It’s the most wonderful time of the year: September! While the first day of autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 22, if you’re anything like me you LOVE fall. Everything from the chilly air and seeing the leaves change, to hot apple cider, hayrides and pumpkin patches – there are a lot of seasonal activities to enjoy. September in Bristol TN/VA also brings the annual excitement of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival, which celebrates Bristol’s rich music heritage as the birthplace of country music. And that music festival makes me think of all the other wonderful festivals out there, ready to be explored and experienced. With the pandemic affecting nearly all events and activities for the past year and a half, many festivals now have virtual opportunities so that you can also experience the magic from home. Here’s a list of some delightfully different festivals in both Virginia and Tennessee to add to your to-do list. How many have you already visited?
Where: Norton, Virginia
When: Annually each October
First and foremost, what is a woodbooger? You may be asking yourself this very question right about now. According to the festival website, a woodbooger is defined as “a bigfoot-like creature that allegedly roams the woods of Southwest Virginia. He is a very tech-savvy creature and he keeps in touch via Facebook and Twitter.” You can visit the Flag Rock Recreation Area, designated as a “Woodbooger Sanctuary,” to see a statue of this elusive mountain-dwelling cryptid while you celebrate the festivities. The festival will celebrate its 7th year in 2022 and features a woodbooger-calling contest, a woodbooger costume contest, and an actual woodbooger hunt. This community event also has an annual guided night walk where guests can learn the local history of Norton. A definite must-experience kind of festival in my book!
Chautauqua Balloon Festival
Where: Wytheville, Virginia
When: Annually at end of July–beginning of August
If you’ve traveled past Wytheville, Virginia, on Interstate 81, you may have noticed a water tower in the shape of a brightly colored hot air balloon and thought, okay what’s that all about?! The answer is: Wytheville, Virginia is home to the Chautauqua Balloon Festival where dozens of hot air balloons fill the skyline with an eye-catching display each summer. The festival, an annual week-long event, is going into its 37th year in 2022 and is free of charge to the public. It’s put together each year by the Wythe Arts Council, whose mission is to provide entertainment and extend cultural opportunities to a largely rural area and beyond. This festival has it all, including food vendors, a craft bazaar, parades, music, and of course, hot air balloons flights!
Festival of the Book
Where: Charlottesville, Virginia
When: March 16–20, 2022
Virtual Opportunities: Yes!
Why does the ghost always need more books? He goes through them too quickly.
With that joke, the next question is: What could get better than this festival from Virginia Humanities? The Virginia Festival of the Book brings together writers and readers to promote and celebrate books, reading, literacy, and literary culture. The festival also has a large focus on diversity and accessibility while engaging those who attend on topics across many different genres. Guest speakers are chosen each year and represent a variety of topics designed to spark creative conversations and to inspire individuals. The festival also extends well beyond the festival date and features an incredible online and virtual presence – visit the festival website to view videos of discussions on authors and featured books via the Shelf Life virtual event program, which is free to the public.
Virginia Clay Festival
Where: Stanardsville, Virginia
When: September 18–19, 2021 and annually each September
The Virginia Clay Festival is an art show celebrating the creative possibilities of clay. Featuring clay artisans from across the state of Virginia, live demonstrations, music and more, this festival is sure to be an inspiration to you! Whether you’re a seasoned artisan, a beginner to pottery crafts, or a visitor with an interest and appreciation for this unique art, this festival has something for everyone. The festival also features an array of Irish and old-time bands during both days that will be sure to get you dancing, and when you visit you’ll have the opportunity to actually meet the makers of the handcrafted items on display.
Alright let’s take a look at some of my favorite festivals across the state line and on into Tennessee. It seems to me that Tennessee has some of the best tasty food fests, what do you think?
Tomato Art Fest
Where: East Nashville, Tennessee
When: August 2022
Since 2004 the annual Tomato Art Fest takes place in August each year in East Nashville with a festival motto of “The Tomato – A Uniter, Not A Divider! Bringing Together Fruits & Vegetables.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Did you know that tomatoes are actually a fruit? According to the USDA, Americans eat 22 to 24 pounds of tomatoes per person every year, and nearly half is consumed in the form of tomato sauce and ketchup. When you visit the vibrant community of East Nashville for the next Tomato Art Fest, you’ll be sure to see the tomato in its every form, along with tomato-themed art from local artists, local music, and more.
National Banana Pudding Festival
Where: Centerville, Tennessee
When: October 2–3, 2021 and annually in October
Okay, we’ve covered a lot of great festivals on this list so far, but this one is oh so very sweet! Take a trip on the “puddin’ path” at this fest where you can sample ten different kinds of banana pudding – if you need more (which you will), be sure to visit the pudding tent. The festival motto is “A great time for a great cause,” and the mission of the event is to earn funds to assist nonprofits and victims of disasters including fires, tornadoes, and floods. The festival is going into its 12th year – by visiting you’ll be able to witness the national cook-off for the Best Banana Pudding in America, and kids can visit their very own “Banana Land” where “kids go bananas” according to the event website!
Tennessee Soybean Festival
Where: Martin, Tennessee
When: September 4–11, 2021 and annually in September
I’ve bean thinking about this festival for a long time… And if you want to learn more about these magic beans, you’ll be visiting the right place. The annual Tennessee Soybean Festival takes place each year in September, paying homage to all things soybean and celebrating agriculture in general. Did you know that the soybean is called the “Miracle Bean” because of its versatility – for instance, soy ink can be used in printing books. Festival activities also include the Magic Bean Story Hours, visiting “The Bean House,” Friends of Library Book Sale, and more, all of which are enjoyed by festivalgoers each year (though many activities are closed this year due to COVID-19 safety precautions).
National Storytelling Festival
Where: Jonesborough, Tennessee
When: October 1–2, 2021 and annually in October
Virtual Opportunities: Yes!
Finally, take part in the National Storytelling Festival in beautiful Jonesborough, Tennessee, put on by the International Storytelling Center. The festival will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary and annually features a diverse lineup of storytellers. This year’s festival will be delivered virtually so that festivalgoers can still enjoy and experience over 20 hours of storytelling from the comfort of your own big cozy couch. One of my favorite activities during this fest is the ghost stories performed at dusk on a cool October evening. The mission of the International Storytelling Center is to inspire and empower people to use storytelling to address real-world challenges and promote positive change. I promise that you will be inspired after visiting, virtually or in-person!
So, there you have it, a few of my top picks of some wonderfully odd and interesting festivals in Virginia and Tennessee. I hope you get the chance to check these fests off your to-do list of fun and culturally engaging activities, either virtually or in person. Remember to stay safe and mask up when visiting festivals!
Toni Doman is the Grants Coordinator at the Birthplace of Country Music, and she hosts Mountain Song & Story on Radio Bristol on Thursdays at 4:00pm EST. She also performs in the musical duo Virginia West with her fiancé K.T. Vandyke.