Old Crow Medicine Show, Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, April 2016
The Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, presented by Dogwood Arts and scheduled for May 11 (resuming a one-day schedule, for now) on the World’s Fair Park Performance Lawn, has shifted slightly for the upcoming year to include a whiskey feature. With music curated, once again, by the Dirty Guv’nahs, you’ll notice a distinctly Tennessee flavor to the musical artists, including exciting headliner, Old Crow Medicine Show. In addition to the music, the festival will collaborate with the Tennessee Distiller’s Guild to bring a whiskey tasting experience to concert goers who choose that option. The combination of Tennessee music and Tennessee whiskey makes for a particularly Knoxville experience.
This year’s lineup will also include Maggie Rose, Amythyst Kiah, Grace Bowers and the Hodge Podge, Wyatt Ellis, and, of course, the Dirty Guv’nahs. Every act currently calls Tennessee their home state. Old Crow is currently celebrating its twenty-fifth year of an amazing run as an old-time string band. It’s hard to imagine a folk song more ubiquitous than their “Wagon Wheel,” recently certified by RIAA as one of the top five country singles of all time.
The other artists have their own claims to fame, with Maggie Rose recently celebrating her 100th appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. She is making her second Southern Skies appearance. She’s also “collaborated with The Dirty Guv’nahs . . . and shared stages across the country with everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Eric Church.” Also included is east Tennessee’s own Grammy-nominated Amythyst Kiah, “hailed by Rolling Stone as ‘one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets, 17-year-old guitar phenomenon Grace Bowers, and one of the most-watched young musicians in bluegrass from right here in Blount County, (fourteen-year-old) Wyatt Ellis.”
The new collaboration with the Tennessee Distillers Guild is expected to draw half or more of the 30+ distilleries in the state. The Tennessee Whiskey Experience will offer a range of tastings from the various distilleries, as well as other “handcrafted spirits in an exclusive space inside the festival.” The space will also include an educational component around the topics of “the art of distilling, barrel aging, and the history and growth of each distillery.”
I spoke with Sherry Jenkins, Executive Director of Dogwood Arts, who said they are very excited to bring a new component to the experience this year, and really feel they may have found their identity in the third year of the festival. Despite the one-day schedule this year, she said they plan to grow the festival and multi-days are not out of the question in the future. “When we think about Southern Skies, we are looking for a way for it to be uniquely Knoxville, uniquely Tennessee . . . In looking at what else is Tennessee (beyond music), whiskey is the next thing in a lot of people’s brains.”
She’s excited for the distillers to bring their history and the craft of whiskey to blend with the music. “Whiskey is something that feels like the right fit for a Tennessee Festival.” She said there will be a limited number of tickets sold to the whiskey experiences and it will feature a small acoustic stage. Ticketed patrons for the Whiskey Experience can come and go from the area and may purchase bottles which will be kept at the gate for pickup at the end of the concert. The bars that have been offered throughout the site, as well as the food, will continue as before.
I also checked in with Charity Toombs, Executive Director of the Tennessee Whiskey Guild which was formed in 2013. In 2017 the group formed a Tennessee Whiskey Trail with a focus on the thirty or more distilleries that have a public space. She said in addition to highlighting the distilleries, they seek to promote the history and natural beauty of the areas of the state where the distilleries are located.
She said they are very excited to be a part of this event and to offer an experience to concert fans that will expose them to new brands and some distilleries that aren’t on the whiskey tour because they don’t have the public space. “Our big goal is to partner with destinations and events that align with our goals. It’s a good marriage for us of location, the outdoors, and music. We’re excited for a showcase for both of us.”
General admission ($49.50) and VIP tickets($135) are available here along with tickets for the new “Tennessee Whiskey Experience. ($50 add-on)” Children 10 and under enter without charge (with the exception of the VIP and Whiskey Experience areas). “The VIP Experience includes access to a premium viewing area, hangout space with private bars and restrooms, festival merchandise, and more. Tickets go on sale this morning at 10:00 am.