It’s that time of year, again. I wrote my Festival Season preview several weeks later last year, but already I’ve had people asking why the Festival Planner tab at the top of this page lists last year’s events. And this year’s festivals start earlier with a new festival just two weekends from now.
One of the dilemmas I didn’t fully appreciate until after last year’s article? What exactly constitutes a festival? Multiple days? Multiple venues? “Fest” at the end of the name? It’s tough and I promise this review won’t be perfect, but I’m going to give it a try and you can add more in the comments like you did last year – and as if you need my permission to do so.
It all starts this month and, thanks to a new festival, it starts two weeks from today. Kelle Jolly has put together the Women in Jazz Jam Festival, which happens March 18 – 20. I’ve previewed it here. It should be a wonderful addition to the festival lineup, featuring headliners Christina Watson and Venus.
March ends and April begins with the always amazing Big Ears Festival (March 31 – April 3). The top-flight artists in this lineup are too numerous to mention, but I’m really excited about Laurie Anderson and Yo La Tengo. If there’s one thing I learned from last year’s event it is that the artists I’m most excited about going in aren’t necessarily the artists I’ll be most excited about afterwards. Can’t wait.
While Big Ears may be the most fascinating musical event of the year in Knoxville, Rhythm N Blooms (April 8 – 10) is the event that most nails my musical tastes. There’s a lot to love in this festival centered in the Old City. Headliners include Mutemath and the Mavericks. Pretty good, but I’m most excited about Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the Old 97’s and G. Love and Special Sauce. Like Big Ears, however, the one certainty is I’ll discover an artist I love and had not previously tuned into.
The Dogwood Arts Festival runs virtually the whole month of April and includes events and activities all over the city. Fortunately for those of us who love downtown, many of them happen here. The Chalk Walk (April 9) falls during Rhythm N Blooms, making that Saturday crazy. Bikes & Blooms is April 9-10 and the route on the 26th runs through downtown and Fourth and Gill. This year’s rides have options for beginners, intermediate and advanced riders. Dogwood Art Detour, which is new to me at the least, runs April 16-17 and includes downtown venues. The mother all all Dogwood events is the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square, April 29 – May 1. It’s the one “can’t miss” weekend of the larger festival. I’m worthless those two days. Total fun.
But April isn’t just about the Dogwood Arts Festival. The same weekend as the Dogwood Art Detour, Earthfest takes up residence on the World’s Fair Park April 16. As if that wouldn’t be enough, Rossini hits downtown on April 23 bringing a taste of all the arts across the entire downtown area.
May kicks off with another new festival marking the release of long discussed and seldom heard music recorded at the north end of Market Square at the St. James Hotel in 1929 and 1930. The four CD set, “Knox County Stomp: The Knoxville Sessions 1929 – 1930” will be released to coincide with the Knoxville Stomp: Festival of Lost Music which will run May 5 – 8. The International Biscuit Festival will run for several days, but the center of gravity for the event falls on May 14th with contests, booths, music and many, many biscuits. May concludes with the always awesome Children’s Festival of Reading (May 21) which includes topflight children’s and young adult authors and entertainers, along with a village of other participants.
June slows the pace a bit, but the fun keeps rolling, starting on June 11 with the Big Kahuna Wing Festival, Knoxville Brewfest, June 18 and Pridefest the same day. The 27th annual Kuumba Festival runs from June 23 – 26 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 4 and 7) serving up the food many downtown residents live off of for the summer. Jazz Tuesdays (free jazz on the square) start May 3 and Variety Thursdays (a range of free entertainment on the square) start May 5. And mixed in there is the (I’m assuming a bit here) 12th Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on June 7.
July is pretty low key except for the continuing summer series, but August heats back up with the East Tennessee History Fair (August 20), an expanded Blankfest (August 26 and 27) and the Asian Festival (August 28). Blankfest has been expanded this year to include two days and the Asian Festival has moved to Market Square on a Sunday to give them more room and more of a spotlight than they’ve had in the past when they’ve shared Saturday with other events.
September generally means Big Orange Football sucks the oxygen out of the city, but October will lead off with the Hola Festival on the first and second with the Brewer’s Jam to follow sometime that month.
So are you pumped? I am. I’ll be exhausted later, but for now, let the fun begin.