Dahlonega Roars with Bluegrass this Weekend

Bring your instruments and join a jam session at Dahlonega's Bear on the Square Festival.

Bring your instruments and join a jam session at Dahlonega’s Bear on the Square Festival.

Spring marks the beginning of Georgia’s festival season, a parade of wonderful opportunities to venture outdoors and sample local arts and flavors. Near the top of the calendar is Dahlonega’s Bear on the Square Festival, which celebrates its 20th year this weekend (April 16-17, 2016).

As a North Georgia mountain gateway and onetime gold rush town, Dahlonega hardly needs another calling card, but Bear on the Square really ups the ante with its heartfelt dedication to traditional Southern Appalachian music. The festival attracts nearly 50,000 attendees stretching well beyond adjoining states. “We heard from folks in England who wanted to attend a bluegrass festival and after doing their research decided this was the one,” marvels festival organizer Glenda Pender.

Dahlonega has long served as a musical hub, playing host to fiddle conventions as far back as the early 1900s. While Pender draws a distinction between bluegrass and old-time music, Bear on the Square does justice to both. Check out this YouTube video of the original Skillet Lickers for an early example of the genre. The Georgia Crackers, on this year’s main stage bill, draw a direct line to the authentic North Georgia sound. (A bit of trivia for rock fans: Georgia Cracker Evan Kinney is the brother of Kevn Kinney, from Atlanta’s legendary Drivin’ N’ Cryin’.)

Musicians from all over the world visit Dahlonega to hear authentic bluegrass music during the Bear on the Square Festival.

Musicians from all over the world visit Dahlonega to hear authentic bluegrass music during the Bear on the Square Festival.

“Official” festival music runs from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, but that’s just the start of the fun. “Probably a quarter of folks show up with their own instruments,” estimates organizer Jimmy Booth. “People start rolling in by Thursday night,” and impromptu jam sessions begin cropping up all along the town square, often with the professionals joining in. An unscientific poll on the festival site reveals these pickup jams to be the most popular aspect of the event. Free workshops (no experience necessary) are also offered throughout the weekend. Storytelling — another Appalachian tradition — has been added to the program, as well.

Another audience favorite is the Sunday morning Gospel Jam. “It’s not a religious thing, but it’s the most moving, foot-stomping, inspiring time,” explains Pender. “People sing their hearts out, the energy level is so high,” in this homage to mountain gospel tradition. Originally conceived as an open mic, performances are now scheduled in advance due to high demand. “One year (Indigo Girl) Amy Ray showed up, and some folks in the crowd recognized her and cajoled her into doing a song.”

banjoThe main stage also features performers like Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year winner Becky Buller. And after hours, several of the musicians retire to the Crimson Moon Café, a classic listening room in the Eddie’s Attic/ Bluebird Café vein, for a paid set in an intimate setting.

Festival organizers proudly emphasize that all activities are free, to the point that they downplay an open-to-the-public Friday night kickoff fundraiser with live music and an auction. The princely sum of $5 includes samplings from local wineries and Dahlonega’s best restaurants.

The juried art booths also feature plenty of local of flavor; in the fest’s early years, a local moonshiner used to display his wares. All perfectly legal, Pender assures me. “If moonshining isn’t a part of traditional Appalachian culture, what is?” she laughs.

glen-headshotGlen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org.

Celebrating the Ford Legacy in Georgia

The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Ga.

The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Ga.

Henry Ford was known for many accomplishments: he was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford. But, while he is so iconically identified with Dearborn, Michigan, did you know he was swept under the spell of coastal Georgia?

In 1925, he and his wife, Clara, visited Richmond Hill (then known as Ways Station) looking for a winter retreat. Hoping to explore the agricultural possibilities of growing rubber, they built their winter estate on the site of a former rice plantation and set about to erase the impoverishment of the local community.

The Fords constructed a saw mill, drained the swamps, eradicated malaria, subsidized health care, started the first kindergarten in Bryan County and began building schools that helped set the standard in education throughout Georgia. Eventually, they bought 85,000 acres, including Fort McAllister, saving the old fort from demise. They built a church, commissary, trade school, community house, and homes for 600 employees.

