The story below is an excerpt from our March/April 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
It’s spring! Time to plan some road time around a few great festivals, gatherings, commemorations, food fests and other events.
Consider this a sampler platter of fun for 2016: a glimpse of gatherings across the mountains from Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky to the Carolinas and the Virginias. From food and wine to arts and adventure, the mountains of seven states await with ten months of great festivals and events. Here are just a few of the many:
You can “Find Your Sweet Spot,” as they say, when Highland County, Virginia takes two weekends to celebrate the flavors of maple syrup. Mark your calendar for March 12-13 and March 19-20 (highlandcounty.org) for the Maple Festival, an arts and crafts show, history tours and food. Across the border, you’ll find a similar Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens, West Virginia, on March 18-20 with more arts and crafts plus a quilt show (pickenswv.com).
Come to Tennessee: Pigeon Forge hosts A Mountain Quiltfest on March 15-19 with quilting classes, seminars and an expansive show, displaying more than 300 works of art. Dollywood’s Festival of Nations in Pigeon Forge kicks off March 19 and runs for a month to showcase music, dance, food and art of nations from around the globe, with a special focus on Africa’s diverse traditions (dollywood.com). Going west, in Pall Mall, you’ll find the 24th Annual Sgt. Alvin C. York Memorial Black Powder Shoot (931-879-3657) on March 26 at 7 a.m. (CT).
Be sure to dust off your dancing shoes on April 1-2 for the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, an annual gathering with square dancing, folk songs, band contests and workshops on the campus of Surry Community College (surryoldtime.com) in Dobson, North Carolina.
On April 9-11, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park hosts “An American Memoir: From the Hearts of our Ancestors … Into the Hands of Our Children.” The U.S. Mint will release a quarter on April 11 for Kentucky featuring Cumberland Gap; and dynamic storytellers are slated to share the tales of America’s westward expansion (606-248-2817).
Come April 9, downtown Lewisburg, West Virginia, gets filled with independent chocolatiers, as almost every store, business and restaurant offers a tasty chocolate treat in exchange for a $1 ticket. At the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival, you can enjoy live music, face-painting, a 10K Chocolate Chase, bake-off and professional chef demonstrations (lewisburgchocolatefestival.com).
Still hungry? Savor Blowing Rock. A four-day festival at Blowing Rock, North Carolina, celebrates food, drink, and the coming spring with Grand Tasting, seminars, and entertainment on April 14-17 (savorblowingrock.com).
In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you can learn the crafty ways of the masters. Sign up for Hands On Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Weekend, held April 8-10, or enroll in the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts Spring Art Experience on April 14-17 (gatlinburg.com).
The Smoky Mountain Fiber Arts Festival (townsendartisart guild.net) runs April 15-16 at the GSM Heritage Center in Townsend, Tennessee, with an event celebrating one-of-a-kind fiber arts plus live llamas, sheep, goats and rabbits. And though you may or may not see a bear in Townsend, on the “peaceful side” of the Great Smoky Mountains, the unique Bear on the Square Festival at Dahlonega, Georgia, does feature musicians and crafters on April 16-17 while its name recalls a unique incident when a baby bear climbed a tree in town and had to rescued (bearon thesquare.org).
Nearby, follow the highway to Helen to drink in the Spring Bierfest at the Festhalle of Helen, Georgia, starting at noon on April 16 with music, dancing, food and beverages on the banks of the Chattahoochee River (helenchamber.com). In Virginia, on April 16-18, more fun can be found near the Clinch River in the hamlet of Honaker when the Redbud Festival (honakerredbudfest.com) includes contests, concerts and canoeing.
Pop into Pikeville, Kentucky, April 21-23, to celebrate the backwoods of the mountain frontier at Hillbilly Days. This annual event (hillbillydays.com) features three days of outrageous fun, food and frolics along the Country Music Highway.
On April 22-May 1, the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival blooms all over Winchester, Virginia, with a variety of crafters, a carnival and fireworks (thebloom.com). By late April, too, the return of full foliage makes it a grand time for Greening Up the Mountains (greeningupthemountains.com) on April 23, in Sylva, North Carolina. You’ll also find the Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, as trees bloom on Market Square with a juried arts and crafts show on April 29-May 1 (dogwoodsarts.com).
Something new: This year marks the inaugural Blue Ridge Trout Fest and Outdoor Adventure (706-632-5680) on April 30 at the town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Look for fly-fishermen, river sports enthusiasts, outdoor recreation fans—and more—uniting families for fun, education, food and entertainment.
Something ooh: Tiny Helvetia, West Virginia hosts the Helvetia Ramp Dinner & Dance on April 30. In this Swiss village, volunteers each year prepare over 60 bushels of the ramp, a pungent member of the leek family that grows wild and tastes great with fried potatoes —even though it can leave your breath smelling, uh, rampy (helvetiawva.com).
The Fork & Cork in Blacksburg, Virginia, on April 30 features wine, food, music and an art extravaganza plus cooking demonstrations. On the same day, the Budbreak Wine and Craft Beer Festival showcases Yadkin Valley wines and their makers in downtown Mount Airy along with craft beer producers, chefs and musicians (BudbreakFestival.com).
Wrapping up the month, on April 28-May 1, you’ll find the music festival of MerleFest at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina (merlefest.org). This year’s lineup includes Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, Donna the Buffalo, Dave Rawlings Machine, WestWend and scores more.
