Autumn is here, and with it comes a fall full of festivals. There’s something for everyone, from craft lovers to music lovers, beer lovers—and the kid in all of us. Here’s a look at a few of our favorites.
Beer will be flowing and the air will fill with the smells of bratwurst grilling as Oktoberfest 2016 opens at Chattanooga Market.
“Folks love getting out to enjoy fall weather and they plan to meet their friends for a polka or chicken dance with us,” says Melissa Siragusa, market spokeswoman.
The Market’s Oktoberfest, the largest German-themed celebration of fall in the city, draws thousands each year from all around the region, and even some international guests, too.
“Last year I enjoyed serving beer to a group of four 30-something Germans having a great time at our Chattanooga Oktoberfest,” Siragusa says.
It all begins on Thursday, October 13, with Artoberfest, a gathering of artists from the community who come to show and sell their artistic creations, as well as participate against local high school students in a chalk-art competition. It’s all for fun and bragging rights.
The celebration continues Saturday and Sunday, beginning with a costumed 5K run to kick things off. For race participants, the beer tent opens at 7:30 a.m. —a little incentive to get the day going. Registration begins at 6:30 a.m. and the run takes off at eight o’clock, so there’s a 30-minute window to get your brew. And yes, there’s always a line — even that early, Siragusa says.
Then on for more fun as Mr. and Ms. Chattanooga Oktoberfest, wearing their best Bavarian frocks, will be crowned on Saturday evening following a parade through the market with other contestants.
German-inspired bands set the mood; traditional German foods tempt the palate and more than 100 different brews will quench the thirst. So polish your polka shoes and get ready to get your oom-pah on.
New Salem Mountain Festival
The mountains are blooming with colors, and there’s no better way to enjoy the changing of the seasons than visiting the New Salem Mountain Festival, an event that grew from the historic Plum Nelly Festival. Showcasing some of the best artists in the region, the festival, benefiting and sponsored by the New Salem Community Improvement Club, is now in its 41st year.
The number of vendors is limited to just 100, so artists, who hail from throughout the Southeast, have ample room to display their talents for all to see and purchase. Also, this allows for more free parking spaces, since thousands of visitors from all over the United States and abroad come to the mountain for this annual show of talent.
“Some may be here on vacation and just happen by, but most of those attending are regulars who come back every year,” says festival organizer Faye Nichols.
The artists’ works range from exquisite pieces of pottery and metals, to quilting, needlework, woodcarvings, leather works, candles, furniture and paintings. Also, farmers will bring fresh produce, honey, homemade jams and jellies.
“We always have a wide variety,” Nichols says, adding that all pieces must be made by the exhibitor only to be judged by a jury. “We strive to keep our quality up, our grounds in good shape and Southern hospitality alive.”
There will be live entertainment—gospel, country and bluegrass; down-home cooking with pinto beans, chicken stew and cornbread; and festival food favorites like hot dogs, barbecue, funnel cakes, caramel apples, cotton candy, pork skins and homemade peanut brittle.
Money raised from the festival supports the New Salem Community Center; Dade County, Georgia schools; and the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department.
Three Sisters Bluegrass Festival
A decade ago, Fletcher Bright, fiddler and founding member of the Dismembered Tennesseans, and son, George, were looking for a way to celebrate music with its roots embedded in the South. No better way to do so, they decided, than to invite other musicians to join them on the Tennessee River and include all those interested to come hear them play. And the father and son thought of no better name for it than Three Sisters, named after Fletcher’s daughters and George’s sisters: Lizzer Bright Graham, Ann Bright Monk and Lucy Bright Griffin.
Their gathering on the waterfront that first year was a success, and now, 10 years later, has gained recognition as one of the top bluegrass festivals in the country, right up there with such notable events as Merlefest in North Carolina, The Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, and World of Bluegrass in North Carolina.
“Attendance increases every year, but the essence of the festival has always been true to our original mission—to share our family’s love of bluegrass music in a fun and family-friendly atmosphere,” Graham says.
It’s no small feat to organize a festival that expects up to 15,000 people. Planning for the next year’s festival begins as soon as the last one ends. This past year has been no different. As the festival grows, more events are added, with more activities for children and more food for all, everything from barbecue to pizza, soft drinks and adult beverages.
And more music.
“There are lots more progressive bluegrass bands out there now,” Graham says. “We always pay special attention to the line-up and order of the bands to keep it balanced and fresh. Even within our family, we have a wide range of tastes, so we understand the importance of having something for everyone.”
There will be a dozen or more bands playing Friday night and Saturday, day and night. Some of the notable ones are Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, the Gibson Brothers, Trout Steak Revival, Greensky Bluegrass and Chatham County Line.
Three Sisters is not a charity-driven festival, though the Folk School of Chattanooga will be on hand accepting donations and promoting its mission of cultivating a community of musicians and music supporters in Chattanooga.
