2018 Downtown Knoxville Festival Guide!

Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line, Rhythm n Blooms, Knoxville, April 2017
Mardi Growl, Knoxville, March 2017

It’s that time of year, again, and, as usual, definitions of when festival season starts and what constitutes a festival will continue to bedevil the effort to make any kind of coherent list. With hot weather hitting in February and spring still weeks away and with events that hit somewhere between, well an event and a proper “festival,” it’s always going to be difficult.

I’ve already missed one: the Old City Whiskey Festival was this past weekend. It pretty much fits the definition of a festival, with multiple events at multiple locations spread over a span of time. Maybe I’ll have to start posting my calendar in mid-February next year. In any case, expect it to return, because it has been a hit for two years running.


Following the pattern set last year, I’m starting with March and with Mardi Growl, which is this Saturday, March 3. The 11th annual parade starts at 11:00 AM on Willow and winds through the Old City before heading south on Gay Street to Market Square where festivities will continue though 3:00 PM with all things canine (60 vendors). Downtown restaurants are offering Mardi Gras themed dishes and drinks throughout this week. All of it benefits Young-Williams Animal Center.


Kelle Jolly and the Will Boyd Project, Women in Jazz Jam Festival, Scruffy City Hall, Knoxville, March 2016

A couple of weeks later, the Women in Jazz Jam Festival returns for its third year, starting Friday night, March 16, at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five Series and a performance by the Women in Jazz Jam Festival Band, starting at 6:00 PM. The festival continues at the Emporium on Saturday from 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM and features headliner Diane Monroe. This also begins the inevitable Festival-Overlap-Effect which hits any city with a million festivals and fewer weekends, as the second annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Cel-O’Bragh-tion returns.

The following weekend, we go “big,” as in Big Ears Festival 2018 which runs from March 22 – March 25 and features dozens of musicians, fifteen full-length films, performance art and such unique experiences as a twelve hour drone that runs all night. Some events will be free and public, some available as a stand-alone ticket and others require the festival pass. You or I may have another favorite, but this is the festival that puts Knoxville on the international map.

In an interesting overlap, the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, which is actually an entire family of races and events spanning two days, hits on March 25. Given that so many will be in town for Big Ears and that the race attracts large numbers of out-of-town guests, that’s a lot of hotel rooms. Maybe it’s good we’ve added the Tennessean and the Hyatt Place.



April cranks right up the first weekend with the sprawling musical feast that is Rhythm n Blooms. This year’s version runs April 6 – 8 and features headliners Deer Tick, Dr. Dog, and Paul Thorn’s Mission Temple Fireworks Revival along with dozens of other performers in venues large and small. With various panels and other special events mingled in, the festival runs from Friday afternoon into the night on Sunday.

Maya Beiser with Gyan Riley and Glenn Kotche, Bijou Theatre, Big Ears, Knoxville, March 2017

Celebrating music of all sorts, but also featuring music of a particular sort, the seventeenth annual Rossini Festival and International Street Fair is presented April 14 by Knoxville Opera. Featuring multiple stages and opera along with choral, jazz and other music, it also features dance performances throughout the day, great smells from all the food vendors and wine and beer sales on Gay Street, which is shut down for the event.

April also features Knoxville’s traditional signature festival: The Dogwood Arts Festival. Actually a featuring a lengthy list of events starting in February and running through April, two weekends highlight the festival downtown when the annual Chalk Walk brightens up Market Square and the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square dominates a weekend with everything art related. It’s a can’t-miss weekend for anyone who loves the arts and the city. Be sure to go to the main site above and check out all the other great events scattered over greater Knoxville and a three month period.

Gogol Bordello, Rhythm n Blooms, Knoxville, April 2017
Rossini Festival, Knoxville, April 2017

If you want a bit more of a bucolic festival to enjoy which in the city, but feels like you’ve gotten away, be sure to check out the nineteenth annual Earthfest celebration of Earth Day. It will be held at the lovely Knoxville Botanical Gardens on Saturday, April 28 from 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM.


If you notice something missing in May, it’s likely to be biscuits. The International Biscuit Festival has decided to take a break after eight years. It sounds like they may be back next year, so stay tuned. Still, the children get their turn with the return of the Knox County Public Library’s Children’s Festival of Reading on May 19. The day-long festival features children’s and young adult authors, story-telling and much more.

Jessi Queen, Chalk Walk, Knoxville, April 2017
Pretentious Glass, Dogwood Arts Festival, Knoxville, April 2017

May also marks the beginning of several ongoing events which, while not technically festivals, feel that way at times – and they are long running, marking spring and early summer as much as any single events. The biggest is the annual return of the Market Square Farmers’ Market to the heart of downtown. It resumes its regular spot on May. Also resuming a regular schedule during the month of May will be Variety Thursdays and Jazz Tuesdays. And considering a move downtown or just curious about where all those people live? The answer to that is the annual City People Home Tour.


Market Square Farmers’ Market
Marble City Five, Market Square Stage, Knoxville, May 2016

While June might be expected to reveal a slowing of the pace, with children out of school and the lazy days of summer beginning, it really doesn’t slow much for Knoxville Festivals. It starts with the third annual Bike, Boat, Brew and Bark event that celebrates all the things we love about the city. The Big Kahuna Wing Festival is set for June 16 and Pridefest (with a Parade on Gay Street and Festival at the Coliseum lawn) is the next weekend, June 23. I’m not particularly loving that Pridefest and the Cycling Championships hit the same weekend – I love them both! I’ve not been able to locate info this year for Brewfest or the Kuumba Festival, so I’ll try to add those as it is published.


Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016
Shakespeare on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2015

In July, we do slow down a bit on the festival front while we continue Jazz on the Square and the Market Square Farmers’ Market. There are a couple of notable exceptions, with our annual July 4 celebration on the World’s Fair Park and the beginning of the wonderful Shakespeare on the Square series.


The festivals continue a bit through August and into the fall. The Asian Festival highlights August each year and I’m hearing we may be having a new entrant into the music festival bill, the Second Bell Festival, in a new and exciting location. Watch for details on that one. The Hola Festival owns September and brings most of our festival action to a close, as Knoxville’s attention turns to a certain local sport.

Matsuriza Taiko, Asian Festival, Knoxville, August 2017
Hola Festival, Knoxville, September 2017



  • Happy Hollerpalooza, Happy Holler, September 22 (I’m guessing)
  • Hola Festival, Market Square, September 29-30


  • Brewer’s Jam, World’s Fair Park, October 13 (This is speculative.)
  • Arab Fest, UT Campus, October 26 – 28

If I’ve missed something you think I should have included, say so in the comments and at the least you’ll have plugged another event, and maybe I’ll bring it onto the main list. Are you tired already? See you at the festivals!