Fall Travel: Southeastern festivals celebrate barbecue, blues, tiny houses and more

Festivities across the region salute music, food, books and art.

Fall is coming and the dip in temperature means festivals and fairs are back in full force. When it comes to travel, there’s no better time to visit a town than when it’s putting on a show of local talent, be it centered around arts, music, food or books. Here are nine festive events across the Southeast to inspire your road trip planning this season.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Ocmulgee Indigenous Celebration

Held at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park across the Ocmulgee River from downtown Macon, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the Ocmulgee Indigenous Celebration. The two-day festival honors the indigenous Native American cultures that once thrived in the region and built the giant earthen mounds inside the park. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the cultures through live demonstrations of storytelling, music and dance, and can purchase authentic crafts and food. Citizens of the Muskogee Nation in Oklahoma will be in attendance, visiting their ancestral homeland. Festival goers can explore the grounds of the park containing eight miles of trails and seven mounds. Ascend the Great Temple Mound via a staircase for a panoramic view of the park and city, and enter the Earth Lodge to see the original clay floor of the council chamber, which is more than 1,000 years old.

Sept. 17-18. $8. 1207 Emery Hwy., Macon. Free parking and shuttle to the grounds at 171 Emery Hwy. 478-752-8257, www.ocmulgeemounds.org.

Credit: Ken Gray Images

Credit: Ken Gray Images

Cave Fest

This is the inaugural year for Cave Fest, a music festival held at The Caverns, home to a renowned music hall inside a cave underneath the Cumberland Plateau in rural Tennessee. During the pandemic, The Caverns built an above-ground amphitheater, which will serve as the main stage for Cave Fest. The festival lineup features jam bands and modern bluegrass acts on the above-ground stage with the underground hall hosting various jam sessions. Headliners are Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, the Infamous String Dusters and Yonder Mountain String Band. A festival ticket includes a camping spot onsite, so fans don’t have to drive to the nearest hotels miles away in Manchester and Monteagle. For an additional fee, Dancin’ Dave’s, a festival camping company, offers full tent setups with cots and more for those who don’t want to haul camp gear and pitch their own tents.

Oct. 8-9. $99 and up. Dancin’ Dave’s full camping setup $225 and up. 555 Charlie Roberts Road, Pelham, Tennessee. 931-516-9724, www.thecaverns.com.

South Carolina State Fair

For a traditional fall experience head three hours east on I-20 to Columbia for the South Carolina State Fair. This 12-day event has a history dating back to 1869 and offers everything one would expect from a classic state fair: a midway with rides, kid-friendly entertainment, plenty of food-and-drink vendors selling amusement park fare, a big top circus, horse shows, blue ribbon agricultural competitions, arts and crafts, a petting zoo, carnival games and more. See the neon glow of the festivities from on-high with a slow whirl on the giant Ferris wheel or the Skyglider chair lift that soars above the length of the fairgrounds. And come hungry so you can chow down on plenty of corn dogs, funnel cakes, candy apples, fried Moon Pies and more.

Oct. 12-23. $20 at the gate, $10-$15 in advance. 1200 Rosewood Drive, Columbia, S.C. 888-444-3247, www.scstatefair.org.

Southern Festival of Books

Bookworms and bibliophiles from around the globe congregate at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. It’s one of the oldest literary fests in the country. After two years of holding virtual events due to the pandemic, this year marks a return to an in-person festival in downtown Nashville’s public spaces between the Tennessee State Capitol building and the Nashville Public Library. Among the more than 200 authors on the bill for 2022 are Jami Attenberg, Rachel Kushner, Tayari Jones, Imani Perry, Diane Kruger and Silas House. Two major hotels — The Hermitage and the Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown — are adjacent to the festival location.

Oct. 14-16. Free. Legislative Plaza/War Memorial Plaza in downtown Nashville. 615-770-0006, sofestofbooks.org.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The Go Outside Festival

GO Fest to the locals, the Anthem Go Outside Festival is Roanoke, Virginia’s premier outdoor event. It takes place over three days on the streets and in the green spaces of downtown, geared toward outdoor enthusiasts of all types and skill levels including bikers, hikers, paddlers, climbers and anglers. The aim of the festival isn’t to watch — although you can certainly do that — but to get people active. Never tried paddle boarding? You can at one of the shallow temporary pools set up in the street. Test ride a bike, scale a climbing wall, learn to fly cast and engage in many other outdoor recreational activities. When it’s time to relax, head to one of the beer gardens, live music stages or take in a film screening at a traveling version of the Banff Mountain Film Festival that will be at GO Fest this year.

