Arts & Culture

On With the Show

Festivals are coming back in the South in a big way

Photo: Julia Lynn, courtesy of Spoleto Festival

An evening concert at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard in Charleston, South Carolina, as part of Spoleto Festival.

Like a collapsed row of dominos, last year’s festival season tumbled to an abrupt end when the pandemic arrived. The shows would not go on. After more than a year of trying to make the best of virtual performances, festivals and concerts across the South are back and ready to raise their curtains. Whether you’re in the mood for a world music fest in the Blue Ridge Mountains or a seventeen-day high art bonanza in South Carolina, these arts and culture events deserve a look.

Spoleto Festival USA
Charleston, South Carolina
May 28–June 13

After having to put its city-wide performing arts festival on hiatus last year, Spoleto Festival USA returns for its forty-fifth season on May 28. In addition to a line-up of the world’s best dance, theater, jazz, and chamber music performances, Nigel Redden, the fest’s director says, Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration provides a particularly poignant offering. “To have visionary artists Jason and Alicia Moran produce a new iteration of their work, Two Wings, is very special and very timely,” Redden says. “Chronicling the twentieth century’s Great Migration and the terror that pushed many Black families away from the South, this is a concert event for and of this moment—and also this place. Its presentation at the Festival in Charleston—the entry point for about fifty percent of all Africans enslaved in North America—will be the first time it is shown in the South.”

photo: courtesy of Alicia Hall Moran
A scene from Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration.

Floyd, Virginia
July 21–25

Billy Strings, who won this year’s Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album and was Billboard’s top artist of 2020 for both bluegrass categories, will share headline billing with the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show at FloydFest, a Blue Ridge mountains-based world music gathering. Attendees will also hear up-and-comers including the Josephines and Goodnight, Texas. 

North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic
Waterford, Mississippi
June 25–26

As anyone who has heard it can attest, North Mississippi Hill Country blues has its own sound, noted for what some describe as its “hypnotic boogie.” This two-day campout just north of Oxford will see the likes of the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson team up with multi-instrumental American electric blues musician Cedric Burnside—who recently partnered on an album of Muddy Waters covers called “Catfish”—for a closing performance not to be missed.

Manchester, Tennessee
September 2–5

After canceling its 2020 event, Bonnaroo is back with a bang. The Labor Day weekend music and arts festival has what can only be described as a star-studded lineup, including the Foo Fighters, Lana Del Rey, and Lizzo. Not to mention Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, and Grace Potter, all of which will make for a remarkable twentieth anniversary event.

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Looking ahead to the fall, other previously canceled or delayed festivals will hold homecomings. Here are some highlights:

Austin City Limits
Austin, Texas
October 1–3 & 8–10

Austin City Limits Music Festival will celebrate its twentieth anniversary this year, and organizers are determined to deliver a stellar program. The eclectic lineup includes Billie Eilish, Stevie Nicks, and George Strait for a two-weekend concert series performed on eight stages and with more than 140 total bands.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 
New Orleans, Louisiana
October 8–17 

Put NOLA in your travel plans for the fall if you want to hear great jazz. After making due with a “Jazz Festing in Place” radio broadcast of classic Jazz Fest performances in April rather than the real thing, the New Orleans Jazz Festival returns to the city’s Fair Grounds for a live and in-person experience this October with performers to be announced soon.

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Wildwood Revival
Arnoldsville, Georgia
October 8–10

To make up for a year off, Georgia’s Wildwood Revival, an Athens, Georgia, festival described as “a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll, and everything in between” will not only reprise its two-day campout setup on a thirty acre farm, but will also host a series of summer events called Into The Wildwood. May 28 sees the first concert in the series with Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show.

Art Basel
Miami Beach, Florida
December 2–4

International travel restrictions and social distancing made it impossible for one of the preeminent art shows, Art Basel Miami Beach, to take place last year. To ensure a return to its signature display of typically 4,000 artists, Art Basel has pushed its next event to December with preview days on December 1 and December 2.

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