It’s Festival Time!

By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Arkansas Cornbread Festival and Delta Hot Tamale Festival

2017 Cornbread Festival

Southern festivals are all about oddities, fun, and making a difference in their communities.

Almost another religion in the South, festivals play an important cultural role across the landscape – not to mention they’re just plain old fun. And there is truly a festival for just about anything and anyone. Are you in a jousting mood? Do you believe peanuts could be the center of the universe? Or cotton? Maybe climbing a large rock sounds like fun. From gumbo to grapes, goats to cars, Southern festivals celebrate the mainstream and the quirky while raising money for a good cause.
Just south of Little Rock, Arkansas, in an area called Southside Main Street District (SoMa), “Cosmo” strolls the streets during the Arkansas Cornbread Festival. Cosmo is a large skillet of cornbread and the mascot for the eight-year old festival. Every fall, brave cornbread aficionados throw their name and pan in the hat to possibly win $1,000 for the best cornbread. Sound corny? Not to any true-blue Southerner with some corn meal and a skillet.
“It’s all about cornbread,” laughs Lori Ducey, the 2018 cornbread chair. Like so many festivals, the Arkansas Cornbread Festival grew from a vision to help a struggling community. “Anita Davis, a local business woman, began renovating buildings years ago in this area of town. It sparked a sense of revitalization. This free festival was founded to help draw attention to the area and encourage development,” says Ducey.
Today, the close-knit historic community is home to a mix of small businesses, restaurants, artists, Loblolly creamery, and even a distillery with an award-winning bourbon. Did all of this come about because of cornbread? It’s quite possible.
Down in Louisiana, festival revelers can enjoy more than 400 festivals and events every year! Whether you live in a big city or a quiet small town, finding your festival simply begins with your interests. Most festivals have music, vendors, artisans and family-friendly fun but the theme sets each apart. To get you started, here are a few that peaked our interest.

Get your grape on
Muscadine Jubilee 2018
September 8, 2018
If you dream about stomping grapes like Lucy and Ethel did in “I Love Lucy,” then head to Pelahatchie, Mississippi, where a similar pursuit takes place annually at the city’s premier festival. The thick humidity of Mississippi isn’t ideal for grapes; however, muscadines do grow quite well. To celebrate, the town has held the Muscadine Jubilee for more than 38 years. Enjoy wines, pies and jellies—and, yes, you can even stomp grapes, too.

Who’s got your goat?
International Goat Days Family Festival
September 8-9, 2018
These goats have made a name for themselves. Beginning on Friday night, visitors can enjoy the World’s Greatest Goat Parade. Got it? The World’s Greatest…
You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a baby goat frolic, and in Millington, Tennessee, goats are it during this festival. The free two-day event is packed with so many activities, the goats may have to take a backseat. A family favorite for enjoying farm and agriculture, visitors will see horses, tractors, fish…and of course goats.

Working for gumbo
37th Annual Biloxi Seafood Festival
September 8-9, 2018
Even though summer may be winding down, seafood season is in full swing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the Biloxi Seafood Festival. The Chamber of Commerce’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the festival highlights a wide variety of seafood dishes, including plenty of gumbo as part of the Sun Herald Gumbo Championship.

In honor of the tower
Water Tower Festival
September 21-22, 2018
Even a rusted water tower can inspire. In Hernando, Mississippi, the former town water tower sits atop a hill and has a fan base that led to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places. It also led to the Annual Water Tower Festival held on the historic square. This year marks the 16th year for the event which has a 5K race and another throw down: the annual barbecue competition. The two-day, much anticipated event begins with grilling, and it is serious business.

A month of festival fitness
RiverRocks Festival
October 5-21, 2018
For the endurance athlete or the amateur weekend fitness buffs, RiverRocks promises enough physical challenges to meet any goal. This festival celebrates the outdoors in and around the scenic, mountainous Chattanooga, Tennessee. Running, rock climbing, cycling, swimming, kayaking and more happen throughout the month. For those less interested in breaking a sweat, live music and food are always happening.

Jousting, anyone?
4th Annual Mid-South Renaissance Faire
October 13-14 and 20-21, 2018
Knights in shining armor, Queen Elizabeth I and jousting. Walking around the Mid-South Renaissance Faire in Memphis, Tennessee, will make you smile. An old nag might follow you or a dashing knight might try to woo you. But in the end, it’s the live jousting on horseback that will make you hold your breath.

Time for tamales
Delta Hot Tamale Festival
October 18-20, 2018
If you’re hunting a tamale muse, chances are you’ll find it in Greenville, Mississippi, during the annual Delta Hot Tamale Festival. Just as revered as the Southern written word, tamales have inspired this popular three-day event that also includes the popular Literary/Culinary Mash-Up where literature, chefs, and food mix at the historic Belmont Plantation. Enjoy great music, a stellar lineup of authors, artists, and chefs, hors d’oeuvres, and cocktails all while immersed in the beauty of Belmont’s stunning parlors and porches.

Art thou an artist?
RiverArts Fest,
October 27-28, 2018
If you love art, make art or buy art, then the RiverArtsFest in Memphis, Tennessee is your festival. Originally founded as Arts in the Park in 1984 and located in Overton Park, the festival has grown to the downtown area where more than 180 artists display and sell their works. This is touted as the largest outdoor juried artist market in the Mid-South. The kids will love all the interactive art activities as much as mom and dad will love adding to their collection.

Nothing beats cornbread
Arkansas Cornbread Festival
October 27, 2018
This isn’t your Mama’s cornbread. With 10 professional and 10 amateur entries, visitors have a chance to taste all kinds of cornbread near Little Rock, Arkansas. Last year’s professional winner? A vegan cornbread. Remember what your Mama always said: “Don’t knock it until you try it.” Blueberries, bacon, and jalapenos are just a few of the creative ingredients for these competitors. This is serious cornbread business you don’t want to miss.


Festival season is upon us. Get your walking shoes, grab a friend or the family and find the festival that makes you happy. In the end, your festival visit may be the reason a community grows, a project is finished, or a dollar is raised.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.