In short, the Fords brought the town into the 20th century and ushered in a new era. In 1941, the town’s name was changed to Richmond Hill in honor of Ford.

Richmond Hill Plantation will open to the public on April 23 to celebrate Clara Ford's 150th birthday.

Richmond Hill Plantation will open to the public on April 23 to celebrate Clara Ford’s 150th birthday.

This year, the city of Richmond Hill will celebrate the 150th birthday of Clara Ford with a number of events, including a tour of The Ford Plantation (normally closed to the public), and other architecture in Richmond Hill that was built or restored by the Fords. There also will be several opportunities for an overnight stay at the Fords’ winter mansion.

The celebration will culminate with an Evening Gala at The Ford Mansion on April 23. Guests will be transported to a Ford-era, Gatsby-esque party reminiscent of when the Fords would bring orchestras from Michigan and invite local students and guests to dance on the lawn.

Learn more about Clara Ford’s 150th birthday celebration on the Richmond Hill Historical Society’s website.

christy-webChristy Sherman is the Director of Tourism for the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau. Christy also serves as president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

5 Reasons to Get Off I-95 at the Georgia Coast

Nanny Goat Beach on Sapelo Island

Nanny Goat Beach on Sapelo Island

Take a tour of Sapelo Island – Reservations are required to visit this island on the Georgia coast that is only able to be reached by ferry. During the day, Sapelo Island visitors are encouraged to explore the cultural history, coastal wildlife and complex beach and dunes system on the 11-mile island. Key on-island destinations include the African-American community of Hog Hammock, Reynolds Mansion, Nanny Goat Beach, University of Georgia Marine Institute and a restored 1820 lighthouse. Guests are welcome overnight and can choose to camp or stay at the historic Reynolds Mansion.

Darien's Waterfront Park

Darien’s Waterfront Park

Walk along the Darien Waterfront Park – Whether you stop off on the coast during the annual Blessing of the Fleet or make the park your destination to see the shrimp boats and let the kids get out some energy during your trip, there is a lot to see and photograph. Downtown Darien also features a growing restaurant and boutique scene.

Kayak Ebenezer Creek. Photo courtesy Savannah Canoe and Kayak, Facebook.

Kayak Ebenezer Creek. Photo courtesy Savannah Canoe and Kayak, Facebook.

Kayak the black water of Ebenezer Creek – Paddle your own canoe along the coast or kayak up or down Ebenezer Creek, just off I-95 near Savannah. Visitors may also arrange a tour through one of the many local guides.

Stay in an ocean villa at The Cloister on Sea Island.

Stay in an ocean villa at The Cloister on Sea Island.

Explore the Golden Isles – Stay overnight at The Cloister at Sea Island where you’ll be able to indulge in luxurious accommodations or at the historic King and Prince Golf & Beach Resort on St. Simons Island, both of which are within steps of the ocean. You can also choose to rest your head at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island. During the day, each island and Brunswick give visitors reasons to shop, eat and relax at various retail, restaurant and spa locations.

Cumberland Island Trees

Photo courtesy of Cumberland Island National Seashore.

See the Cumberland Island National Seashore. On Georgia’s southernmost barrier island, visitors will find maritime forests, undeveloped beaches and wide marshes among the 9,800 acres of congressionally designated wilderness. Bring your camping gear and make your ferry reservation ahead of time to ensure you have the fullest experience.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

Adventure on a Budget in Georgia’s Historic High Country

As the weather warms up, cool off with a trip to Georgia’s Historic High Country. For adventure high on fun and easy on the budget, try camping at one of the walk-in sites at Cloudland Canyon, then hike down into the canyon to see two beautiful waterfalls. If you’d rather not camp, Mountain Top Cabin Rentals has a special deal through Explore Georgia: buy five nights, get one free. While you are in the area, here are three more fun things to see and do.

Rock City's Enchanted Trail includes a 100-foot waterfall.

Rock City’s Enchanted Trail includes a 100-foot waterfall.

See Rock City: You’ve seen the barns painted a bright red, with a black roof and white letters proclaiming “See Rock City” – why not head to Lookout Mountain for the real thing. Look out over seven states, shimmy through Fat Man’s Squeeze and take in the beautiful views off Lover’s Leap. For something a little extra, visit during their monthly events like EarthDayz in April and Southern Blooms Festival in May.

