6 Georgia Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss in 2016

Mark your 2016 calendars and start making plans to attend these Georgia festivals.

parade at the International Cherry Blossom Festival

Don’t miss the parade at the 2016 International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon.

International Cherry Blossom Festival (Macon) – Party with the blossoms during the annual two-week event in downtown Macon. This festival has something for everyone, including (but definitely not limited to) tours, food, a huge parade, concerts, vendors, sports events, a battle of the bands. The 2016 festival will be held March 17- April 3.

Savannah Irish Festival (Savannah) – Do you love St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah but you’re not up for joining the thousands of roaming street revelers? Head to the city a month in advance for the annual Savannah Irish Festival, a three-day cultural celebration that kicks off the town’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The 2016 festival will be held February 19-21.

Rose Show & Festival (Thomasville) – Celebrating its 95th year in 2016, the Rose Show & Festival features thousands of roses, two parades, live music, a street dance, arts and crafts, festival food and more. The 2016 festival will be held April 21-23.

Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival (Jekyll Island) – Each September Jekyll Island cooks up something good (real, real good if you ask me) for locals and visitors. The annual Shrimp and Grits Festival features a celebration of the favorite dish in all things, including cooking demonstrations, book signings, arts and crafts vendors, a cook-off, kid-friendly entertainment options and shrimp boat tours. The 2016 festival will be held September 16-18.

Arts in the Heart of Augusta (Augusta) – Visual, musical and cultural arts combine for this annual event in downtown Augusta. In addition to arts and crafts vendors selling their goods, the festival features family-friendly fun for youngsters and live music, festival food, street performances, open galleries ready for browsing and plenty of local flavor. A 2016 festival date has not yet been confirmed for this autumn festival.

The Cotton Pickin’ Fair (Gay) – Step back in time to the days when cotton reigned supreme throughout Georgia. This festival focuses on art, antiques, crafts and classic Southern-style live entertainment. A 2016 festival date has not yet been confirmed for this autumn festival.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen 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.

Four Georgia Music Visits Inspired by the Oxford American

The timing couldn’t be better for launching this portal into Georgia’s rich musical heritage — past, present and future. I’m looking forward to sharing with you the nooks and crannies of Georgia music, and doing my own discovery along the way. But in December, the Oxford American made my task a whole lot easier with the release of its Georgia Music Issue.

Oxford American's December 2015 issue

Oxford American’s December 2015 issue features Georgia music.

For those unfamiliar with the Oxford American, it’s an award-winning quarterly with a stated mission of featuring “the best in Southern writing while documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South.” The magazine devotes an issue each year to the music of one Southern state, and it’s time for Georgia’s close-up. And boy, do we look good!

The current Oxford American serves as a 176-page virtual roadmap to the Georgia music scene, with plenty to offer both newcomers and aficionados. The diversity it reflects is remarkable — household names (James Brown, the Allman Brothers, Indigo Girls), early/mid 1900s icons (Little Richard, Johnny Mercer, Ma Rainey) and the latest generation (Janelle Monae, Killer Mike, OutKast), just for starters. And if you’re the type who digests ideas better through sound than words, the magazine comes with a 25-track CD spanning an equally diverse roster of Georgia artists.

It’s inspiring to note the geographic expanse of the artists covered. Augusta. Savannah. Macon. Athens. Statesboro. Albany. Atlanta. Waycross. Tracing the roots of these visionary performers would make for quite a winding road trip. We’ll explore these strands — and plenty of others — in the coming weeks.

Here are four outings to immerse yourself in the experience:

1. Ocilla First Fridays on the Fourth. One of my favorite articles is Jonathan Bernstein’s human interest piece on Ocilla’s Dave Prater, the less heralded half of ’60s soul duo Sam & Dave (who made “Soul Man” famous well before the Blues Brothers). If you can’t wait for their October Sweet Potato Festival, take a trip to this small south Georgia town on the first Friday of the month for after-hours shopping, dining, music and art on Fourth Avenue.

2. The JinxBill Dawer’s poignant profile of Black Tusk bassist Jonathan Athon, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2014, celebrates the sense of community that Athon inspired. The Jinx is a cornerstone of Savannah’s live music scene and a key venue for the Savannah Stopover festival, coming up March 10-12 (more on that soon).

3. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate a Legend – A Celebration of Johnny Mercer with Joe Gransden and Kathleen Bertrand. John Lingan’s look at “the moony lyricism of Johnny Mercer” may leave you longing for a revisiting of the Savannah native’s timeless hits. This tribute concert on Feb. 26, 2016, at Georgia State’s Rialto Fine Arts Center in Atlanta fits the bill.

4. Chicken Raid – The 77-year-old blues veteran Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is profiled by Atlanta writer Rachel Maddux. Watkins is likely to be among the dozens of blues artists gathering at the Northside Tavern March 19-21 for Chicken Raid, the annual celebration of another Atlanta country blues legend, Mr. Frank Edwards.

