EDITOR’S NOTE: We realize that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to travel and events during the pandemic. To keep up with the latest information on travel and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click HERE, and be sure to check the event website and social media to ensure that you have the most current information. Stay safe!

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Calendars are getting full. Plans are being made. Things are looking up, y’all! Event planners and festival organizers across the South have had a whole year to plan and adjust, and we’ve had a whole year to patiently — or not-so-patiently — wait with anticipation. 2020 brought a whole lot of “bummer”-inducing cancelation and postponement announcements, and venues and festivals nationwide were forced to make very tough decisions while trying to stay afloat.

After an entire industry floundered for more than a year, it’s more important than ever to support these cultural and community festivals as they begin to return. Harry Woosley, a booking agent with Madison House, is one of the people behind the scenes getting bands back on to stages. “I’m seeing an uptick in excitement and comfort both from fans and from artists about the return to safe entertainment,” he says.

The Caverns

The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee, is an example of a venue that pivoted during the pandemic to keep the shows happening. Their concert series moved totally outdoors and in two-person, four-person and six-person pods. Guests’ feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Image: Austin Friedline

We have rounded up the dates, lineups, and key information for some of the South’s most notable festivals that are prepping for a safe 2021 return. Although we focus on events through September, we are confident there will be plenty more to talk about come fall. “It will be more of the same this summer,” Harry says. “Temperature checks, increased sanitization across the board, limiting capacities, and enforcing masks and social distancing rules.” So, we’ve also added a handy guide for the trends you’ll see this year and beyond, from safety to technology to sustainability.

POD-STYLE SEATING & GROUPED TICKETS

Events across the South will limit capacity to ensure space between attendees and avoid massive, tightly packed crowds. Some venues, like The Caverns, have moved completely into a pod or grid system until it’s safe to remove the barriers. Birmingham’s new music festival Euphonious is dividing its entire concert lawn into 10-by-10-foot squares, in which up to eight people can enjoy the music together.

Some festivals are even getting inventive with the nomenclature. Bear Shadow in Highlands, NC, is “emerging from hibernation” in April, and each group is in a COVE (Contained Open-Air Viewing Environment). Expect to see ticket options grouped by table (for indoor events) and by pod or section for outdoor events.

Bear Shadow safety map

Selling packs of tickets in these six- and eight-person pods assures that attendees are comfortable with their crew. Guests of Bear Shadow are encouraged to leave their COVE only when necessary and must be masked when not in their COVE. Image: Bear Shadow

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LET’S TAKE THIS OUTDOORS

Some festivals that previously spanned multiple venues across one city, such as Charleston’s Spoleto, are moving totally outside to parks, squares, backyard patios, and more. Savannah Music Festival, beginning in late May, is splitting its one-stage plan into two stages, each with a smaller, more spread-out capacity. At events with more visual artists and makers like Charlotte’s beloved Festival in the Park, the planners are spacing out each tent, and the vendors will limit the number of people given access at a given time, and older patrons are encouraged to visit during the early and late hours.

Bonnaroo Outdoors

According to the CDC, “If you want to spend time with people who don’t live with you, outdoors is the safer choice! You are less likely to be exposed during outdoor activities, even without the use of masks, when you stay at least six feet apart from people who don’t live with you.” Image (from 2018): Zoe Yarborough

TOUCHING IS SO OUT

Many festivals and sporting events will be going completely cashless to minimize points of contact. Aside from credit or debit cards, some will offer Apple Pay from your phone or Apple Watch, and others are even connecting payment to your required festival wristband, which eliminates the need to carry anything around. Many festivals will add plexiglass to vendor checkouts. And don’t expect to get your favorite artist or player’s autograph! Events like Regions Tradition golf tournament happening this May near Birmingham, are banning autographs and other types of up-close fan interaction.

SUSTAINABILITY IS TOP-OF-MIND

Today’s festival attendees are more supportive than ever of green events. From offering reusable drinkware and eco-friendly merchandise to operating with a smaller carbon footprint and giving back to the community, organizers are now focused on adding goodness to the earth, not just abstaining from hurting it. Deep Tropics — returning to Nashville mid-August — has a mission “to be the greenest festival in the United States,” says Blake Atchison, the Executive Producer and founder. “We are going beyond carbon neutral to become a net-positive energy and water event. This simply means we create more energy and water than we use.”

RELATED: 5 Southern Outdoor Destinations Off the Beaten Path

Blake’s twin brother and co-founder Joel Atchison serves as the festival’s Director of Regenerative Design, and adds: “We’re launching projects throughout the year to accomplish this net-positive goal including tree planting, rainwater catchment, recycling, composting, and a reusable cups, plates, and utensils program.” Additionally, we’ll produce art installations from sustainable materials, including hempcrete and aircrete.”

Sustainabilty

Expect to see partnerships and initiatives that focus on the environment while also giving back to local communities. In 2019, Deep Tropics collected and safely allocated 2,800 pounds of mixed recycling, 1,200 pounds of glass, and 700 pounds of compostables back into the environment in creative ways. Images: CakeMaster

HAND-PICKED FESTIVALS | APRIL THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2021

This is not an exhaustive list of all the amazing events and festivals across the South. Did we miss your favorite event? Let us know at [email protected].

