2020 Festival Guide

Hola Festival, Market Square, Knoxville, September 2019
Mardi Growl, Knoxville, March 2019

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. I also tend to think of Festival Season as a spring thing, but here we are in a rainy, warm, early March, and the first festival is this weekend. That’s right, it’s Mardi Growl time in Tennessee! Let the celebrations begin!

Mardi Growl, is this Saturday, March 7. The 13th annual parade starts at 11:00 AM on Willow and winds through the Old City to Depot before heading south on Gay Street to Market Square where festivities will continue though 3:00 PM with all things canine (60 vendors).

A couple of weeks later, the Women in Jazz Jam Festival returns for its fifth year, starting Friday night, March 13 at 6 p.m., at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five Series, with a performance by the Women in Jazz Jam Festival Band. The festival continues Saturday morning at the Knoxville Visitors Center with Kelle Jolly and Will Boyd playing on Kidstuff at 10:00 and Jazz Festival headliner Akua Dixon on the Blue Plate Special at noon. Maple Hall will host an open mic poetry event in the afternoon before the festivities move to West Knoxville.

This also begins the inevitable Festival-Overlap-Effect that hits any city with a million festivals and fewer weekends, as the fourth  annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Cel-O’Bragh-tion returns that same Saturday (March 14) with a parade on Gay Street at 1:00 p.m. and events on Market Street and Clinch, including a show by the excellent band, Tuatha Dea.

Makaya McCraven, Big Ears 2019, The Mill and Mine, March 2019

After skipping a weekend, we go “big,” as in Big Ears Festival 2020, which runs from March 26 – March 29 and features dozens of musicians, nearly thirty full-length films and shorts, performance art, and such unique experiences as a written word event hosted by Patti Smith. This is the festival that puts Knoxville on the international map.

The Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, which is actually an entire family of races and events spanning two days, hits the same weekend, with the main event happening the morning of March 29. It creates a bit more chaos having the two the same weekend, but it’s kind of fun to think about world-class athletes arriving in Knoxville to be encountered by world-class musicians.


With the addition of two new festivals, there is at least one festival each weekend for the month of April. The Knoxville Warm-Up Beer Festival focuses on local and regional beer and features food pairings and music. JazzFest on Jackson will be modeled on the New Orleans JazzFest and will take place on West Jackson Avenue.

April has several highlights, including the return of the nineteenth annual Rossini Festival and International Street Fair with music, food, and more, presented April 18 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.

Ryne Sandberg, Dogwood Arts Chalk Walk, Market Square, Knoxville, April 2019

April also features Knoxville’s traditional signature festival: The Dogwood Arts Festival. This festival actually begins in February and features a lengthy list of events that run through April. Two weekends highlight the festival downtown when the annual Chalk Walk (April 4) brightens up Market Square and the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square (April 24 – 26) 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 during the three-month period.

EarthFest has announced it will take the year off.

One World Circus, Dogwood Arts Festival, Market Square, Knoxville, April 2018
One World Circus, Dogwood Arts Festival, Market Square, Knoxville, April 2018


The biggest festival news for May emerged last fall with the increasingly obvious fact there would be no Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival in 2020. It’s an unfortunate loss of an extremely popular music festival. Music fans take heart, however, a smaller festival, the Southern Skies Music Festival is being presented by Dogwood Arts with headliners the Dirty Guv’nahs and Ben Rector on the World’s Fair Performance Lawn on May 16.

Also notable is the return of the City People Home Tour on May 2 after a one-year hiatus. This long-running presentation of urban homes in downtown Knoxville was key to Urban Woman and me deciding to move to downtown Knoxville over a decade ago. It’s a great opportunity to see if you might be able to picture yourself in a loft or condo downtown.

Children get their turn with the return of the Knox County Public Library’s Children’s Festival of Reading on May 16. The day-long festival features children’s and young adult authors, story-telling, and much more.

Larry Fabian Vincent, Scott and Amy Simmerman, David Slack and Keith R Brown, Jazz on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, May 2019

May also marks the beginning of several ongoing events that while they are not technically festivals, they 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 2.

Also resuming a regular schedule during the month of May will be the Concerts on the Square series, featuring Jazz on Tuesdays beginning May 5 and a variety of genres on Thursday nights starting May 7 on Market Square. 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 on May 2.


June doesn’t slow much for Knoxville Festivals. It starts with the fifth annual Bike, Boat, Brew and Bark event that celebrates all the things we love about the city. The Big Kahuna Wing Festival has moved to September, but Pridefest (with a Parade on Gay Street and Festival at the Coliseum lawn) is June 22 and, happily, there is no overlap this year with the USA Cycling Championships.

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2019


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. Beer, Bourbon and BBQ appears to have decided not to come to Knoxville this year.


The festivals have started to stretch through the fall. The Asian Festival highlights August each year and the third annual Second Bell Festival at Suttree Landing Park returns. The Hola Festival has slipped out of its traditional September into October and Brewer’s Jam moved to November. Festivals during football season? Is nothing sacred?

Illiterate Light, Second Bell Festival, Suttree Landing Park, Knoxville, August 2019
Hola Festival, Market Square, Knoxville, September 2019





  • Brewer’s Jam, Knoxville Brewer’s Jam, November 7 (I’m guessing, no date listed)

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!

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