Meanwhile, my book club has taken the unusual step of reading the Oxford American cover-to-cover to discuss at our next meeting. I suggest you do the same — its brand of storytelling is that top-notch.

glenGlen Sarvady is Georgia’s newly appointed 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. You can learn more about the Oxford American’s Georgia Music issue in Glen’s piece at GeorgiaMusic.org.

Three New Reasons to Visit Jekyll Island

If you have never been to Jekyll Island, Georgia, now is a great time to go. If it’s been a while, it’s time to plan a return trip. The Jekyll Island Authority is in the midst of a major revitalization effort. During a recent trip to St. Simons Island, I scouted the improvements at Jekyll Island and was quite surprised at the transformation. Here are some of the most exciting updates.

turtle mosaic in the Jekyll Island Village Green

The Jekyll Island Village Green in Beach Village. Photo courtesy of The Westin Jekyll Island.

The Village Green in Beach Village: As soon as you reach the island, past a traffic circle is a new gathering space between the Jekyll Island Convention Center and The Westin Hotel. The open air space plays host to outdoor movie nights, concerts and seasonal events. Surrounding the green space is the Beach Village Shops, which include restaurants, boutiques, gift shops and a sweet shop — because what beach village is complete without a place for ice cream?

Ice Skating on the Beach: A new signature experience on the Georgia Coast is oceanfront ice skating at North Dunes Park on Jekyll Island. The rink isn’t really made of ice; it’s a synthetic blend, but you strap on skates and glide across just the same. If you’d like to ice skate on the beach, better hurry. The Jekyll Island Skating Village closes on Jan. 10, 2016, but stay tuned; it’s sure to come back again next holiday season, and I’m betting it makes a few guest appearances during the year, as well.

More Hotel Choices: I’m a huge fan of the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, but I’m glad to see some additional options available. I toured the common areas of The Westin and the Hampton Inn and Suites, two of three new hotels on the island. The Westin is a convention hotel located next to the Village Green. They have several oceanfront rooms as well as a rooftop bar that looks out over the dunes. The Hampton Inn and Suites sits off the ocean behind the dunes, but with easy access and lots of gathering areas for families. The third new hotel is the Holiday Inn Resort. I need to make a return trip to check out that one.

glass floats created by local artists on Jekyll Island

Through February, hunt for glass floats hidden throughout Jekyll Island. Each float is one-of-a-kind!

And some old favorites: Now through February, the Jekyll Island Authority is hosting the annual Island Treasures glass float hunt. Search for one-of-a-kind glass floats created by artists across the country. That event is on my bucket list, but here are five things to do on Jekyll Island that my family has enjoyed and are easy to do any time of year.

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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Hear One of Justin Timberlake’s Favorite New Bands in ATL

It all started with a single tweet after The Shadowboxers released a video covering Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” in a tiny rehearsal space in Georgia.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 9.38.42 AM

From there, the band has grabbed the attention of the music industry and celebrities, and they haven’t slowed down since. Other fans include Reba McEntire, Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town. It won’t be long before The Shadowboxers are a household name and we have to scoop for our fans.

The Shadowboxers playing with Reba McEntire and Little Big Town.

We had the opportunity to sit down with the band recently to discuss the Georgia music scene and their return to Terminal West this Saturday, January 9th. Here’s what founding members Scott Schwartz, Matt Lipkins and Adam Hoffman had to say:


The band with Timberlake at their sold out Nashville show in 2014.

The whole story goes back to late 2013. We were at a very low point in the timeline of the band – actually having legitimate kitchen table conversations about how long we could keep this up – when we started posting cover videos on YouTube.

And even saying that now, I feel like I need to add some modifiers to that now-cliched move: we were covering Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Crosby, Still & Nash. We’re still very proud of that cover series. Anyway, we did a cover of JT’s “Pusher Love Girl,” which is this awesome throwback-yet-modern gospel/soul tune off of his last album. A few days after we posted it, he somehow saw it, tweeted his approval and then he reached out to us.

So for the past two years we’ve been talking with him, writing a ton, and hope to have new music out in 2016 with his creative input. And we cannot wait to share it with the world.



B3x-RqhCMAAuk0Y.jpg-largeWe met at Emory University in 2007/2008. It didn’t take long before we were sitting in Matt and Adam’s dorm room sophomore year, playing each other’s songs we’d written individually in high school/early college, and those songs were the beginnings of the first Shadowboxer songs.

After college, we were looking for a new rhythm section and heard about Cole from some of our friends in the Atlanta jazz scene. We went to hear him play one night, and Carlos was playing bass. The two of them sounded great – and great together – so we asked them to come on board. Both jazz students at Georgia State University, they had been playing together for a few years and had already developed a strong musical connection, and their jazz and funk sensibilities have really helped shape the new sound of our band.



We’ve been in Nashville for a full year now, and this is the first major show we’ve played in Atlanta since leaving, so naturally we’re really excited. There’s definitely an added feeling of nervous excitement for us since we want to deliver in front of our fans and friends, some of whom have been coming out to see us for 6-7 years.

