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.

Nine Places to Nab a Traditional Southern New Year’s Day Meal

On New Year’s Day, you’ll find people throughout the South eating greens, black-eyed peas, pork and cornbread. Serving up these hearty foods on January 1 has been a generations-long tradition for many a southern native, but do you know why we eat them or where to find them in Georgia if you don’t want to cook another holiday meal?

Photo: Steve Gordon/Taste of Southern

Photo: Steve Gordon/Taste of Southern

Black-eyed Peas

My favorite story about black-eyed peas goes all the way back to the Civil War. The tale goes that Union soldiers ate up all the Southern crops except for black-eyed peas. The hearty legumes provided much-needed sustenance for the survivors during Reconstruction thus, they became a symbol of luck. Some folks even cook a dime with them and whoever gets the dime is said to have extra good luck that year.

Greens

Greens are said to symbolize money or prosperity and true Southerners say you gotta eat a lot! Some even say you have to keep eating them all day, but I’ll leave that up to you! Any green will do, but the most common choices are collard, turnip or mustard greens.

Cornbread

Golden cornbread is often added to the Southern New Year’s meal. As a well-known phrase goes, “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.” But I say you just can’t have black-eyed peas and greens without cornbread.

Pork

Beyond just being so dang yummy, pork is said to be a symbol of prosperity because pigs root forward. In contrast, eating chicken or turkey on New Year’s Day is considered bad luck because they scratch backward.

Where to Eat in Georgia

These four dishes, eaten on New Year’s Day, are designed to bring you and you loved ones prosperity throughout the year. So where do you go if you want to guarantee good luck in 2016? Below are nine places around Georgia that are open and ready to serve up luck and prosperity on January 1, 2016.

The Blue Willow Inn

Historic Heartland– Social Circle, GA

No one is allowed to leave The Blue Willow Inn hungry after feasting on a variety of Southern salads, meats, vegetables, breads, and desserts. Their New Year’s buffet will have all the traditional fixin’s along with prime rib, seafood, and all the Southern desserts you know and love.

Blue Willow Inn Photo: Lamar/Flickr

Blue Willow Inn Photo: Lamar/Flickr

 

Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Atlanta Metro– Atlanta, GA

Mary Mac’s boasts many awards and accolades, but most recently the 70-year-old establishment was named the Best Atlanta Soul Food Restaurant by our very own Family Explorer, Lesli Peterson. They fill up fast on holidays so come early to enjoy all the traditional New Year’s Day dishes.

 

The Smith House

Northeast Georgia Mountains–  Dahlonega, GA

The AJC once called the food at The Smith House “revelatory.” You can have your own revelation on New Year’s Day with the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat, family style dining experience starting at 3:30pm. They are located just one block from Dahlonega’s historic downtown square.

the smith house dahlonega georgia

 

Southern Soul BBQ

The Coast– St. Simons Island, GA

We named Southern Soul BBQ one of the best barbecue joints in the state, and for very good reasons. The popular restaurant offers plenty of ‘que along with the traditional collard greens, Hoppin’ John, and cornbread. Pick up a sampler of hot sauces to take home before taking a walk on the nearby beach to burn off all those delicious calories.

 

The Country Kitchen

Presidential Pathways– Pine Mountain, GA

Tucked inside Callaway Gardens, the picture windows at The Country Kitchen reveal a breathtaking ridge top view that pairs perfectly with the down-home Southern dinner served up on New Year’s Day. While you’re there keep the holiday spirit going and experience the famous Fantasy of Lights display, which goes through January 2.

 

Smok’n Pig BBQ

Plantation Trace– Valdosta, GA

The Smok’n Pig is a place steeped in southern tradition and old time Bar-B-Q. They offer freshly prepared country cookin’ just like grandpa used to do back in the day. So relax, sit back and enjoy a New Year’s Day barbecue feast with the entire family.

 

Goolsby’s

Classic South– Evans, GA

This welcoming cafeteria-style restaurant offers up all the traditional Southern meats and side you can think of, including fresh, fried-to-order fish. As one Yelp reviewer put it, “The staff is friendly, the portions are big, and the ribs were fantastically tender and flavorful. Their collard greens are pretty much the best you can get anywhere.”

 

goolsbys-restaurant-evans-ga

 

Partridge Restaurant

Historic High Country– Rome, GA

The Partridge Restaurant has been a major part of Rome’s downtown experience since 1933. Order up a family-style meal by circling your choices of classic southern dishes, then wait in anticipation with a tall glass of refreshing sweet tea. Don’t miss the cornbread, which comes to the table in its own cast-iron skillet.

Photo: Melissa C./Yelp

Photo: Melissa C./Yelp

 

Ole Times Country Buffet

Magnolia Midlands– Dublin, GA

Take a break from the kitchen and treat your family to a true Southern buffet restaurant. Ole Times Country Buffet’s all-you-can-eat offerings will leave even the pickiest eater in your family satisfied on New Year’s Day. Look for the unique pig decorations scattered throughout the restaurant.

