Beautiful Weather and Great Music Greet the Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival 2024

Old Crow Medicine Show, Dogwood Arts' Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Old Crow Medicine Show, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

The southern skies were perfect for Saturday’s third annual Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival. Enough clouds floated by to keep fans and musicians from over-heating and the temperatures peaked out around seventy degrees. It’s hard to complain about that, as May weather in Knoxville can mean rain, blistering heat, or another round of winter weather.

Held on the south Performance Lawn of the World’s Fair Park, this year’s event was trimmed from two days to one and for the Urban Family, all of which joined in this round, it worked better. A lot was packed onto the site and into the day, with a first iteration of the Tennessee Whiskey experience, a separately ticketed area for fans wanting to explore a range of Tennessee libations. It proved a popular attraction. The photos you see here were taken before it opened.

Wyatt Ellis, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

Colorful guitars, offered for auction, filled a display to one side. Food trucks lined the western edge of the site. A separate VIP area abutted the stage and the GA area, while offering its own bar and restrooms. Other bars and port-a-potties were provided for the larger crowd. One of the artists mentioned later from the stage that 3,500 tickets had been sold.

The music kicked off with Wyatt Ellis, a 15-year-old phenom from Maryville. Should you think he landed the opening spot simply because he happens to be local, consider that the night before he’d played the Grand Ole Opry and he declined to play Saturday night in order to play the festival. Not bad for a guy who can’t yet drive a car. He studied with Sierra Hull and has played the Opry repeatedly as well as performing with Marty Stuart, Billy Strings, and many others. He’s the real deal. Accompanied by a cracker-jack band that included east Tennessee’s own Alex Leach, the group laid down a bluegrass foundation for the day. Urban Boy learned that he likes Bluegrass.

Grace Bowers and the Hodge Podge, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Grace Bowers and the Hodge Podge, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Grace Bowers and the Hodge Podge, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

The youth movement continued with Grace Bowers and the Hodge Podge. At only seventeen-years-old, Grace is a guitar powerhouse, sought out by Dolly Parton, Tyler Childers, and Susan Tedeschi among others. She’s played with Margo Price, played multiple sets at the Newport Folk Festival, and she’s been called, “a star in the making,” by Rolling Stone magazine. And she’s yet to release her first album (due this summer).

She displayed her star power on Saturday with a scorching set powered by her guitar, vocals by Esther Okai-Tetteh, and a band driven and directed by bassist Eric Fortaleza. Living on the line between blues and rock, the group wasn’t shy about dipping into gospel and R&B. Maggie Rose joined for a portion of the set. Urban Girl met some of the band and chatted them up. She followed them on social media and learned that they were in North Carolina headed for the next show long before the dust had settled on Southern Skies.

Amythyst Kiah, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

Amythyst Kiah followed and while I’ve seen her and written about her numerous times, she never fails to entertain and challenge. Originally from east Tennessee, here amazing voice is matched by her ever-stronger writing. She played several songs from a new recording to be released this summer and captured yet another crowd. She’ll open this June through August for Iron and Wine as she continues her trajectory to the stardom for which she seems designed.

Maggie Rose, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Maggie Rose, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

Nashville singer Maggie Rose, who is called by turns “soul” and “country” made her second appearance in three Southern Skies festivals. While her primary success has been on country charts, her appeal stretches far beyond what qualifies as country music in 2024. Her music is achingly real, powered by her amazing vocal power. Her latest album dropped last month and snagged her a spot performing on Today. She’s touring behind the album, No One Gets Out Alive and the new single by the same name is a powerful statement about living while you have the chance. It proved a crowd favorite in concert.

The Dirty Guv’nahs, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
The Dirty Guv’nahs, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
The Dirty Guv’nahs, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

The Dirty Guv’nahs, long-time Knoxville favorites, play multiple roles at the festival as curators of the artists, hosts for the artists, and performers. Whereas the group once toured relentlessly, in recent years they’ve appeared on stage much less frequently. With only three additional shows scheduled for the remainder of the year, and none in Knoxville, the Southern Skies Festival has become the annual opportunity for most of us to see them live.

The band continues to deliver great music and a great show. While they’ve expanded membership over the years (I first saw them as a four-piece band at Barley’s in the early 2000s), the core of James Trimble, Justin and Aaron Hoskins, and Michael Jenkins has remained. Long ago they brought guitar wizard Cozmo Holloway and, in more recent years, Kevin Hyfantis on keyboards. They’ve also often included Jason Thompson on bass saxophone and Tomi Robb on vocals, both of whom joined them on Saturday. Saturday’s show stood with any of the dozen or so I’ve seen from the band over the last nearly twenty years. They’ve still got the fire.

Old Crow Medicine Show, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Old Crow Medicine Show, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024
Old Crow Medicine Show, Dogwood Arts’ Southern Skies Music and Whiskey Festival, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2024

Old Crow Medicine Show capped the night with their patented high-energy string band sound and lots of hamming around on stage. Lead vocalist and founding member Ketch Secor took center stage, but the band has grown to include many other talented members. Founding member Willie Watson is long gone (though he makes an appearance on the most recent album), but the third founding member, Critter Fuqua, who had left the band more than once, appeared on stage at the festival.

The band easily took the crowd through their older material, newer work, and even a few unexpected covers by unlikely artists such as the Rolling Stones. Everyone had a crazy fun time and the band’s enduring appeal, after a quarter century, was on full display.

Check out the full trove of photos below and start making your plans for Southern Skies 2025. And take a look at the video by InsideofKnoxville.com intern Alexa-Marie Melendez: