Festival season in the South skips summer and opts for spring and fall instead. With temperatures easily surpassing 100 ºF in summer, that is in festivalgoers’ best interest. Whether you put on boots or beads, these five festivals should not be missed in the American South.
#1 – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans, Louisiana – April/May
The Jazz and Heritage Festival brings together the crème de la crème of jazz and world music in City Park, New Orleans. For headliners, the festival looks further than jazz: think Aerosmith, Sting and Stevie Wonder. But the main Acura Stage isn’t where the magic happens. Head to the blues and gospel tent or the Jazz & Heritage stage for a truly intimate Jazz fest experience.
New Orleans heritage is as much about food as it is about music. Cajun delicacies like crawfish beignets, fried oyster po’boys and jambalaya make up your not-so-average festival grub. There is even a Food and Heritage Stage, where local chefs prepare signature Cajun dishes.
#2 – Houston Rodeo & Livestock Show
Houston, Texas – March
At the start of spring, Houstonians dress in their finest cowboy gear to attend the world’s biggest rodeo and livestock show. The official sport of Texas draws more than two millions visitors to Houston’s NRG stadium. Every day for three weeks straight, a rodeo performance is followed by a concert. Expect the biggest names in country music, but also the occasional Billboard Hot 100 artist.
We are in Texas, where no festival would be complete without an abundance of food and drink options. The NRG stadium is surrounded by a village of food and drink stands. For the best cowboy-watching, grab a seat in the Champion Wine Garden.
#3 – Austin City Limits
Austin, Texas – October
In the last days of Texas summer, music lovers flock to Austin for one of the most renowned music festivals in the US. Austin City Limits runs two consecutive festival weekends with a nearly identical lineup. Eight stages are set against the backdrop of the Austin skyline, hosting the biggest pop, rock and indie artists. If that doesn’t convince you, the picnic-proof bottles of rosé will. Austin is said to harbor the most music venues per capita in the world, earning it the nickname Live Music Capital of the World.
Urban oasis Zilker Park is the stage for ACL. A ten-mile hike-and-bike trail runs around Zilker’s Lady Bird Lake, offering views of Austin’s skyline along the way. For more views, hang an afternoon by the pool of the Westin Austin Downtown.
#4 – Mardi Gras
New Orleans, Louisiana – February/March
Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the grand finale of the most famous carnival celebration in the US. Parades roll through the streets of New Orleans for several weeks, but the weekend prior to Fat Tuesday is commonly referred to as Mardi Gras. Other than drinking on the streets all day and night, the signature feature of Mardi Gras is the beads. Parade krewes throw beads and other gadgets at the crowd, causing more than one black eye.
The secret to Mardi Gras is a fish bowl from Fais Deaux Deaux on Bourbon Street. For $10, you get a fish bowl of hurricane. No need to leave your perfect parade watching spot for at least three hours – unless for a bathroom break.
Don’t leave New Orleans before trying a piece of King Cake. Only sold in the carnival season, this colorful cake holds even more calories than a fish bowl of hurricane.
#5 – State Fair of Texas
Dallas, Texas – September
The slogan “Everything is bigger in Texas” must have originated at the State Fair of Texas, held late summer in Dallas. Big Tex welcomes more than two million visitors every year, making it the biggest state fair in the US. Despite the fairground attractions, shows and concerts, the fair is really just about one thing: food. Indispensable on the fair food menu are corn dogs, funnel cake and turkey legs bigger than a human head. Don’t be surprised to run into a pig on a walk.
In addition to the classic fair food, the Texas State Fair is known for its innovative take on deep fried food. From deep fried meatball spaghetti to chicken fried bacon and deep fried butter, nothing scares the Texans away.