4 Bridges Art Festival
April 16 – 18, 2021 • Chattanooga, TN
Art lovers and collectors from all over come to Chattanooga for this juried fine art show showcasing pieces from more than 120 artists with $20,000 in cash awards.

Bear Shadow
April 23 – 25, 2021 • Highlands, NC
Music, mountains, and revelry combine in the picturesque town of Highlands. Headliners include Mandolin Orange, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, and more.

Artisphere
May 7 – 9, 2021 • Greenville, SC
On the riverbank of downtown Greenville, Artisphere celebrates music, culture, and visual art of all mediums with a variety of famous and emerging artists and makers.

World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
May 12 – 15, 2021 • Memphis, TN
Memphis in May won’t kick off with Beale Street Music Festival this year, but it will hold its nationally recognized barbecue event (with strict protocols in place).

Vintage901 Wine, Food, and Music Festival
May 15, 2021 • Memphis, TN
At this outdoor “Grand Tasting,” the Vintage901 Wine, Food, and Music Festival at the Levitt Shell will feature excellent wines, incredible chefs and great Memphis music.

Savannah Music Festival
May 23 – 30, 2021 • Savannah, GA
This festival brings an eclectic, world-spanning collection of musical genres from classical orchestral to improvisational jazz to Savannah’s Historic District.

Spoleto Festival USA
May 28 – June 13, 2021 • Charleston, SC
This famous 17-day performing arts festival is completely free and totally outdoors this year with performances by renowned and emerging artists in opera, theater, dance, as well as chamber, symphonic, choral, and jazz music.

Hogs For The Cause
June 4 & 5, 2021 • New Orleans, LA
This award-winning two-day celebration combines 90+ barbecue teams, tunes from Old Crow Medicine Show, Robert Randolph and The Family Band (and more!), and one fabulous cause. Proceeds support children and families affected by pediatric brain cancer.

Gulf Coast Jam
June 4 – 6, 2021 • Panama City Beach, FL
This three-day country music festival takes place just blocks from the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s lineup includes Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, and many more.

Carolina Country Music Fest
June 10 – 13, 2021 • Myrtle Beach, SC
Grab your cowboy hat and flip-flops to experience more than 30 country music stars on the scenic shores of Myrtle Beach at Carolina Country Music Fest. This year’s lineup is topped with Luke Combs, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Jake Owen, and many more.

Euphonious
June 18 – 21, 2021 • Birmingham, AL
Coming to Birmingham, this new festival will feature Moon Taxi, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Blues Traveler, Sister Hazel and more at the newly renovated Birmingham Zoo.

Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands
July 15 – 18, 2021 • Asheville, NC | Virtual
This beloved Asheville event will happen virtually this summer and in-person in October. Watch craft demos, interact through live streams, and explore the works of more than 80 artists’ works of clay, fiber, glass, mixed media, paper, wood, jewelry, and more.

FloydFest
July 21 – 25, 2021 • Floyd, VA
Five days of music, magic, and mountains featuring vendors, food, brews and more than 100 artists including Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Billy Strings, and more.

Rock the South
August 13 & 14, 2021 • Cullman, AL
Originally intended to be a one-year celebration of recovery from the area’s 2011 tornadoes, Rock the South has been going strong ever since, expanding to become a massive celebration of country music and community. This year, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nelly, Ashley McBryde, Jordan Davis, and many more will headline.

Railbird Festival
August 20 & 21, 2021 • Lexington, KY
Across two days and three stages, a lineup of incredible music, bourbon tastings, and culinary experiences will descend upon the historic grounds of Keeneland.

Deep Tropics
August 27 & 28, 2021 • Nashville, TN
Deep Tropics is a regenerative, climate-positive dance music festival with an integrated attention to art and sustainability efforts — all at the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol, within the grassy Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.

Bonnaroo
September 2 – 5, 2021 • Manchester, TN
“Celebrating 20 years of magic on the farm,” Bonnaroo is set on more than 700 acres of farmland and features a diverse lineup of 150-plus musicians, immersive art installations, outdoor activities, top food and drink vendors, and so much more.

Big Four Arts Festival
September 11 & 12, 2021 •  Louisville, KY
Enjoy fabulous art from nearly 200 renowned and emerging local, national and international artists nestled in the shaded tree-lined downtown Lousiville.

Festival in the Park
September 24 – 26, 2021 • Charlotte, NC
Charlotteans and visitors from all walks of life come together for this community-bonding celebration of arts, crafts, music and family entertainment in beautiful Freedom Park.

Pilgrimage
September 25 & 26, 2021 • Franklin, TN
Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival takes place on a rolling farm in Franklin, Tennessee, and celebrates the South’s best music, culture, and food.

As we look forward to these events and more this summer, it’s important to manage your festival expectations and remember that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. “Be considerate,” Harry says. “Festival staff, vendors and artists are all doing their best to get back to work safely. Things are going to look a little different, so just try to keep an open mind.” Whether it’s art, music, sports, or food you’re after, the gates will open soon, and we can’t wait!

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