Oct. 14-16. Free. Centered around Elmwood Park in the heart of downtown Roanoke, 505 Williamson Road, Roanoke, Virginia. 540-343-1550, roanokegofest.com.

Kentuck Festival of the Arts

Steeped in folk arts, crafts and culture, this is the 51st year for this festival in Northport, Alabama, on the north side of the Black Warrior River across from Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. Kentuck was the name of the original settlement in the area. The festival is put on by the Kentuck Arts Center, known for its diverse programming and cross-cultural focus. The two-day festival spotlights more than 270 artists selling their works in Kentuck Park. Craft demonstrations, children’s activities, live music and a stage dedicated to spoken word artists are also part of the festivities. For the first time, the Kentuck Gallery Shop will be open during festival days this year. It’s located in the heart of downtown Northport, less than a mile from the festival site.

Oct. 15-16. $10 daily, $15 weekend pass. 3401 5th St., Northport, Alabama. 205-758-1257, www.kentuck.org.

Credit: Mike Williams / Cox Newspapers

Credit: Mike Williams / Cox Newspapers

Forgotten Music Fest

If you like the blues and the beach, the Forgotten Music Fest makes a good combo of the two. Held in George Core Park on St. Joseph Bay in burgeoning Port St. Joe, Florida, the festival brings prominent blues-based acts to this lesser-known spot in the Florida Panhandle, which has made an impressive recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Michael in 2018. The festival stage sits in the shadow of the historic Cape San Blas lighthouse and steps away from the white sand beach on the bay. The wide-ranging lineup includes the lo-fi rockabilly of Joel DaSilva, the juke joint vibe of John Bull Trio, the energetic Cat Daddy Blues Band and the jazz-infused sounds of the J.P. Soars Gypsy Blues Review featuring Anne Harris. If you’re more into country music, Port St. Joe is also home to Blast on the Bay (Oct. 20-23) bringing top Nashville songwriters to town.

Oct. 8-9. $15 daily. George Core Park, 162 Miss Zola’s Drive, Port St. Joe, Florida. 850-731-1058, www.forgottenmusicfestival.com.

The Barbecue Festival

Located the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Lexington considers itself the barbecue capital of the world. The city stages a huge one-day festival each October to celebrate its most famous food product. Now in its 38th year, approximately 200,000 people attend the Barbecue Festival to chow down on Lexington-style barbecue — pork shoulder cooked low and slow over hickory wood, basted with a thin vinegary sauce and served chopped with a side of that same thin sauce. Pitmasters serve the ‘cue from three tents spread throughout the festival grounds while more than 400 exhibitors sell other treats and crafts from booths along Main Street. Other highlights are pig racing, an antique car show, a bicycle stunt show, rides and games for children and seven stages of live entertainment.

Oct. 22. Free. Along Main Street in Uptown Lexington. Lexington Visitors Center, 114 East Center St., Lexington, North Carolina. 866-604-2389, www.thebarbecuefestival.com.

Southeastern Tiny House Festival

Anyone curious about the tiny house movement or interested in becoming a part of it can see what it’s all about this fall at the Southeastern Tiny House Festival in the tiny central Georgia town of Danville. A partnership between Atlanta-based non-profit MicroLife Institute and Hummingbird Tiny Home Rentals, the festival will have more than 20 tiny houses open for tours and a speaker showcase with experts on sustainability, urban planning and micro-living. The keynote speaker will be Zack Giffin, co-host of the A&E reality series “Tiny House Nation.” The pastoral setting of the event site contains a pumpkin patch and a petting zoo. Take a hayride through the pasture and try your hand at the axe-throwing booth between tours of tiny houses.

Oct. 22-23. $20 daily, $35 weekend pass, $30 in advance. 3662 Old Macon Road, Danville. tinyhousefestival.com.