The South can throw some killer summer festivals. From Bonnaroo to Shaky Knees, there are some amazingly popular events that satiate every type of music fan. But what about those summer festivals that celebrate stranger, more obscure things? Take a walk on the odd side, and check out some of these unusual Southern summer festivals that may be off the beaten path but are on target for a whole lot of fun!
14 Unusual Summer Festivals to Check Out This Summer
Atlanta Fringe Festival – Atlanta, Georgia
June 6-10, 2018
Whether you live on the fringe or prefer your music, art and dance on the quirkier side, this festival was made for you! This June’s Atlanta Fringe Festival connects adventurous artists with audiences to strengthen and celebrate Atlanta’s arts community. This year marks the festival’s sixth year, and the strong lineup of acts come in categories like circus/clowning, puppetry, spoken word/storytelling, comedy, theater, dance, cabaret and more.
Tupelo Elvis Festival – Tupelo, Mississippi
June 6-10, 2018
Pack your blue suede shoes and grow out those sideburns because Tupelo goes all out celebrating The King. This annual event is when this charming Southern city honors its prodigal son, Elvis Presley, at the Tupelo Elvis Festival. This year marks the event’s 20th anniversary making sure the music and life of Elvis Presley are forever revered. Event highlights include the Graceland-certified Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition, a 5K, pet parade and more.
Music City Hot Chicken Festival — Nashville, TN
July 4, 2018
Pay homage to Nashville’s official food — hot chicken — at this annual event. Yes, the temps are typically steaming, but the chicken is what’s served up hot and spicy at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival. All ages are welcome at this free event, where you can enjoy samples, food vendors, adult beverages for the over-21 crowd, live music, competitions and more. Finish the day by enjoying some festival July 4th fireworks — Nashville’s downtown show is among the top in the nation!
Underwater Music Festival – Looe Key Reef, Florida Keys
July 7, 2018
Party like Ariel and the merfolk of the Florida Keys at the Underwater Music Festival, which takes place at Looe Key Reef. Wear your favorite water-friendly costume, bring diving or snorkeling gear, and hitch a ride with a local dive shop for this super fun event that promotes and shares info about diving practices and the delicate ecosystem in the Lower Keys. US 1 Radio broadcasts tunes using special speakers contributed by Lubell Labs, and as Sebastian once said, there’s definitely a party “under the sea.”
Slugburger Festival – Corinth, Mississippi
July 12-14, 2018
Pie-eating contests are so passé, and don’t get us started on the traditional summer bingefest of hot dogs. In Corinth, Mississippi, it’s all about the slugburger. Just know that a slugburger isn’t made out of squishy gastropods; this sandwich was born out of necessity during the Depression, when people needed to stretch their meat by adding fillers to the mix (soy, wheat, etc.) then deep-fried the patty, which cost a nickel, or “slug.” Celebrate this Southern staple every July in Corinth with a carnival, live music and, of course, lots of slugs.
San Fermin in Nueva Orleans – New Orleans, Louisiana
July 13-15, 2018
New Orleans has more than 130 festivals throughout the year, with some of the coolest themes (Satchmo, Essence) and some of the wackiest (Festigals, Swamp Magic Fest). However the one to visit this summer is San Fermin in Nueva Orleans – their version of Encierro or “the running of the bulls.” The big difference between this festival and its counterpart in Pamplona, Spain, is that the American “bulls” are actually the Big Easy Rollergirls and ladies from roller derby leagues across the country. These roller derby skaters or “rollerbulls” wear horns on their helmets and carry plastic bats in their hands to take out thousands of participating runners. Seriously, that’s no bull!
Annual Lebowski Fest – Louisville, Kentucky
July 20-21, 2018
This year marks 20 years since The Big Lebowski premiered in movie theaters and eventually earned cult status. And for 17 of those years, Louisville, Kentucky, has been celebrating this bowling-loving, robe-wearing phenomenon at the Annual Lebowski Fest. It’s a weekend full of dudes, music and lots of movie references. And if you can’t make it to Louisville, there are more Lebowski fests in Los Angeles and Chicago later this year.
W.C. Handy Music Festival – Florence, Alabama
July 20-29, 2018
For more than a week, celebrate the music and history of W.C. Handy, the “father of the blues.” Put on by the Music Preservation Society, this blues festival has been going strong for more than 37 years in Florence, Alabama. This year’s scheduled events include the three-state bike ride tradition as well as a car and truck show, blues challenge, bluegrass gospel jam and lots more.
The Great Texas Mosquito Festival – Clute, Texas
July 26-28, 2018
If you can’t squish ’em, join ’em! Summer is the time for those little blood-suckers to feast on Southerners, so why not beat them at their own game by visiting Clute, Texas, for the annual Mosquito Festival? For more than 30 years, residents and visitors have descended on Clute to enjoy event favorites like the petting zoo, live music acts, barbecue cook-offs and more. Just don’t forget to bring the bug spray!
Secret Stages – Birmingham, Alabama
August 3-4, 2018
Summer musical festivals aren’t just about seeing your favorite bands; they’re about discovering up-and-coming acts and finding out who your next musical obsession will be. Visit Birmingham, Alabama, the first weekend in August for Secret Stages, which is a chance to see more than 60 bands on multiple stages that will rock your ears off and let you in on the secret of new killer music about to explode.
Tomato Art Festival — Nashville, TN
August 10-11, 2018
Enjoy a day celebrating all-things-tomato at this festive annual Music City event. The masses descend upon East Nashville every summer for the Tomato Art Festival. Attendees come dressed in costume, ready to peruse maker booths, run the family-friendly 5K, partake in the bloody mary contest, enjoy live music and so much more.
Bat Fest – Austin, Texas
August 18, 2018
In the grand tradition of keeping Austin weird comes a festival right up this quirky city’s alley. Bat Fest brings together live music, food and of course bats! Festivalgoers will get to see 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas at dusk … plus eat, drink and party with those who don’t rely on echolocation.
To look forward to next year …
Moogfest – Durham, North Carolina
If you consider yourself a futurist or just want to know what the term means, Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina, is for you. Moogfest is a “forum for the exchange of ideas by artists, futurists, inventors, entrepreneurs and scientists” and began as a tribute to analog synthesizer pioneer Dr. Robert Moog. The exchange between engineer and musician that he fostered is celebrated with a unique festival format where the creative process is understood as collaboration among many people, across time and space, in commerce and culture, when creativity and technological advances meet. And of course, no Southern summer festival is complete without music – in this case, cutting-edge performances by innovators in electronic music. While these year’s fest has come and gone, mark your calendars because next year’s Moogfest is slated for April 25-28, 2019.
Atlanta Fermentation Festival – Atlanta, Georgia
We Southerners can celebrate just about anything, so why not the chemical breakdown by bacteria and yeast? Atlanta just celebrated the second annual Atlanta Fermentation Festival, sponsored by Cultured South Fermentation Co., and by all accounts it was a success — and we love its catchy tagline, “It’s fine under the brine.” This family-friendly event educates adults and kids alike about fermentation, including the history and benefits of this traditional food preparation. Plus, who doesn’t want to enjoy an afternoon of kombucha, sauerkraut and, of course, beer?
Happy festival season!
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