The Southeast Tourism Society (STS) is dedicated to promoting and developing tourism in its member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. In 1985, in recognition of the unique, diverse and unparalleled events in the region, STS began the Top 20 Events award program. A Top 20 Award seeks to bring more publicity and recognition to the best events in the Southeast, whether it be media, attendees or both! STS selects the Top 20 events, per month, and publishes them on a quarterly basis. Recent winners are listed below. Learn more about Southeast Tourism Society at www.SoutheastTourism.org
Current Top 20 Events
January 1, 2018, Polar Bear Dip, Perdido Key, FL, www.FloraBama.com
The Flora-Bama Lounge on the Florida-Alabama state line on Perdido Key hosts this popular, annual splash in the Gulf of Mexico. There are plenty of laughs to go around as thousands submerge themselves in the icy cold gulf waters. Afterwards, everyone joins in the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and warms up with good music and beverages. Come see why over 20,000 people make this chilly endeavor to kick of their year, every year.
January 6-28, 2018, January Jams, Abingdon, VA, www.AbingdonMusicExperience.com/events
January Jams at the Historic Barter Theatre in Abingdon showcases intimate concerts with music legends every weekend throughout the month. This historic concert hall is the “State Theatre of Virginia”. The cozy 500-seat venue offers a unique experience with Grammy-award winning musicians that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Last year’s January Jams hosted artists such as, Del McCoury and John Cowan.
January 6-February 13, 2018, Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles, LA, www.SWLAMardigras.com
Southwest Louisiana hosts the second largest Mardi Gras in Louisiana; with more than 60 krewes, there’s something for the whole family to celebrate. The excitement kicks off on January 6 at the annual 12th Night Celebration, as the royal courts from 2017 usher in the New Year in style with their extraordinarily intricate costumes. After 12th Night, Laissez les bons temps rouler, as the celebration and festivities pack the calendar until Fat Tuesday on February 13. As Mardi Gras weekend approaches the celebration really kicks into full gear with parades, cook-offs, balls, galas and more. Set your alarm clocks on February 13, as Fat Tuesday starts off early with the Iowa Chicken Run followed by live music and gumbo at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The grand finale of SWLA Mardi Gras is the Krewe of Krewes Parade, which features elaborate floats, costumes and plenty of beads as it winds through Lake Charles.
January 12-13, 2018, Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival, Cameron, LA, www.LAFurAndWildlifeFestival.com
The 60th Annual Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival will highlight all the local, natural resource industries in the area. The festival caters to all ages, featuring parades, a Gumbo Cook-off, pageants, a 5k and 1 Mile Run/Walk dances, Cajun music, exhibits and a carnival complete with amusement rides. And don’t forget about the unique contests like duck and goose calling, trap setting, nutria and muskrat skinning, oyster shucking and skeet shooting. The dog trials are a favorite among hunters! The contests make this a memorable experience for the whole family and are just one of the reasons why people keep coming back to Southwest Louisiana’s “Oldest and Coldest” festival.
January 12 & 15, 2018, Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival, Lake Charles, LA, www.KZWAFM.com
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival honors the courageous effort and sacrifices of Martin Luther King, Jr. The festivities kick off with a memorial breakfast, held at Trinity Baptist Church, Friday, January 12, which honors outstanding individuals in the community. The celebration continues on Monday, January 15, with the Family Day Festival where guests enjoy live, local and national entertainers in the R&B, Blues, Zydeco and Southern Soul genres. Kids of all ages will get a chance to catch throws at the parade, which rolls out from the Lake Charles Civic Center.
January 24-29, 2018, Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, Titusville, FL, www.SpaceCoastBirdingandWildlifeFestival.org
At the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, discover why Florida’s Space Coast is your launch pad to incredible nature experiences. The festival is a premier event offering opportunities for attendees to explore this world-renowned natural area of Florida. This part of the Space Coast is home to the largest collection of endangered wildlife and plants in the continental United States and over 300 species of birds. Enjoy field trips, outdoor workshops, classroom and keynote presentations by bird experts. This year’s theme: Raptors and Bird of Prey
January 27, 2018, African American Cultural Celebration, Raleigh, NC, http://NCMuseumOfHistory.org/events
Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. The 17th annual African American Cultural Celebration will feature more than 75 musicians, storytellers, dancers, chefs, historians, playwrights, authors, artists, reenactors, and more. The celebration has grown over the years from a small afternoon event with a few hundred people, to a daylong event with thousands in attendance. This year’s theme is The Shoulders We Stand On—a time to reflect, honor and celebrate where we’ve been, who we are now and where we are going.
February 1-3, 2018, North Carolina Jazz Festival, Wilmington, NC, www.NCJazzFestival.com
The North Carolina Jazz Festival is one of the oldest Traditional Jazz Festivals in the country. On Thursday evening, the special event concert “Styles of Jazz” features jazz styles other than traditional jazz. Friday and Saturday evenings 15 all-star musicians from around the world will present more than four hours of traditional jazz both nights. This event brings attendees to Wilmington from across the U.S. and beyond for a weekend, where the evenings are filled with jazz, but the days are free for exploring the local historical sites, beaches and golf courses, as well as shopping in galleries and shops and dining in the many fine restaurants.
February 1-3, 2018, Crystal Couture, Arlington, VA, https://www.CrystalCity.org/do/crystal-couture6,
The DC area’s hottest high-end bargain retail pop-up sale and fashion show returns to Crystal City February 1st. Watch models walk the runway wearing cutting-edge fashions from local designers. Enjoy free five-minute makeup and hair makeovers and get the latest look. Always free to attend, the regions’ largest fashion show includes more than 40 of the metropolitan area’s stylish boutiques, designers and fashion retailers under one roof. Runway shows will occur every 10-15 minutes. Guests can buy clothes, jewelry and more from the pop-up shops and even directly from the runway, getting an opportunity to meet designers and have their own inadvertent couture experience.
February 1-3, 2018, Southwest District Livestock Show and Rodeo, Lake Charles, LA, www.VisitLakeCharles.org
Called the “Greatest Show on Dirt,” the Southwest District Livestock Show and Rodeo returns to the Burton Complex with rodeo performances, livestock shows, a Queen’s Pageant, a stick-horse rodeo, appearances by Miss Rodeo Louisiana and more. The “mane” attraction is the professional rodeo performances that kick into high gear each night featuring bucking broncos, thundering hooves and cheering fans. Don’t miss the Western Heritage Days, celebrating cowboys, the great outdoors and all things western.
February 3-4, 2018, Brooksville Native American Festival, Brooksville, FL, www.BrooksvilleNativeAmericanFest.com
The Brooksville Native American Festival is a celebration of Native American art, culture and history. The 5th annual event features a full line of entertainment, including music, dance, primitive skills demonstrations and more. Past guests have included the Big Mountain Family, Fabian Fontenelle, Shelley Morningsong as well as Polynesian and Aztec dancers. Merchants offer handmade and Native American inspired art, crafts and jewelry for sale. Food vendors serve up Indian tacos, buffalo burgers, fry bread and more.
February 3, 2018, Double Bridge Run, Pensacola, FL, www.DoubleBridgeRun.com
Sprint into one of the South’s most stunning races. A 15k course takes runners over two gorgeous bridges crossing the Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach. The course also takes runners from downtown Pensacola with a tour that includes the historic district, and picturesque Bayfront Parkway, a run through Gulf Breeze, and onto Pensacola Beach. A 5K course welcomes both runners and walkers and a Kids Fun Run wraps up the action along the Gulf of Mexico.
February 8-11, 2018, Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife, Jekyll Island, GA, www.WhiskeyWineAndWildlife.com
Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife—“W3” artfully combines renowned beverage tastings and inspired cuisine from some of the South’s best and award-winning chefs. From master distillers, master chefs, master wildlife researchers and famous pitmasters, to Georgia’s only Master Sommelier, Michael McNeil, this event has experts from every field to give guests a top-notch experience. Tasty and educational events take place throughout Georgia’s prized jewel—Jekyll Island.
February 9, 2018, Krewe of Lafitte Mardi Gras Parade, Pensacola, FL, www.PensacolaMardiGras.com
Come revel at the only illuminated nighttime parade in Pensacola—the Krewe of Lafitte Mardi Gras Parade. Marching bands, lighted floats and great throws entertain a crowd of over 100,000. This is the largest Krewe in Pensacola, including 275 Gentlemen Pirates. The hardy good times roll out at 7p.m.
February 10, 2018, ArtsFest, Stuart, FL, https://MartinArtsOrg.presencehost.net/news_events/artsfest/artsfest.html
For more than 30 years, the Arts Council of Martin County has hosted ArtsFest in beautiful downtown Stuart, Florida. ArtsFest attracts more than 125 artists to participate in this juried art show. Over 30,000 guests enjoy everything from paintings, photography, sculptures, jewelry and ceramics. This year expect an expanded Literary Village, which will showcase singer/songwriters and several one-act plays written by students. Get ideas for your indoor living space, because this year there will be an Interior Design Showcase featuring 6 interior designers tasked with creating a 10×10 area, for a prize. This outdoor festival also offers live entertainment, artist demonstrations and interactive art activities for youth—ensuring everyone has a good time.
February 10, 2018, Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade, Pensacola, FL, www.PensacolaMardiGras.com
One of the country’s original celebration sites, Pensacola hosts this family-oriented Mardi Gras parade in the historical downtown. Crowds catch beads, doubloons and moonpies galore as floats roll by. More than 6,000 people participate in this parade each year. The Parade starts at 2:00pm and continues until around 6:00pm. Have little ones? Take advantage of the children’s viewing area where there is kid friendly food, face painting, and other family friendly entertainment. This is the largest and most extravagant parade in the area, bringing in hundreds of thousands of guests each year.
February 16-17, 2018, WinterFest: Arts & Trolley Tour, Helen, GA, www.WinterFestArtsTour.org
Unicoi Lodge, Alpine Helen and Sautee Nacoochee Center are partnering together for their annual WinterFest Arts & Trolley Tour. This festival includes 145 artists over two days, in three locations, for one trolley ticket price. Watch live art demonstrations and peruse pottery, paintings, jewelry, fused glass, fiber art and more. Hop on/Hop off Trolley Service is offered both days connecting three venues, complete with stunning art of all kinds.
February 19-25, 2018, Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival, Hilton Head Island, SC, www.HiltonHeadIslandSeafoodFestival.com
Since 2006, the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival has been serving up the coast’s tastiest delicacies to crowds of thousands. The Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival is a family-friendly, week-long culinary and cultural tourism event, where top chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, local seafood, artisans, live music and wildlife come together. The 11th annual Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival, hosted by the David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation, helps raise money for other non-profit organizations including the Coastal Discovery Museum, Island Recreation Scholarship Fund, Port Royal Sound Foundation, Gullah Heritage Museum and Medical University of South Carolina. Enjoy seafood, special events, celebrity guest chefs, master culinary classes, live music and more.
February 21-28, 2018, Beaufort International Film Festival, Beaufort, SC, www.BeaufortFilmFestival.com
The 12th Annual International Film Festival, produced by the Beaufort Film Society, brings thousands of filmmakers from around the world to Beaufort, South Carolina. Each year, this festival celebrates original films in several categories, including features, documentaries, shorts, student films, animations and screenplays. Recently ranked #10 in the Top 100 Best Reviewed Festivals by FilmFreeway and widely considered one of the fastest growing festivals in the southeast, the 2016 event saw attendees coming from 37 states and four different countries.
February 22, 2018, Totally ‘80’s Retro Ski Weekend at Beech Mountain, Beech Mountain, NC, www.BeechMtn.com
Each February the town of Beech Mountain and Beech Mountain Resort come together for a righteously rad celebration of all things 1980’s. This unparalleled experience includes live 80’s music nightly, retro skiing daily and plenty of throwback activities in between. Hop in the “ski slope time machine” to revisit the New Wave era of big hair, leg warmers, bandanas and Members Only jackets. Don’t forget ski suits and shoulder pads! Each year, enjoy different bands and a variety of contests celebrating this fab decade.
March 2-4, 2018, The Craftsmen’s Spring Classic Art & Craft Festival, Columbia, SC, www.CraftShow.com
Hundreds of the nation’s finest artists and craftsmen gather at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds to present thousands of their original works in pottery, fine art, jewelry, glass, furniture, clothing, photography, baskets, sculpture, wood, musical instruments and more. With one-of-a-kind specialties ranging from contemporary to traditional, functional to whimsical, decorative to funky, there is something to fit every style. While perusing unique wares, sample the plentiful specialty foods throughout the event.
March 3, 2018, Snickers® Marathon and Half Marathon, Albany, GA, www.AlbanyMarathon.com
Are you longing to lace up your running shoes in Boston? Qualify for the all-world marathon at the Snickers® Marathon and Half Marathon in Albany, Georgia. Runners are treated to a flat, fast and friendly course with a dose of Southern Hospitality. As runners finish the race, they can kick up their tired feet while listening to live music, eating delicious food, drinking good beer. Family-fun activities last into the night at the Mardi Gras Street Party.
March 3-4, 2018, Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire, Pensacola, FL, http://gcrf.us
Get Medieval at the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire. Thousands gather to witness the spectacle of armored combat, the thunderous clash of jousters, the swirl of dancer’s costumes and to search the wares of merchants who travel from afar. Come and meet their majesties, see fabulous characters and experience a historically good time. New this year, get the real medieval experience with real live jousting on horseback with knights in full armor.