Playing in Atlanta will always have with it that extra level of nervousness since you can feel your whole history aligned behind you. Looking out to a packed house at Terminal West, you can’t help thinking about those early days of coffee shops and Emory frat parties, Eddie’s Attic shows and Smith’s Old Bar load outs.

Another way to describe it is: imagine someone that you had a crush on years ago who you haven’t seen in a while reaches out to you. She’s coming in town and wants to meet up for a drink. Last time she saw you, you weren’t as confident, had a dumb haircut, and were wearing white Asics with jeans. Now you’re feeling like your game is strong and you’re ready to deliver. In both scenarios, it’s going to be a special night for us.



This really feels like a home court venue for us. Back in 2013 we had our first album release show there, and it was the last place we played in Atlanta before making the move to Nashville. And Terminal West was the first “big” venue that we’d ever played in Atlanta completely on our own. From that stage, looking out on the crowd, the gravity of 7 years of hard work, playing every bar and open mic inside the perimeter really hit us. I guess, in a way, I feel like we really earned that stage. And the sound is incredible in there!

Get your tickets for January 9th HERE and don’t forget to tag your photos from the show with #GeorgiaMusic!



Atlanta Music Scene by Edward Fielding

There’s a really striking contrast between the identity of the hip-hop/R&B scene and basically everything else in town.

In the same way that cities like LA, New York, Chicago, and Houston have very distinct “sounds” that have developed over time and stem from their respective iconic artists, ATL hip-hop has developed in a very similar way; everything coming from the trap scene – Migos, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Future, 2 Chainz, etc. – is all an extension of the sound the Dungeon Family created in the ‘90s, and it all sounds DISTINCTLY like Atlanta.

The “scene” for other genres of music, be it electronic, indie, metal, or pop, consists of a body of extremely talented people that unfortunately not a lot of folks outside of ATL or readers of Creative Loafing are immediately familiar. We appreciate artists like Adron, Mastodon, and Little Tybee – whose sounds are all very different. If there was more of a defined “Atlanta sound” (like what you see within the hip-hop community), it could provide these artists with a potentially wider / more national platform. However, we, as lovers of music, champion individuality and originality and continue to champion all genres of music coming from the ATL!  


I feel like over the course of the eight years we spent in Atlanta, our inspirations went from a macro level to a much more localized and personal level. I think this makes sense, though, because initially the only connection to the scene that we had was those big success stories (aka, “Wow, John Mayer won the Monday Night Shoot Out at Eddie’s Attic??!!! Let’s do that!”).

That inspired us to learn more about our city and state so that later in college, we got really excited by all things Bradford Cox and especially Washed Out (we’re big fans of his album “Paracosm”).

Then, around 2011, we finally met some of the musicians around town (who we’re lucky enough to now call friends) who are still really hustling and making incredibly interesting music like Adron, Little Tybee, Marlon Patton with Weisshund, Chantae Cann, Algebra, and Nick Rosen.

Indigo+Girls+Closer+To+Fine+540565Finally, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls are enormous inspirations to us. They’re world-class songwriters, and we wouldn’t be the band we are today if not for the invaluable lessons learned while on tour with them.


Adam: For the last two years, we’ve really put all of our efforts into writing and building our live show. So I think we’re really primed to put out new music and really go for it. I’m confident that 2016 will see us releasing new material and hopefully touring hard.

Scott: Recording a record. We’ve been spending a lot of time accumulating a huge pile of songs that we are really proud of, and we’re finally able to get in the studio. It’ll undoubtedly be an extremely rewarding experience, and we can’t wait to finally put out some music that represents who we are now.

Matt: RECORDING!!!!!!!!!

It’s obvious The Shadowboxers’ talent, passion and charisma will lead the way to an amazing adventure in 2016. Hear them live at Terminal West this Saturday, January 9th.

Get your tickets HERE and don’t forget to tag your photos from the show with #GeorgiaMusic!



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



5 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parades in Georgia

Savannah MLK Day Parade 2015

Photo by Justin Chan Photography courtesy of MLK Observance Day Association – Savannah.

Celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during these parades throughout Georgia.

Tybee Island MLK Parade (Tybee Island) – Kickoff for the Jan. 9, 2016, parade is at 2 p.m. The parade will follow the Butler Avenue Parade Route.

22nd Annual MLK Parade (Dublin) – This noontime parade winds its way through downtown Dublin on Jan. 16, 2016, and will feature more than 160 floats, making it the state’s second largest parade celebrating the late civil rights icon.

Gwinnett County 2016 MLK Day Parade (Lawrenceville) – This annual event kicks off in downtown Lawrenceville at the Gwinnett Justice & Administration Center on Jan. 18, 2016, at 10 a.m.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade (McDonough) – This parade in Henry County will kick off at 10 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2016, with revelers beginning their route from the Henry County Performing Arts Center at 37 Lemon Street.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Day Parade (Savannah) – Jan. 18, 2016, at 10 a.m. the parade will set off from the corner of East Liberty and East Broad Street heading toward the Savannah River. Then, it will follow a route where it turns left on Broughton Street, then right on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard before terminating at the corner of West Anderson Street.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen 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.