In the Tennessee Valley, festival season stretches from early spring to late fall. Themes run the gamut — from music, arts and crafts to cornbread, strawberries and the great outdoors. Here’s a look at a few favorites.
* Spark, A Right Brain Celebration (April 11-21): This 10-day festival covers art, technology, culture, music and other creative endeavors, mixing local with national artists and taking place from St. Elmo to the North Shore. In its debut in 2012 (when it was known as the HATCH festival), it included everything from “Site Unseen,” a temporary exhibit of 3-D sculpture and 2-D images viewed on a smartphone or tablet computer, to eight-piece jazz ensembles performing in local bookstores, to the installation of large pieces of public art. Some events have admission charges, but many are free. http://www.sparkartschattanooga.com.
* 4 Bridges Arts Festival (April 13-14): Originally named after the four bridges that run through Chattanooga and held in Coolidge Park, this juried art show moved several years ago to the (covered) First Tennessee Pavilion. Sponsored by the Association for Visual Arts, it gives 150 artists the chance to show their wares to crowds in the 15,000 to 18,000 range. Admission is $7 per day for ages 18 and older, $10 for both days. Preview party on April 12 has separate admission of $75 ($100 day of). http://www.4bridgesartsfestival.org.
* Valley Fest (April 20-21): Exile, Cody McCarver and Carrie Hassler are among the musical guests set for the 2013 edition of Valley Fest in Dunlap, Tenn. The festival celebrates the cultural diversity of the Sequatchie Valley through music, dance, art and food. Entry pins are $8. http://www.valleyfestonline.com
* Chattanooga Market (April 21-Dec. 22): Every Sunday afternoon for nine months, local farmers, artists, craftsmen and others set up shop in First Tennessee Pavilion. Each market centers on a theme, whether it’s the popular Beast Feast BBQ on May 26, the Blueberry Festival on June 23, the Hot Rod show on Sept. 1 or the Haunted Market on Oct. 27.
Some events have become so popular, they’ve expanded to two days — Oktoberfest on Oct. 19-20 and the Thanksgiving Market on Nov. 23-24. For the weekends of December leading up to Christmas, the market moves indoors at the Chattanooga Convention Center. chattanoogamarket.com.
* National Cornbread Festival (April 27-28): The two-day spring festival in downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn., includes music, a car show, beauty contest, carnival, historic tours of downtown and foundry tours of Lodge Manufacturing, makers of the cast-iron skillets used in a national championship cook-off for main-dish cornbread recipes. http://www.nationalcornbread.com.
* Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival (May 2-4): Low-key but full of high-quality music, this festival is held on the grounds of Raccoon Mountain Campground in Lookout Valley just west of Chattanooga. Performers this year include the Lonesome River Band, The Dismembered Tennesseans, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Lone Mountain Band and Shannon & Heather Slaughter and County Clare. Tickets purchased before April 15 are $10 to $55; after that, they jump to $15 to $70. http://www.boxcarforeverbluegrass.com
* Choo Choo Jazz Fest (May 3-5): Formerly known as the Chattanooga Traditional Jazz Festival, the name has been changed but not the focus. Originally begun in 1990, the festival highlights Dixieland and New Orleans jazz, pulling in musicians and attendees from all over the region. It’s held in the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. choochoojazzfest.com.
* International Dogwood Festival (May 3-5): Three days of music, crafts and family entertainment in Winchester, Tenn., help promote Franklin County’s claim to have patented more flowering dogwoods than anywhere else in the world. http://www.winchesterdogwoodfestival.com.
* Nightfall (May 3-Aug. 30): For 25 years, the series of free Friday night concerts has attracted thousands to Miller Plaza in downtown Chattanooga. Local talent always opens at 7 p.m. for the headlining act at 8. Always on the cutting edge of music, Nightfall has brought such acts as Lucinda Williams, The Black Keys, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Bottle Rockets and Marshall Crenshaw. http://www.nightfallchattanooga.com.
* Children’s Hospital Dragon Boat Festival (May 4): Held at TVA Park at Chickamauga Dam, the festival-on-water is a major fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital Foundation and has a goal of $165,000 for this year. In 2012, the festival raised more than $150,000. Each 41-foot-long boat — yes, they are dolled up to look like dragons — has 20 paddlers with a drummer and a steerer, and they race against each other for gold, silver and bronze prizes. Each boat tries to raise at least $3,600. Registration before April 2 is $700 per corporate team, $650 for nonprofit/community teams. After that, it’s $950 for corporate and $900 for nonprofit. Teams from the Southeastern Regional Dragon Boat Association and the U.S. Dragon Boat Foundation get further discounts. The final deadline to enter a boat is April 22. Register at http://www.Chattanooga.RaceDragonBoats.com.
* Tennessee Strawberry Festival (May 4-11): With a theme this year of “Strawberries in Space,” this festival in Dayton, Tenn., began in 1947. Sponsored by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, it opens with the crowning of the Strawberry Festival queen then proceeds for the next week with a fishing derby, cooking competitions, arts and crafts show, musical entertainment, carnival, parade and numerous civic club events. http://www.tnstrawberryfestival.com.
* 1890s Day Jamboree (May 24-25): This small-town street festival is held Memorial Day weekend in Ringgold, Ga. Highlights include gospel music, dance and fiddle contests, arts and crafts, parade, cruise-in and fireworks. Admission is free. http://www.1890sday.com.
* Riverbend Festival (June 7-15): Over nine days, Chattanooga’s biggest festival stretches up and down the 21st Century Waterfront — and one night of the Bessie Smith Strut on M.L. King Boulevard — with more than 100 bands. The cost to get into all nights is $32 for a lapel pin, which go on sale May 1 at Kangaroo Express locations. Nightly tickets are $26 each. This year, the headline acts include Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, R&B pop songstress Brandy, country star Dierks Bentley, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton and contemporary Christian band Newsboys. http://www.riverbendfestival.com
* Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 13-16): Now lauded as one of the country’s biggest and best music festivals, the four-day Bonnaroo takes place in a field near Manchester, Tenn., a couple of hours up Interstate 24 toward Nashville. This year’s 100-plus musical acts and comedians include Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Bjork, R. Kelly and Daniel Tosh. General-admission passes for all four days range from $234 to $259. http://www.bonnaroo.com.
* Wine Over Water (Sept. 28): Actually held over the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street Bridge, this festival features vintages from more than 100 wineries around the world while participants take in panoramic views of Chattanooga. All proceeds benefit the historic preservation efforts of the nonprofit Cornerstones, whose goal is to maintain the city’s architectural heritage. Tickets, which generally run between $65 and $70 will be available June 15. http://www.wineoverwater.org.
* RiverRocks (Oct. 4-13): Focusing on all things outdoors, the 10-day festival covers all of Chattanooga and the surrounding region. With dozens of events scheduled, not only are there contests for runners, mountain bikers, kayakers, rock climbers and other outdoor lovers, there are also music events, hot-air balloons and family activities. Most RiverRocks events are free. http://www.riverrockschattanooga.com.
* 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival (Oct. 4-5): The music festival founded by local businessman and Dismembered Tennessean fiddle player Fletcher Bright is seven years old this year. The free event at Ross’s Landing offers two days of bluegrass music featuring local, regional and national music artists. http://www.3sistersbluegrass.com.
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