March 3-4, 2018, Jerry Brown Arts Festival, Hamilton, AL, www.JBAF.org
The Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF) is an indoor, juried arts festival headlined and named in honor of Hamilton resident and Smithsonian potter, Jerry Brown. Brown is a ninth-generation potter and was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in 1992 and in 2003 he received the Alabama Heritage Award from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Artists from throughout the Southeastern United States participate in this two-day festival. The JBAF provides top-quality art and artists who demonstrate their talents giving many people their very first opportunity to see creations of this caliber in the rural area. The festival also provides a hands-on kids’ art experience.
March 8-12, 2018, Hilton Head International Piano Competition presents BravoPiano! A Festival from Bach to Brubeck, Hilton Head, SC, www.HHIPC.org
BravoPiano!…a Festival from Back to Brubeck will spotlight both outstanding former prize winners of our competitions who have gone on to stellar performance careers and other world-famous pianists as they perform solo recitals, chamber music programs, and concerti with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.
March 8-10, 2018, Southeastern Cowboy Gathering, Cartersville, GA, http://BoothMuseum.org/events/gathering
Round up the kids and mosey on down to the 15th Annual Southeastern Cowboy Gathering, an event designed to celebrate our rich Western heritage. Scheduled events include a gallery walk, lectures and sculpting demonstration. Enjoy concerts, art activities, cowboy church and much more. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to explore the West without leaving the South
March 9-11, 2018, Black Heritage Festival, Lake Charles, LA, www.VisitLakeCharles.org
The annual Black Heritage Festival features live entertainment, mouthwatering food and great family fun. The festival brings together the cultures of Africa and Southwest Louisiana and highlights the best in the community. Celebrating diversity, culture and education, the festival is filled with legendary Zydeco, Jazz, R&B and Gospel performers. Saturday’s event takes place at the Lake Charles Civic Center and will include a Baby/Health Expo, Africana Culture Performances, Extravaganza, Zydeco Aerobics, a Hall of Fame Ceremony, educational workshops, magic shows and much more. Enjoy Louisiana Creole and traditional African-American foods throughout the event.
March 9-11, 2018, The Craftsmen’s Spring Classic Art & Craft Festival, Richmond, VA, www.CraftShow.com
Hundreds of the nation’s finest artists and craftsmen gather at the Richmond Raceway Complex to present thousands of their original works in pottery, fine art, jewelry, glass furniture, clothing, photography, baskets, sculpture, wood, musical instruments and much more. Enjoy talking with the craftsmen about their creations and sampling specialty food throughout the venue.
March 10-11, 2018, 34th Annual Art in the Park, Brooksville, FL, www.HernandoArts.org/art-in-the-park
The 34th Annual Art in the Park is presented by the Hernando County Arts Council, showcasing artists from Florida and across the U.S. Attendees enjoy a scenic walk through Tom Varn Park while viewing booths for over 100 artists, food vendors and more. The juried event awards prizes for Fine Arts, Crafts and Best of Show and a student exhibit displays the works of Hernando County students of all ages which are also juried. A $500 scholarship is given to the Best of Show in student art. Highlights of the event include a performance by the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, art demonstrations, and the kids zone. Money raised by the event is used to fund community grants that benefit arts and music organizations in Hernando County.
March 10, 2018, McGuire’s Prediction 5K Run, Pensacola, FL, www.McGuiresIrishPub.com
With more than 5,000 participants, McGuire’s Prediction 5K Run is Pensacola’s largest race and the nation’s largest prediction run. Each runner/walker predicts how long it will take them to complete the 3.1 mile course. The finisher who comes closest to the time predicted on their registration form, wins! The use of watches or timing devices will disqualify participants.
March 10-11, 2018, Rock City’s Shamrock City, Lookout Mountain, GA, www.SeeRockCity.com/shamrock
Get your green on for Rock City’s 11th Irish celebration and festival featuring music, food and other entertainment. This premiere St. Patrick’s event includes live Irish Music, Irish jig lessons, Irish food, specialty beer, dance performances, costumed characters and fun for the whole family. See the waterfall turned green! Enjoy listening to several bands perform in the Pot of Gold Pavilion—favorites returning as well as new live performers. Don’t forget to take home Rock City’s famous fudge with a green twist.
March 16-17, 2018, Iowa Rabbit Festival, Lake Charles, LA, www.VisitLakeCharles.org
Celebrating the economic and culinary impact rabbits have in Southwest Louisiana, the 32nd annual Iowa Rabbit Festival is a one-of-a-kind event. The festival features a rabbit show, a rabbit cook-off, carnival rides and the “Miss Bunny” beauty pageant. The family-friendly event has some of the best music in the area from local Cajun and Zydeco favorites to regional headliners.
