Mark your calendars with these signature Southern events.
Charleston Sternwheel Regatta
Charleston, West Virginia
At just 13 years old, Nelson Jones had an idea: Could his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, hold a sternwheeler boat race? He broached the question to a family friend who worked in the mayor’s office, and that friend encouraged him to pitch the idea directly to the mayor. He did, and in 1971, the city launched the first Charleston Sternwheel Regatta, and thousands of people showed up to watch the beautiful historic boats sail up the Kanawha River.
That event grew into a beloved Charleston tradition. Today, the regatta takes place over four summer days (June 30–July 3 this year). It still features a parade of sternwheelers on the river, of course, but has grown to encompass a variety of other festivities throughout downtown. Attendees can enjoy a carnival, a skate park exhibition, a beer festival, fireworks and music from nationally known performers. This year’s lineup includes Jo Dee Messina, Katie Boytek, Flo Rida and Better Than Ezra.
Double Decker Arts Festival
Since the city of Oxford imported an old double-decker bus from
England in 1994, the vehicle has become a sort of symbol for this quirky, artsy college town in Mississippi. A few years later, a group of locals staged some musical performances downtown, and the Double Decker Arts Festival was born.
Celebrating its 27th annual edition in 2024, the festival draws crowds of more than 60,000 people to Oxford’s Courthouse Square and will be held April 26-27. Things will kick off on Friday with art demonstrations around the square, followed by headliner entertainment in the evening. On Saturday, festivalgoers can browse work by 100 exhibiting artists and enjoy food from more than 20 local vendors. There’s also a packed program of musicians on Saturday. The musical lineup will be announced in February; past editions have included a mix of country, pop, rock, blues and jazz acts.
International Cherry Blossom Festival
In 1949, William Fickling found something surprising in his Macon, Georgia, backyard — a Yoshino cherry tree. While this variety of tree is common in Japan and had been notably imported to the Washington, D.C., area, it was rare in Georgia. Fickling quickly learned to propagate the trees and began planting them around Macon. Today, more than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees can be found around the city, and the community celebrates them each spring with the International Cherry Blossom Festival.
Since its inception in 1982, the festival has grown to become a powerhouse event. The celebration takes place March 15–24 this year and features not only innumerable pink blooms but also pageants, balls and other revelry. Nationally known musicians perform on both Saturdays of the festival. The 2024 edition will feature country band Parmalee, as well as Bryce Leatherwood, who became famous after winning the television singing competition “The Voice.”
Baton Rouge Blues Festival
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Though other Southern destinations get most of the headlines related to blues music, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, made its own signature contribution to the genre with the development of the “swamp blues.” This movement emerged in the city in the 1950s thanks to a Baton Rouge record producer who distributed work of local artists to influencers in Nashville and, eventually, around the world. Today, the Baton Rouge Blues Festival promotes, preserves and advances the swamp blues music and culture indigenous to the city.
The festival originated in 1981 and was first held on the campus of Southern University, Baton Rouge’s historically Black college. Today, the free festival takes place over a long weekend (April 19–21 this year) in venues downtown. Local blues musicians, as well as nationally known headliners, perform on multiple stages, and the music is accompanied by vendors, artists, kids activities and other festivities.
Fall for Greenville
Greenville, South Carolina
While other destinations in more northern climes spend October celebrating autumn color, Greenville, South Carolina, takes a different tack. Since its peak foliage doesn’t come until later in the year, the city instead highlights its impressive food and beverage culture with Fall for Greenville, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2023.
Food lovers will want to bring big appetites and plenty of culinary curiosity. The festival features local chefs and restauranteurs offering more than 250 dishes, ranging from Jamaican and Greek food to tacos and South Carolina barbecue. Small plates range in price from $3-$5. There is also plenty of beer on tap from many breweries around the region, as well as more than 80 musical performances on five stages. In 2024, the long-weekend festival will kick off with an evening concert on Thursday, October 10, then continue with day-and-night fun through Sunday, October 13.