Barbeque, Music, and Southern Made!

By Deborah Fagan Carpenter


Barbeque, Music, and Southern Made! Three southern festivals, Memphis in May International Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Southern Makers in Montgomery, Alabama are unique and innovative southern celebrations that are hard to top, no matter where you live!

Miss River Bridge

Recognized as one of North America’s leading festivals, Memphis In May International Festival originated as a salute to a different country each year, beginning in 1977 by honoring Japan. The extensive interaction with each honored country has led to an awareness of other cultures, commerce among nations, and has brought thousands of people to the city from the honored countries and others.

Two of the original events however, have become entities unto themselves. The World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest and the Beale Street Music Festival quickly took on a life of their own, and today they literally bring participants, as well as audiences, from all over the world. Both events take place at Tom Lee Park, with the Mighty Mississippi River serving as a backdrop.

Over a million people from all over the nation and across the globe have been entertained by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp—to name only a few. The 2016 Festival—April 29 – May 1—will bring in celebrated artists such as Neil Young, Paul Simon and Mavis Staples, and will host some regional, but internationally known blues artists like Luther Dickinson and Duwayne Burnside.  See

With over a mile of wall-to-wall cooking contestants vying for a piece of the largest purse in the festival’s history—$115,000—The World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest runs May 12–14. There’s pork to be smoked, but they’ll also be cooking up beef, chicken and seafood. Comfortable shoes are a pretty good idea if you want to cover the entire lineup!


crowd at jazz fest

There’s not more authentic music, food or culture to be found anywhere on the planet than during the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—April 22 – April 24 and April 29 – May 1. When Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington joined the Eureka Brass Band to parade through the Louisiana Heritage Fair in 1970, the Jazz Festival was born. Today roughly 400,000 music enthusiasts a year, from across the nation and all over the world, travel to the Crescent City for the festival. The soul of New Orleans has a starring role in the celebration, and its spirit is contagious.

spirit 2_edited-1

Multiple stages at the Fairgrounds Race Course, ten minutes from downtown New Orleans, host music, largely associated with the city and region. In addition to contemporary and traditional jazz, there’s blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, country, bluegrass, and some that are a little more exotic. See

Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo, Arlo Gutherie, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Ellis Marsalis, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are only a sampling of the enormous line-up for the 2016 festival. Tribute will be paid to New Orleans icon, Allen Toussaint by artists, Cyril Neville, Davell Crawford, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John and Jon Batiste. The late B.B. King will also be remembered by Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, Gregory Porter, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit and Luther Kent.

If the mammoth list of musicians isn’t enough, it’s equally matched by the novel culinary selections. Naturally there are southern standards like fried chicken and fried green tomatoes, but only in this part of the country are you likely to find Alligator Pie, Crawfish Beignets, Cajun Duck Po Boys, Pecan Catfish Meunière or Boudin Balls.

The luscious aroma of inventive food permeates the air, joined by the sounds of the south emanating from every direction, and at the heart of it all is the underlying passion of New Orleans. It’s a blast!

southern makers photo

A plethora of creative skill will come together April 30 – May 1 in Montgomery, Alabama for the annual Southern Makers festival. Prodigies in numerous fields, all Alabamians, will be making music, showing original designs in fashion, art, beer, coffee, soap, food and every imaginative endeavor conceivable. The élite of the élite from all over the state are carefully selected to present southern ingenuity and entertainment at its finest. The hand-picked group of top-quality architects, artists, chefs, and more, will gather at the Union Station Train Shed to display and sell examples of their work, to give demonstrations, and to network with the other inspired professionals who are jam-packed under one roof. Over a hundred resourceful visionaries will take part. See

One example of the note-worthy participants in the festival is renowned home-wares and fashion designer, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Her amazing hand-sewn garments are worn by people all over the nation, including many celebrities.  Natalie’s concept of “slow design”—brought to life in her hometown, Florence, Alabama, but sold world-wide—focuses on using sustainable, organic and local materials and local labor, who create the fashions “in their own time and in their own way.” Natalie will deliver a two hour sewing workshop on Sunday, centering on the basics of sewing and embroidery, and participants will ultimately create their own journals during the session.

Additional workshops and demonstrations will be delivered by Hornsby Farms, Earth Creations, Central Alabama Beekeepers, Left Hand Soap, and Mama Mocha! An intriguing story telling series begins at 12:30 on Saturday, and music fills the air on Sunday, performed by RB Morris, Tim Lee 3 and Caleb Caudle. The lineup of musicians, story tellers and other ingenious participants will likely increase by the time the festival opens, so one would be wise to check their website for changes.  Only in its fourth year, Southern Makers is loads of fun,  but primarily, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the most creative people in the south and to experience their innovations.

All three of these top-notch southern festivals happen around the same time, but if you had to pick one over another, you probably wouldn’t be disappointed with any choice. There’s always next year y’all!



The Mississippi River Bridge at Memphis photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to

Both New Orleans Jazz Fest photos are by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

The Montgomery Train Station photo was pulled from the Southern Makers web site, and is credited to Michelle Marie Photography Marie Marie Photography



  1. Maggie Watkins

    Looks like good Southern fun!

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