Autumn Kids Festival
Now in its 27th year, this festival to benefit Ronald McDonald House has come full circle, with adults who came as kids now returning with their own children and still having just as much fun watching as their young ones bounce in inflatables, go for pony rides, have their faces painted and try their luck at carnival games for prizes. The craft center will bring out the artist in all of them.
Characters roaming the Riverpark, including super heroes and Star Wars characters, will add to the festival spirit. Health and wellness programs are also back this year, giving children an opportunity to learn more about their bodies and what they can do to stay healthy in a fun atmosphere.
And when the parents get hungry, children might share a hot dog, chicken fingers, barbecue or even a snow cone. There will be plenty of food choices from which to pick.
“This really has become a family tradition,” says Victoria Tropiano, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chattanooga communications coordinator.
Money raised supports the local Ronald McDonald House as well as the Ronald McDonald Family Room located at Erlanger Hospital. So, Tropiano says, support for the festival is needed and typically raises an average of $65,000 to help defray the cost of providing overnight accommodations for 26 families daily. The Family Room sees an average of 1,220 visitors per month and offers respite in the form of rest, showers, food and more for families with loved ones in Erlanger, Siskin or Children’s Hospital.
For more information
• Three Sisters will be held at Ross’s Landing, Friday, September 30 from 6-11 p.m., and Saturday, October 1, from noon – 10 p.m. No admission charge. Information: 3sistersbluegrass.com.
• Oktoberfest will happen at Chattanooga Market (First Tennessee Pavilion) Saturday, October 15 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, October 16 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Artoberfest happens Thursday, October 13 from 4-7 p.m. No admission charge. Information: chattanoogaoktoberfest.com.
• New Salem Mountain Festival will be held at New Salem Community Center, 12477 GA-136, Rising Fawn, Georgia on Saturday, October 8, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, October 9, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $5 for everyone over 12. Information: newsalemmountainfestival.com.
• Autumn Kid’s Festival kicks off Saturday, October 1 at Tennessee Riverpark (Amnicola Highway) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Admission is free. Games and activities range from 50 cents to $3. Information: rmhchattanooga.com.
Other festivals of interest nearby:
International Cowpea Festival and Cook-Off: September 10 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. at Charleston City Park, Worth Street, Charleston, Tennessee. Free. The Cowpea is a festival in celebration of black-eyed peas and features food, music, vendors and a chef’s black-eyed pea cooking competition. Information: cowpeafestival.com.
Mountaineer Folk Festival: September 9-11 at Fall Creek Falls State Park, 10821 Park Road, Spencer, Tennessee. Enjoy square dancing, mountain music, handmade crafts, country cooking and pioneer skills demonstrations. Admission is free. Information: fallcreekfalls.org/activities.
Blue & Gray Festival: September 17, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Gordon-Lee Mansion, 217 Cove Road, Chickamauga, Georgia. There will be a barbecue contest and crafts show, festival admission is free; tours of the mansion from10 a.m-4 p.m will require admission—$5 adults, $1 children. Information: friendsofthegordonleemansion.org.
Hamilton County Fair: September 24-25 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at Chester Frost Park, 2318 Gold Point Circle. Fairgoers will enjoy live music, a petting zoo, food competitions, a model railroad display, sack races and more old-fashioned family fun. Park and catch shuttle at either Northgate Mall or Middle Valley Recreation Center. Admission: $6 adults, $4 ages 3-12. Information: hamiltontn.gov/fair.
National Muscadine Festival: September 23-25, 1000 North Main St., Sweetwater, Tennessee and Tsali Notch Vineyard, 140 Harrison Road, Sweetwater. Wine tasting; pick-your-own muscadines; 5K, vendors, crafters, the Miss Muscadine Pageant and parade, a barbecue contest and more. Admission is free to festival. Kids Zone wristbands $5-$8. Information: nationalmuscadinefestival.com.
Culturefest: October 2, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at Chattanooga Market, First Tennessee Pavilion. This festival focuses on arts, food and music representing Chattanooga’s diverse cultural communities. Admission is free. Information: chattanoogamarket.com.
Georgia Mountain Fall Festival: October 7-15 at Georgia Mountains fairgrounds, Hiawassee, Georgia. The 9-day event features concerts (Herman’s Hermits, T.G. Sheppard, Mickey Gilley and others), educational demonstrations, a flower show and the Official State Fiddlers’ Convention. Admission: $12, free for children 12 and under. Information: georgiamountainfairgrounds.com
Prater’s Mill Country Fair: October 8-9 at Prater’s Mill. A southern festival of quality artisits, craftsmen, music and food. Admission is $7 and free for children 12 and under. There is free parking but donations will be accepted. For more information please visit pratersmill.org/fair.
Story by Anne Braly
Photography courtesy of Three Sisters Bluegrass Festival, New Salem Festival and Chattanooga Oktoberfest