays and educational opportunities.
It just keeps on coming: April 25 brings the Rossini Festival presented by Knoxville Opera. Could it be the largest festival in the country with the word “Opera” attached? It fills Gay Street from morning though night and spills over into Market Square with dance and musical performances which really run the gamut, but includes healthy doses of opera. Food is also a large focus of this fun day. Also free.Outdoor Knoxfest hosted by the Legacy Parks Foundation and centered on Volunteer landing also runs April 24 – 26, with the bulk of the action on April 25.
The very next weekend (April 30 – May 3) we have a once-in-one-hundred-fifty-years event as the Blue and Grey Reunion and Freedom Jubilee hits Knoxville with a commemoration of the US Civil War and the beginning of the reconstruction era. Events will be scattered all about downtown and surrounding areas, with vintage baseball, reenactments, lectures and more. Not to be Debbie Downer, but it’s unlikely any of us will be around 150 years from now, so this is a good one to catch while you can.
May 10 and 11 brings Bloomsday at the UT Gardens. Then the annual International Biscuit Festival(May 14 – 16) takes over the city. No longer a Saturday event, the festival has grown to include a food writing conference starting Thursday along with more exclusive (expensive) events to augment the single-day Biscuit Boulevard event. Further, the footprint of the festival has been expanded this year to allow for less crowding and shorter wait times. Again, this is an overlap weekend with the Children’s Festival of Readingset for May 16 on the World’s Fair Park with some of the very best children and young-adult authors in the world.
The 3rd annual Big Kahuna Wing Festival on the World’s Fair Park will be held June 13. June 20 brings Festival season to an end with Knoxville Brewfest 2015 held at the Southern Station, featuring nearly fifty different craft breweries, catered food, music and lots of fun. Tickets to the event are $40 with earnings going to cure duchene (a form of muscular dystrophy) and Pridefest with a parade on Gay Street followed by events on the World’s Fair Park.
It is also important to note that many of our favorite series start up this time of year. The Market Square Farmers’ Market begins the first week of May (2nd and 6th) as does Jazz Tuesdays on Market Square (May 5) and the Thursday Night Market Square Concert Series (May 7). The annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is slated for First Friday in June (June 5) on Market Square. Festivals outside of festival season and coming toward the end of summer include the East Tennessee History Fair, Blank Fest, Brewer’s Jam, and the Hola Festival, so watch for those.