20 delicious spring, summer food festivals in Nashville, Atlanta and across the South

The Shed owner Brad Orrison at the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

After a slow couple of years for outdoor gatherings, food fests are back again with barbecue, soul food, crawfish and even livermush. Here are 20 excuses to get outside this spring and summer and eat your way across the South at food festivals big and small. Many events are free. Check links for extra details.

April

Fans cheer at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Thursday, May 2, 2019. After a two-year hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival returns this spring.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

April 29–May 8 in New Orleans

The music gets top billing, but the food is also a star at the long-running event popularly known as Jazz Fest. Vendors come back each year to make favorite dishes, like cracklins, crawfish bisque, jambalaya, fried pork chop sandwiches and cochon de lait po'boys. www.nojazzfest.com

A taste of Louisiana comes to the Pensacola Bay during the annual Pensacola Crawfish Festival which featured a kids area, music, art and thousands of pounds of boiled crawfish.

Pensacola Crawfish Festival

April 29–May 1 in Pensacola, Florida

Billed as one of the biggest crawfish boils in the Southeast, the Annual Pensacola Crawfish Festival brings a taste of Louisiana to Florida for a full-on week of music and mudbugs. www.fiestapensacola.org/crawfish-festival

Crawfish Fest:Festival returns with music, traditional dishes and plenty of Cajun fare

May

Scenes from the 3 Taxi Guys team grill during the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Wednesday May 12, 2021.

Memphis in May Barbecue Competition

May 11–14 in Memphis

Officially known as the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the annual event is one of the big four barbecue cookoffs. Although guests do not get to sample the competitors' entries, there will be plenty of barbecue, drinks and music for all. memphisinmay.org

Beale Street Music Festival:What's to eat at Beale Street Music Festival? Here are some of our favorites.

Taste of the Bluegrass

May 13 in Lexington, Kentucky

The annual benefit for the local food bank, now in its 40th year, features some of the area's best restaurants with plenty of wine and beer. godspantry.org/events/tasteofthebluegrass/

Nashville Rosé Festival

May 14 in Nashville

Try more than 100 specialty rosé wines, local beers, spirits and cocktails. The event also includes a vendor village, DJs, food trucks and lawn games. It benefits the Tennessee Breast Cancer Coalition. www.nashvillerosefestival.com

Nashville eats:Vegan Nashville hot tofu nuggets: All of the heat, none of the meat

Spirited Brunch

May 15 in Charleston, South Carolina

A free, self-guided tour of Charleston's houses of worship, with each stop welcoming visitors with food. The tour is organized by local food writer Hanna Raskin. For more information, see thefoodsection.substack.com

A bottle of Cheerwine on a sunny Carolina afternoon.

The Cheerwine Festival

May 21 in Salisbury, North Carolina

The essential Southern soda is feted at this free festival in the town where the drink was created. The music headliners this year are Blues Travelers and Spin Doctors. cheerwinefest.com

June

Livermush Festival

June 4 in Marion, North Carolina

This annual event closes downtown Marion in Western North Carolina to celebrate this porky Southern staple. www.romanticasheville.com/livermush_festival.htm

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience

June 7-12 in New Orleans 

This annual food fest, in its 30th year, is a six-day whirlwind of cooking competitions, wine and food tasting, and all the Big Easy fun. It's all in the name of supporting worthy culinary education programs. www.nowfe.com

Seafood boil:Try this buttery, rich Southern seafood boil at your next backyard gathering

SoulFeast

June 17-26 in Lexington, Kentucky

This 10-day celebration of black culinary culture highlights Black restaurants, farmers, and chefs in Central Kentucky through educational exhibits, curated experiences and great food. www.soulfeastweek.com

Chef Santiago Vargas prepares samples at Chow Chow Culinary Festival.

Chow Chow

June 23-26, Aug. 4-7 and Sept. 8-11 in Asheville, North Carolina

With three weekends of culinary events, Chow Chow offers ample opportunities to sample the culinary scene of this scenic Western North Carolina City. www.exploreasheville.com/chow-chow-culinary-festival

Chow Chow festival:2022 dates announced for Asheville culinary event series

July

The festival celebrates Nasvhille's most famous dish: hot chicken.

Music City Hot Chicken Festival

July 4 in Nashville

Appropriately enough, this festival celebrating Nashville's uniquely spicy chicken kicks off with a fire truck parade. You'll find plenty of hot birds, cold beer and good music at this free fest. www.hot-chicken.com

August 

A parade kicks off the 14th annual Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Tomato Art Fest

Aug. 12-13 in Nashville

The 19th annual Tomato Art Fest takes over Music City's East Nashville neighborhood for a two-day celebration of art, music, food, floats and costumes. A tomato art show showcases more than 300 pieces devoted to the South's favorite summer vegetable. www.tomatoartfest.com

Tomato recipes:Smoked paprika gives Kevin Mitchell's classic tomato pie extra depth of flavor

Pigs & Peaches Barbecue Festival

Aug. 19-20 in Kennesaw, Georgia

This annual event is also a Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned competition and official Georgia BBQ Championship throwdown. While there is no public tasting at the competition, vendors will keep you well-fed. www.kennesaw-ga.gov/pigsandpeaches

Knox Asian Festival

Aug. 28, Knoxville, Tennessee 

Pan-Asian food is at the heart of this event, with dishes from Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, India and many more. Expect traditional dance and martial arts demonstrations, a Japanese tea ceremony and Japanese drummers from Disney World. www.knoxasianfestival.com

September

Rick Hall, of Justus Orchard, bags Honey Crisp Apples at the 72nd annual North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville Saturday, September 1, 2018.

North Carolina Apple Festival

Sept. 3-6, Hendersonville, North Carolina

This festival takes over quaint downtown Hendersonville in Western North Carolina for Labor Day Weekend. There's a street fair, children's events, crafts and plenty of apples from local growers, who together help make the state among the top apple producers in the country. www.ncapplefestival.org

That's 'agritainment'::Local farms kick into high gear with apple cannons, mazes, more

Taste of Soul

Sept. 3-4in Atlanta

The Labor Day weekend festival features plenty of soul music, both free and ticketed, along with soul food from dozens of Atlanta vendors. tasteofsoulatlanta.com

Plating samples at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

Sept. 15–18 in Atlanta

The annual event has dinners, cooking demos and tastings featuring top chefs from Atlanta and across the South. atlfoodandwinefestival.com

The Sunday Brunch: Fired Up event is known as one of Euphoria’s most popular. A group of guest pit masters were featured at the event along with over a dozen local and regional chefs.

Euphoria

Sept. 15–18 in Greenville, South Carolina

This fun festival takes over gorgeous downtown Greenville with tastings, live music, stellar food and drinks and plenty of Southern hospitality. euphoriagreenville.com

Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Sept. 16-18 in Bardstown 

Dozens of craft distilleries and historic bourbon-makers come together to offer sample pours and bottle sales on Distillers’ Row. Don't miss the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay. kybourbonfestival.com

Know of another Southern food festival we should include? Email Todd A. Price at taprice@gannett.com