As the birthplace of legendary American country music, Tennessee is reminiscent of the dance halls that rose to prominence here in the early 20th century. Today, the state’s musical heritage continues to burn brightly in the urbanized centers of Nashville and Memphis, where lowbrow bars and blues joints are backed by heather-colored peaks, lush green valleys and sultry lowlands.
Tennessee’s rich musical resources have spawned a number of notable music festivals that take place every year. In the past few years, they’ve been joined by several other popular festivals and exhibits that celebrate a particular aspect of the state’s culture and history. Here are 20 of them that you should look out for.
South Central Jewelry Fair
First held in 1974, this jewelry and accessories show has become one of the most popular events of its kind in the region and a major milestone in the jewelry industry’s annual calendar. Each year, approximately 5,000 wholesalers and 200 booths descend on Memphis’ Agri-Center International to peruse and display a wide variety of trinkets and accessories.
Location Agri-Center International, Memphis Dates February 5-7, 2021
A popular Columbia University tradition for nearly 170 years, Mule Day has come a long way since its origins as a humble livestock show and mule market. Attracting more than 200,000 people, today’s four-day event features authentic Appalachian food, music, and dance, adding to the fun of mule-related activities. Flagship events include a mule pulling contest and the “Mule Day Parade” that sees floats competing for prizes in a range of categories.
LOCATION Maury County Park Date: April 3, 2021
Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival
A family-friendly celebration of spring and Japanese culture, the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival is a noteworthy attraction where visitors are invited to come and enjoy the blooming cherry blossom trees that dot Nashville’s public squares. During the festival, the public can participate in a number of activities, including Japanese music and dance, martial arts demonstrations, crafts, cultural lectures and exhibits, children’s activities, sumo wrestling competitions and mouth-watering Japanese cuisine.
Location: Nashville Municipal Court Building April 10, 2021
Polk County Hobo Festival
For more than six decades, this festival has been drawing huge crowds to the historic Reliance area of Polk County, where food and music intertwine in an enchanting way. As its name suggests, the cuisine centers around “ramps,” a wild plant that grows in the mountains of the eastern United States, and festival-goers are invited to feast on a meal featuring the plant. Live music is bluegrass and gospel, and there are arts and crafts to peruse and purchase.
April 23-24, 2021
Sweet Tea Sunshine Family Festival & Craft Fair
This family-friendly festival hosts a huge and varied variety of fun events and activities each year in the expansive grounds of Greenway Park and Pavilion. Perennial highlights include craft vendors, mouth-watering food trucks, live stage entertainment, pony rides, petting zoo, children’s pageant, inflatables, games, and much more.
April 24, 2021, Cleveland
African April Festival
April is an annual spring cultural festival that immerses visitors in African culture through arts and crafts, music, food, history and even economics to help raise awareness of these topics. This event is often attended by African dignitaries and ambassadors who help to give an authentic voice and presence at this occasion.
Location: Robert r. Church Park, Memphis Date: April 2021
Bill Street Music Festival
Part of the epic month-long Memphis May International Music Festival, this three-day music event has become known for its stellar lineup of performers spanning alternative rock, hip-hop, blues, soul, indie rock and electronic music genres. Notable acts that have appeared in recent years include rapper Cardi b and the famed rockin’ Dave Matthews Band.
Location Tom Lee Park, Memphis Dates May 1-3, 2021
Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival
Back in the early 1900s, Portland’s main industry was strawberries, and in 1941, Portland held its first festival to celebrate this heritage. Each year the event enjoys a different theme, and in 2021 the focus will be on the “super berries” in all their oh-so-sweet wonder. In addition to enough strawberries, there will be live musical performances, food booths, a game stage, a pancake breakfast, craft vendors, a bingo tournament, a 5K walk/run, and a colorful parade.
May 7-8, 2021 Downtown Portland
World Barbecue Cooking Championships
Barbecue is a big deal in most parts of the United States, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in Memphis. Each year, as part of the Memphis Mayhem Festival, the World Barbecue Championship Cook-Off brings 200 teams from across the United States and beyond together at Tom Lee Park on the Mississippi River to compete for prizes, cash and the mouth-watering flattery of meat-eating spectators.
Location Tom Lee Park, Memphis Dates May 12-15, 2021
The culmination of the Pig Festival
Another celebration of Tennessee’s time-honored barbecue tradition, this festival features approximately 70 teams, including professional and amateur competitors from across the country. Festival activities include a carnival, motorcycle poker run, 5K run/walk pageant, live entertainment, crafts and food vendors.
Location Winchester City Park, Winchester Dates May 21-22, 2021
The Country Music Association plays a vital role in preserving Tennessee’s musical heritage. Each year, the Association hosts the CMA Music Festival, which transforms much of downtown Nashville into a veritable concert venue, with multiple stages set up at prominent public venues including Riverfront Park and Avenue of the Stars Park, and nightly concerts at the city’s famous NFL stadium, Nissan Stadium held in front of a crowd of approximately 50,000. There is also a dedicated expo area where visitors can pick up souvenirs, watch intimate stage performances, and enjoy meeting and greeting performers.
Date: June 10-13, 2021
May Pop Music and Arts Festival
Contrary to expectations, the name of this festival does not refer to May pop music, but to the wildflowers of Tennessee, the purple of the same name, not to mention the somewhat psychedelic-looking May Pop Festival. For three full days, 105 acres of beautiful further farms in Nashville celebrate by hosting live music, camping, fire spinning, art displays, great food, beautiful flowers, and more.
June 25-27, 2021
Gatlinburg Summer Craft Fair
Twice a year, the Gatlinburg Convention Center is transformed into a veritable mecca of arts and crafts. The summer edition takes place in both July and October, where local craftspeople and artisans showcase their creative products, from homemade jams to handcrafted jewelry and pottery, in front of a captive audience. In addition, attendees accompanied by children can participate in sand art, painting and other DIY craft activities through the Kids’ Corner. An entertainment stage featuring music and comedy performances will add to the festive atmosphere.
Location: Gatlinburg Convention Center, Gatlinburg Time: July 9-18, 2021
Granger County Tomato Festival
This summer festival celebrates the world-famous tomatoes grown in Granger County, and has grown significantly since it was first held in 1992. Today, in addition to showcasing the delicious tomatoes, this event helps promote all of the county’s diverse agricultural products, as well as local artists, writers and artisans. Fearless visitors may want to join the now-legendary festival Tomato Fight, in which contestants throw tomatoes at each other in a fiercely competitive battle that is chaotic but undoubtedly fun to watch.
July 23-25, 2021 Rutledge Rutledge Elementary School, Grundger County