You can celebrate the shortest season with Townsend’s Spring Festival and Old Timers Day on May 6-7, featuring Appalachian history and crafts, bluegrass music, wildflower walks, storytelling, clogging, the Young Pickers Contest, book signings and bake sales in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee (865-448-6134). Luray’s Festival of Spring on May 7 in Virginia uniquely features hundreds of rubber duckies to race plus other activities from Main Street to the scenic Hawksbill Greenway (townofluray.com). Look for arts, crafts and a wine-tasting. Or, to the south, you can raise a glass to toast spring on May 7 at the Blue Ridge Mountains Wine and Jazz Festival (561-889-7499) in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Art takes center stage in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, during the annual Artisphere festival, May 13-15. This event provides opportunities to meet exhibiting artists while purchasing original works (artisphere.us)
Come hungry to East Tennessee in the middle of May and plan to stay. Dollywood celebrates Barbeque & Bluegrass, May 13-22, with music plus pounds of saucy pulled-pork, barbequed chicken and ribs by the slab in Piegon Forge. Nearby, the International Biscuit Festival celebrates all things biscuit (biscuitfest.com) in Knoxville, Tennessee, on May 14, with a breakfast, brunch, bazaar and bake-off.
Later, on May 20-21, you’ll find the largest event of the year in Sevierville with Bloomin’ BBQ & Bluegrass (BloominBBQ.com), featuring the Tennessee State Championship Barbeque Cook-Off plus free bluegrass concerts and kids games. In between, and with a great chance to walk off extra pounds, Pigeon Forge hosts the Wilderness Wildlife Week on May 18-22 with classes, seminars and daily hikes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
About 20,000 trail hikers from across the world are expected to unite in the backwoods of Virginia at Damascus on May 13-15, during the Appalachian Trail Days festival (traildays.us). A couple of weeks later, in nearby Abingdon, Virginia, you’ll find the popular Plumb Alley Day, mixing crafts, yard sales and bagpipers, on May 28 (abingdonkiwanis.org).
On May 27-28, look for the annual Memorial Festival and Parade in Shenandoah, Virginia, featuring a service for veterans, dog show, parade, “cruz in” on Friday and servings of steamed shrimp on Saturday (townof shenandoah.com). On the same weekend, look for the 60th Annual Jamestown Rotary Chicken Festival at the Fentress County Fairgrounds in Tennessee on May 28 (931-752-2265).
Lift up to the air, June 2-4, with the 43rd Annual Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race, headquartered at the Helendorf Inn (706-878-2271) of Helen, Georgia. Or, for a different flight pattern, check out the Canaan Valley Birding Festival, June 3-5, at Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center (canaanresort.com) in Tucker County, West Virginia. You can also take the Toe River Spring Studio Tour, June 3-5, in both Yancey and Mitchell counties of North Carolina, as 100 participating artists open their homes to visitors (toeriverarts.org).
Music-lovers can follow The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail (thecrookedroad.org) for a string of celebrations, June 10-18, during the Crooked Road Homecoming series. These concerts in southwest Virginia include old-time, bluegrass, gospel, traditional singing and dance. (Also check out the Carter Fold Memorial Festival and Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, both held in early August.)
West Virginia’s Ronceverte River Festival on June 9-12 includes carnival rides, food and music along the Greenbrier River. In nearby Lewisburg, the Greenbrier Historical Society Home and Garden Tour on June 10-12 features a weekend dedicated to exploring homes and working farms in the Greenbrier Valley.
In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the Secret City Festival on June 10-11 includes entertainment, arts and crafts while commemorating the history of the government town built in secret during World War II. A week later, the Lavender Festival at Oak Ridge on June 18 fills Jackson Square with a variety of vendors offering art, crafts, homemade jams, jellies, soaps and scents (exploreoakridge.com).
On June 11-12, the 13th Annual Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games in Georgia features traditional games, music, dancing and food with a Scottish flair. You can watch border collies herd sheep and falcons swoop down on “prey” (706-745-5789).
In Burke County, North Carolina, on June 11, you can check out the State of Origin Craft Brew Festival—what’s being billed as “boutique craft beer festival” at the Courthouse Square of downtown Morganton. All attending breweries are from North Carolina, and each brings beer made with ingredients grown in the state (fontaflora.com/festival).
The Mighty Moo Festival at Cowpens, South Carolina, on June 15-18, features street dances, a golf tournament, arts, crafts, and a parade (cowpensmightymoo.com). Meanwhile, on June 16-19, the multi-faceted Hometown Mountain Heritage Festival at Ansted, West Virginia, includes a coal-shoveling contest, flea market, arts and crafts (newrivergorgecvb.com).
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, wind into Woolwine for the annual Virginia Covered Bridge Festival (patrickchamber.com). Look for crafters and musicians on June 18 near the Jacks Creek Bridge and the site of the now-gone Bob White Bridge, which washed away during the floods of Sept. 29, 2015.
Workshops, art exhibits, a crafts bazaar, concerts and food vendors can all be found at Wytheville, Virginia, during its annual Chautauqua Festival, June 18-25, along the creek banks of the Elizabeth Brown Park (wythevillefestival.org). For a similar gathering in another pretty town, head about two hours south to Jonesborough, Tennessee on June 30-July 2 for the Historic Jonesborough Days Festival, featuring live music, storytelling, fireworks, children’s entertainment, craft vendors, games and food (423-753-1010).