Battle of Resaca Reenactment

Battle of Resaca Reenactment

Fight in the Civil War: Each May in the tiny town of Resaca, Georgia, Civil War reenactors remember a battle that was fought here in 1864. Come in period dress, or just as a spectator. Walk through the Sutler’s Row and talk to the soldiers, or purchase period wares from the merchants. The highlight is the battle reenactment complete with cavalry and cannons. While you are in the area, visit the new Resaca Battlefield Historic Site that officially opens on May 13. The site features hiking trials and interpretive markers. A new visitors center will open soon.

Myrtle Hill Cemetery

Myrtle Hill Cemetery

Conquer Rome: Start at the city’s historic clocktower, which has watched over its residents since 1872. Walk through downtown to the hill overlooking where the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers come together. There, you will find Myrtle Hill Cemetery, one of the most beautiful in the nation. Download the free Myrtle Hill Cemetery mobile app to learn about cemetery residents and the history of Rome.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Can You Name 11 PGA Golfers Playing in the Masters with Ties to Georgia?

One of the best weeks of the year is finally here… it’s Masters week! Not only is the coveted and world-renowned PGA tournament held in the beautiful city of Augusta, but these 11 PGA Tour golfers also have deep ties to the Peach State.


CONNECTION:  The Golden Isles golf “revolution” all started with Davis Love III, or “Uncle Davis,” as the younger PGA Tour pros who also live on the island call him. This will be Love’s 20th Masters appearance.

Love lives just a short drive away from Sea Island and Brunswick on a plantation simply known as “Sinclair Farm.

Even a portion of I-95 in Georgia is named after him! In 1998, the part of I-95 that extends from the McIntosh County line to Highway 341 at exit 7A and B was designated the “Davis Love III Highway.” Love also has a restaurant named after him on Sea Island called the Davis Love Grill.

In 2010, Love hosted the inaugural McGladrey Classic (now RSM Classic) on Sea Island’s Seaside Course where he continues to be an instrumental figure to the tournament, He is the 2016 captain of the Ryder Cup, one of the greatest honors that golf can bestow on a player.


CONNECTION: English was born in Valdosta and played college golf at the University of Georgia. He now calls Saint Simons home.

ZACH JOHNSON  Photo: Golf Week

CONNECTION: Johnson, the 2007 Masters Tour­nament champion lives in Saint Simons and trains at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center. Johnson spoke to the Augusta Chronical about living on the island and said, “the beauty of the place is everything else. It’s the people, it’s the mom-and-pop shops, it’s the food.”


CONNECTION:  Kirk was born in Atlanta and played college golf at The University of Georgia. He now resides in Athens and is sponsored by Georgia Jet, a private jet charter company out of Lawrenceville, GA.

Photo: Golf Week

CONNECTION: Kisner, the 2015 RSM Classic Champion, played college golf at the University of Georgia. He trains at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center and lives on the island.

MATT KUCHAR Matt Kuchar hits his drive from the fourth tee during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

CONNECTION: Kuchar played college golf at Georgia Tech. While in college, he played in the Masters twice as an Amateur. He now lives and trains on the Golden Isles.


CONNECTION: Mize, the 1987 Masters Champion, was born in Augusta and worked on a Masters Tournament scoreboard on the third hole at Augusta National during his early teen years. He played college golf at Georgia Tech. Mize now resides in Columbus.


CONNECTION: Reed played college golf at Augusta University. This is will be his third invitation to play in The Masters.


CONNECTION: Snedeker resides in Saint Simons and trains at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center.


CONNECTION: Taylor was raised in Augusta and attended Hephzibah High in Hephziba, GA. He attended Augusta State University and still resides there.


CONNECTION: Watson attended the University of Georgia. He is one of the few left-handed golfers on tour and won the Masters Tournament in 2012 and 2014.


*Photo Credit for the player profile pictures by GolfWeek

B6RUpoACEAAGPPb.jpg-large2Parker Whidby is the Digital Content Specialist for Explore Georgia. She loves to write & photograph all the amazing things our state has to offer. In her spare time, Parker enjoys painting, going to concerts, trying new restaurants & spending time with family, friends & pups, Doc and Baxley.