Spring Into Georgia
10 Fun Ways to Explore the State This Season
by Hope S. Philbrick
Georgia does spring big. Blooms burst in spectacular color and quantity. Sandals replace boots. Sleeves get shorter. And excuses to get out of the house abound. All across the state, you’ll find a range of festivals with varied themes to make this season unforgettable. Here are 10 of our favorite ways to enjoy warm weather and have a good time while getting to know the different corners of your new state.
This month-long celebration of the arts runs April 13-May 13 and showcases some of Sandy Springs’ top talent, art and cuisine. The event roster includes cabaret and comedy, jazz and chamber music, theatre and talent shows, paintings and poetry, artists and authors, astronomy and gastronomy, gardens and more. Event admission prices vary—and the best news is that several events are free. www.artsandysprings.org.
BBQ, Boogie & Blues
This two-day festival in downtown Calhoun, which replaces the annual "More Than a Taste of Calhoun" event, aims to kick off a new tradition. Enjoy food from (or even participate in) a barbecue cook-off sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society. There’s also a street dance, a fashion runway event, a bicycle ride, children’s zones, live music and more. April 27-28. www.exploregordoncounty.com.
Blessing of the Fleet
This three-day event is the largest shrimp-boat blessing on the East Coast. Events include a seafood cook-off, a shrimp peeling and eating contest, a fishing rodeo, the Miss Blessing pageant and a classic car show. You’ll also find food vendors, children’s activities, live entertainment, parades, fireworks and a juried art show that draws talent from across the Southeast. April 20-22 in Darien. www.blessingofthefleet.com.
Atlanta Dogwood Festival
Celebrating 76 years in 2012, the Dogwood Festival is the longest-running celebration in the city and one of the country’s oldest fine arts festivals. Held April 20-22 in Midtown Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, the event features local artists, crafters, musicians and food vendors, and boasts a 24-foot rock-climbing wall and children’s village. The centerpiece is a diverse artists’ market showcasing more than 250 of the nation’s top artists working in painting, photography, glass, clay, leather, metal, wood and mixed media. www.dogwood.org.
Vidalia Onion Festival
Featured on The Food Network and recognized as one of the "5 Don’t-Miss Festivals Across the U.S." by MSNBC, this four-day festival celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Take in a range of events including the Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant, a children’s parade, outdoor music concerts, a battle of the bands, an arts and crafts festival, a car show, the Kiwanis Onion Run, a rodeo and the famous onion-eating contest. For the first time this year, 12 talented chefs from across the state are invited to showcase their culinary skills in the Golden Onion professional cooking competition. April 26-29 in Vidalia. www.vidaliaonionfestival.com.
Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo
This second annual event promises family fun and excitement. Along with daring humans—including some award-winning champions from around the world—the two evening and Saturday afternoon matinee shows feature a herd of world-champion bulls and broncs. You’ll also find pancakes and sausage plates, vendors, specialty acts and more. April 27-28 at the Kiwanis Fair Grounds in Statesboro. www.statesbororodeo.com.
Georgia Mountain BirdFest
Head to the North Georgia Mountains and join bird-watching enthusiasts, from beginners to experts, for guided walks, field trips, lectures and hands-on activities. Advance registration is required. May 3-6 at Unicoi State Park & Lodge in Helen. www.gamtnbirdfest.com.
Tall Ships Challenge 2012
The Tall Ships Challenge is an annual race that rotates between the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes. The featured tall ships are rigged sailing vessels crewed by youths ages 13 to 25. This year, the race begins in Savannah and finishes in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Savannah riverfront welcomes the competing ships from May 3-7. Visitors can view all the ships, board many and even set sail on a brief excursion. www.savannahtallshipschallenge.com.
Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival
Each year, the town of Thomson, Ga., celebrates its association with one of America’s most influential musicians. While few of his recordings ever earned mainstream popularity, McTell is widely regarded as one of the genre’s most accomplished guitarists and lyrical storytellers. Many of McTell’s songs, including "Statesboro Blues" and "Broke Down Engine Blues," have been recorded by such artists as the Allman Brothers and Taj Mahal. Talent from across the nation will perform on May 19. www.blindwillie.com.
Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que
This annual bluegrass festival and barbecue cook-off moves from South Carolina to Georgia for the first time this year, with a robust lineup of musical entertainment and flavorful fare. It promises "a swine-smackin’ good time," though in addition to pork, grill masters will be cooking up brisket, chicken, ribs and steak for a combined $40,000 in prize money. There are also carnival rides and a petting zoo for the kids, and plenty of arts and craft vendors as well. May 27-28 at the new Evans Towne Center Park in Evans, Ga. www.banjobque.com.