March 17, 2018, U.S. Open Beach Fat Bike Championship, Wrightsville Beach, NC, www.FatCross.com
Roll into fun at the only fat tire bicycle race which is held entirely on the beautiful sands of Wrightsville Beach, NC. Competitors from all over the country vie for the title of champion of the U.S. Open Beach Fat Bike Championships in this annual event. While racers are looping the mile long course, spectators are right along the path and able to cheer on the racers. Different obstacles are built on the morning of the event, which challenge the racers and thrill the crowd.
March 17-18, 2018, Lake Charles Civic Ballet’s Assemble 2018: Peter Pan, Lake Charles, LA, www.LakeCharlesCivicBallet.com
Come fly away with the Lake Charles Civic Ballet and the Southwest Louisiana arts community at the Assemble’ 2018: Peter Pan. This classic fairytale will be transformed into a full-length ballet in two acts, featuring whimsical costumes, transformative sets and vibrant lighting. Be dazzled by a variety of dance genres and musical style, such as jazz, contemporary, acrobatics, theatrical combat and more.
March 22-25, 2018, Festival of Flowers, Mobile, AL, www.FestivalOfFlowers.com
The annual Festival of Flowers will mark its 25th anniversary with spectacular displays in a park like setting under tent and sky. Mobile’s signature herald of spring is one of the area’s most eagerly anticipated events, drawing over 15,000 visitors each year. The Festival of Flowers invites visitors to meander through glorious life-size garden vignettes, marvel at the talents of acclaimed designers and architects and enjoy the many venues. Immerse yourself in a collection of art photography, original works of art, seminars, a special children’s area, shopping and a garden café.
March 23, 2018, Rock City’s Fairytale Nights, Lookout Mountain, GA, www.SeeRockCity.com/fairytale
Adventure and enchantment await you for the 5th year at Fairytale Nights. Embark on a spectacular journey and travel to a faraway kingdom where magic is around every turn. This year, meet new characters: Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, Mr. Smee and Captain Hook. See beloved returning favorites like Beauty & the Beast, Queen Guinevere, Merlin and Snow White. Follow Jack as he ventures off the beanstalk into the giant’s lair, enjoy radiant gardens with Cinderella, learn to sword fight with a knight and have tea with Alice. Don’t miss the chance to make magical memories at Rock City’s Fairytale Nights!
March 24, 2018, Coastal Living Show, Wilmington, NC, www.CoastalLivingShow.com
Coastal Living Show 2018 will feature businesses showcasing a variety of gifts, products and services for the home, garden, and office with a seaside flair. In addition, some exhibitors will demonstrate the means to a healthier lifestyle to enhance time spent at the coast or wherever one may live. Come spruce up the home, garden, office, the entertainment collection and even personal wardrobes Admission is free and all proceeds from Coastal Living Show will go towards various local organizations that serve to improve the lives of women and children.
March 24, 2018, Water Drop Dash 5K, Roswell, GA, www.WaterDropDash.com/race-information.html
The Water drop Dash 5K encourages metro Atlanta residents to check their plumbing and irrigation systems during the annual EPA WaterSense Fix a Leak Week. This family event held at the Chattahoochee Nature Center is a great way to connect with nature and learn about water conservation. After the race, enjoy an eco water themed festival.
March 24-25, 2018, 37th Annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival, Conyers, GA, www.ConyersCherryBlossomFest.com
The Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival highlights Japanese culture during the blooming of the Yoshino Cherry Trees. They were a gift to the City of Conyers by the Japanese Corporation MAXELL when the business first opened in Conyers in 1981. The festival is to further nurture the friendship and exchange of Japanese culture. Scheduled during the blooming of the beautiful Yoshino Cherry Trees, the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival brings the community together to focus on cultural understanding and friendship through art, music, dance, crafts, food and entertainment. Enjoy a juried arts and crafts display, cultural acts and live performances on multiple stages, as well as interactive children’s activities and fun festival food.
March 24-25, 2018, 30th Annual Natchez Powwow, Natchez, MS, www.NatchesPowWow.com
Every March, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians comes to life with the annual Natchez Powwow. Celebrate Natchez’s Native American roots with a weekend filled with traditional food, hand-crafted jewelry, art, dancing and singing. From ground dances to inter-tribal dancing, attendees will be delighted by the performances. This is one of Natchez’s annual events you won’t want to miss and is an amazing cultural outing for the whole family.