Photo: Facebook

Photo: Facebook

Is your favorite place missing from the list? Tell us about it on Facebook or Twitter!

Dahlonega with Kids

Crisson Gold Mine in Dahlonega

Crisson Gold Mine

Thinking of spending fall in the mountains? Dahlonega is a superb destination, with educational excursions, hiking opportunities and more. Here are five places to visit in Dahlonega with kids and two family-friendly dining opportunities.

3 Gold Adventures

Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site. Visit the oldest surviving courthouse in Georgia, and see the real gold laced in the bricks. See gemstone collections, stories about private mints, and a great movie about the history of gold discovery and excavation in Dahlonega.

Chestatee River Diving Bell. See an actual diving bell used to retrieve gold from the river floor in the 1800s.

Crisson Gold Mine. Tour the mine, and see the only working Stamp Mill in Georgia at 130 years old. Kids will love panning for gold and gems.

See more photos from our Dahlonega Gold Adventures.

2 Outdoor Adventures

Springer Mountain Trail. Hike to the southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. From the parking lot, this is a moderate 2-mile journey. If you have hiking poles, you will want to bring them. At the top you will see a commemorative AT plaque, and cubby in the rock with a notebook for hikers to share their thoughts. See more Springer Mountain Trail info here.

Cane Creek Falls. You will weave through a Methodist Church Camp/Retreat to get to this waterfall. From the parking lot there is only about a 100-yard walk to the falls. You can easily get to the water’s edge for great photos, but splashing and swimming in the water is not permitted. See more Cane Creek Falls info here.

Cane Creek Falls in Dahlonega

Cane Creek Falls

Family-friendly Dining.

Several places on the Dahlonega Square make for a great family-friendly dining experience. We enjoyed lunch at Gustavo’s Pizzeria, with tasty pizza pies, pastas and salads. For dinner, try a seat on the upper patio of Bourbon Street Grille. It’s the perfect view for eating Cajun cuisine (plus burgers and pasta for picky eaters).

See more photos and info regarding family-friendly dining in Dahlonega.

LesliLesli is the Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

A Guide to Georgia’s Homestyle Restaurants

The Dillard House

The Dillard House

For Breakfast

Not all homestyle restaurants in Georgia serve breakfast, but when you’re looking for the combination of the two, you’ll need to visit the Dillard House in Dillard. The Dillard House serves up a bountiful breakfast of meats, eggs, potato hash, fresh fruits, homemade preserves, freshly baked pastries and so much more. My favorites are the proteins, and I always have to have seconds of the pork tenderloin. The Dillard House is one of those “food for the soul” kinds of places, and besides breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so start your day right by feeding your soul well here. Go with high expectations because you’re sure not to be disappointed.

Buckner's

Buckner’s Family Restaurant

For Fried Chicken and Dessert

One common menu item at all homestyle restaurants in the South is fried chicken. I doubt it’s written law that they have to have fried chicken (and lots of it) on the table, but I’m pretty sure it’s understood. Believe me, I’ve eaten a lot of fried chicken at a lot of great restaurants, but the best fried chicken I’ve eaten in Georgia to date is at Buckner’s in Jackson. Buckner’s is just off I-75 exit 201, and they serve up some of the most delicious Southern classics you can find. While normally I’d go for a leg or thigh, you’ll only find breast on the table at Buckner’s. Breast meat tends to be dry, but Buckner’s keeps its white meat juicy, tender and perfectly crispy. There’s a slight sweetness to it that I’ve not found duplicated anywhere else in Georgia. To top it all off, their dessert is fantastic, too. They only serve one dessert, but they do it right. Buckner’s Georgia peach cobbler is the perfect finish to one tasty meal.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

For Sides

You can expect a wide array of incredible veggies and carbs at the homestyle table, but no one cooks sides as well as Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room in Savannah. Mrs. Wilkes’ showcases all sorts of fresh veggies like green beans, rutabagas, butter beans, peas and more. They’re even getting cornbread dressing right; it’s incredibly moist and super delicious. Mrs. Wilkes’ cabbage was some of the finest I’ve ever eaten. This homestyle restaurant is one of those places where you could definitely fill up on sides alone. Expect to wait in line for up to a couple of hours, but you and your taste buds will be glad you did.

For Extras

Once you’ve had the best breakfast, the best chicken and dessert, and the best sides, what’s left on the table? Well, the Smith House in Dahlonega is taking the table extras to a whole new level. You’re going to consistently get great chicken, great sides and dessert, but you’re also going to get some great extras. One of my favorite accompaniments to Southern fare is relishes and pickles. The Smith house makes and serves up the best pickled squash you’ll find. It perfectly pairs with the savory veggies and offers a slightly tangy, sweet crunch that you just can’t find elsewhere. You’ll want to take some home, too. Look in the gift shop before you leave to make sure you can have this “secret” treasure at your home table.

Head shotLori Hennesy is a self-proclaimed foodie and author of delisghga.com, a Georgia only food blog.  Lori is on a constant search for unique eats, great Georgia products, delicious restaurants and anything food related.  For Lori it’s all about the bottom line, “what’s the next meal going to be?”