Spring is almost here, y’all. It’s only frosty in the mornings now, giving way to blossoming days of flower-filled colors and toasty afternoons. The annual thaw also kicks of the bonanza of festivals heading to Knoxville in the months to come. There’s more to see and do than you could possibly shake a stick at (and hey, if festivals aren’t your thing, there’s also plenty to hike and bike and climb).
But with so much on the books in the oh-so-near future, here’s a handy list of some of your best-bets and must-see festivals in Knoxville, from otherworldly musical celebrates to artsy walks and cultural happenings. The listings are in chronological order, starting in March and continuing into the fall, with a few year-round things to do for good measure.
1. Big Ears Music Festival (March)
Definitely the city’s most eclectic and far-out musical bash, the Big Ears Music Festival has garnered national attention and stellar reviews for its unique approach. Over three days downtown Knoxville is transformed into a sonic soundscape, best explored with your ears as you get lost in one experience after another, from avant-garde to classical. A must-hear for serious listeners, and an unforgettable experience for everyone.
2. Rhythm N’ Blooms Music Festival (April)
Over the past eight years this Americana-esque music festival has become a Knoxville staple, taking over the streets and venues in the historic Old City for a weekend packed with national headliners alongside some of East Tennessee’s best musical talent. It’s hard to peg a genre on the mix of musical undertones, which lean indie and Americana at times, but the vibe and street scene make it an experience not to be missed. This year’s Rhythm N’ Blooms runs April 7-9, 2017.
3. Dogwood Arts Festival (April)
Quite possibly Knoxville’s longest running festival, the Dogwood Arts Festival kicked off in 1961 and has evolved considerably over the decade. At its heart are exhibitions and tours celebrating the city’s art, culture, and nature all spring long, with art installments, contests, walking tours, and the annual Chalk Walk, where artists chalk masterpieces on Market Square. The hallmark is the Dogwood Trails, routes designed to showcase the beauty of the city’s neighborhoods that can be driven, biked, or walked.
4. Rossini Festival (April)
Sixteen years running, the Rossini Festival International Street Fair, put on by the Knoxville Opera, takes over the heart of downtown’s Gay Street for a one-day extravaganza of music and family events. There are 11 consecutive hours of music—including jazz, classical gospel, ethnic, and more—plus more than 100 artisan craft and food vendors lining the roadways. Get lost in the throngs of people in this crowd-pleasing festival, which draws more than 500,000 people to the city center annually.
5. International Biscuit Festival (May)
Held annually in conjunction with the Southern Food Writing Conference in downtown Knoxville, the International Biscuit Festival has a well-earned reputation as a must-visit (and eat) among local foodies and anyone looking for a fun and unique get-out-and-do. Along with the fluffy basics, vendors create concoctions with a range of flavors and twists that you might not expect, but can’t help to try. There’s even a Miss and Mister Biscuit Pageant, because why not?
6. Open Streets Knoxville (May & October)
The Open Streets movement has hit Knoxville in a big way. A national phenomena in major cities, these bi-yearly events shut down urban roadways, packing them with family-friendly events and attractions and inviting people to get out of their cars and rediscover roadways and neighborhoods in unique ways. Knoxville Open Streets took over portions of North Knoxville in 2016, and is expanding to East Knoxville this spring and South Knoxville in the fall.
7. Bike Boat Brew and Bark (June)
Rev up your engines and take the pooch to the river’s edge for this event that’s quickly becoming a Knoxville staple. The two-day Bike Boat Brew and Bark is a family-friendly outing (pets included) that features the Visit Knoxville Powerboat Classic. Watch as the hottest race boats in the world power through turns at top speed, streaking down the straights at an average 115 mph.
8. Market Square Farmers’ Market (May-November)
It’s not exactly a festival in the classic sense, but the Market Square Farmers’ Market ranks with the top must-do things throughout the warmer months (though a smaller market continues through the winter). Each Wednesday and Saturday, downtown’s Market Square and neighboring Krutch Park are swamped with local vendors and street performers selling everything from craft goods to locally-sourced produce. For many locals, it’s a weekly stop-over to see friends, grab a bite or a beer, and stock up the pantry.
9. Knoxville Brewfest (June)
A one-day outdoor soiree that’ll make your tongue tingle form all the craft beer and local brews on tap, the Knoxville Brewfest brings together a range of the best in the region for an all-out taste test and good times—and it’s all for a good cause. Proceeds from the 2017 event benefit CureDuchenne, an organization dedicated to curing a muscular disease that affects children. More than two dozen breweries and a host of food trucks participate.
10. HoLa Festival (September)
Taking place during Hispanic Heritage Month in September, the annual HoLa Festival is a great way to celebrate and get to know Knoxville’s Latino influence. Soak up the diversity and learn about more than two dozen different Latino countries with ties to Knoxville, sampling authentic foods and performances from a variety of regions.
11. First Fridays (first Friday each month)
Going strong for more than a decade now, the regular First Friday exhibitions and performances have long been a regular stop-over for artsy locals looking to enjoy the creative side of Knoxville. First Friday events are scattered throughout venues around downtown and elsewhere in the city, and the diverse and sometimes spontaneous nature of the gatherings is part of the fun. Check out the monthly Downtown Art Walk and the Dogwood Arts Festival First Friday: Guitar Design Contest. Other regular venues include the Central Collective, the Emporium Center, the Art Market Gallery, Lox Salon and the Basement, Barnes & Barnes, the UT Downtown Gallery, and many more.