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No one throws a party like the south

Music, history, food, and fun welcome springtime at these three events.
By Janet Groene

Byways bloom with pink and white dogwoods and redbuds turn from scarlet to green. The passing scenery of highway travel is part of the pleasure of attending springtime festivals. Here’s the buzz on the South’s big events this spring.


Above: Couples in antebellum attire outside Stanton Hall in Natchez, Miss., during pilgrimage. Mark Coffey photo

Below: Thousands converge on New Orleans for dozens of concerts during the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival. Douglas Mason photo


Natchez Spring Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage perfectly fits a spring festival that is a rite for the many people who come to Natchez, Miss., to celebrate their Southern roots. Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, March 10–April 14, displays spring gardens and homes at their best. Even if you’ve been many times, you’ll find new moments to cherish this year. Thirty homes are open to the public; some are open only at this time of year; some are new to the tour.

Each day’s touring is different. Two three-home tours each day are priced at $30 each. Three magnificent mansions–Longwood, Rosalie, and Stanton Hall–are open for daily tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Add one of these to the home tour for an additional $12 admission. But there’s much more to the spring pilgrimage than home and garden tours.

The Stone House Musicale, performed by classical pianist Joseph Stone in his family’s antebellum music room, is open only to groups during the year, but during spring pilgrimage, it’s open to individuals on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m.

The Carriage House Restaurant does Jazz and Juleps on the grounds of Stanton Hall by reservation and is open for dining until 4 p.m. daily during the spring pilgrimage.

At the House on Ellicott Hill, a living history performance introduces early Natchez resident Andrew Ellicott in a brief re-enactment of the day in 1797 when the first American flag was raised over the Mississippi Territory. It is accessible through advance reservations.

Special acts include “Historic Natchez Tableaux” with more than 200 locals in elaborate costumes; the “Southern Road to Freedom” musical by the Holy Family Choir; the hilarious “Southern Exposure” spoof about locals and tourists during pilgrimage season; and the “Romantic Music of Natchez” program.

All have separate dates and admission prices that range from $15 to $25 per adult.

Dripping in romance, beauty, and tradition, Natchez Spring Pilgrimage is one of the South’s best events that never grows old.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

For music lovers, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, April 27–May 6, is a top choice. More than 400,000 fans groove to music, feast on New Orleans specialties, and shop for original crafts.

The lineup of musicians includes the Eagles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary Reunion, Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 50th Anniversary Jam, Ellis Marsalis, Pete Fountain, and Bonnie Raitt. In fact, more than 500 bands will perform jazz, pop, rock, folk, zydeco, and more.

Find a treasure to take home from the Congo Square African Marketplace, Contemporary Crafts, and the Louisiana Marketplace. In the Louisiana Folklife Village, watch artisans create musical instruments, traditional pirogues, and elaborate wood trim that distinguishes some of New Orleans’ architecture. The Native American Village section of the Folklife Village has dancers, drummers, and singers.

Food at Jazz Fest is a sensation, not a sideline. Noted restaurateurs and caterers serve New Orleans classics from pralines and po’ boys to sweet potato pie. In the Heritage Square section, sample Louisiana specialties, such as gumbo, crawfish bisque, or beignets. One food section even specializes in children’s favorites.

It’s daunting to navigate such a joyous, gigantic event. To see specific acts or attend only on specific dates, it’s especially important to get tickets well in advance. Prices range from $50 for one day to $160 for a weekend pass. A choice of VIP packages in the $1,000 range may include parking, priority seating, a hospitality lounge and more.

The festival is held at Fair Grounds Race Course, 1751 Gentilly Blvd., about 10 minutes from the French Quarter. Parking is sparse and costly, and those who park illegally are ticketed swiftly. Ask your hotel host about alternate transportation, such as buses, shuttles, and taxis.

New Orleans can be sunny in spring, so wear a hat and sunscreen. To get out of the sun, go to the air-conditioned Grandstand, where entertainers play on four indoor and outdoor stages. The terrain includes uneven ground, mud, gravel, and grass, so comfortable, closed shoes are a must.

A booth inside the Gentilly Boulevard entrance operated by Paralyzed Veterans of America loans wheelchairs on a first-come basis. Handicap parking for those with placards is also on a first-come basis and costs $50. Parking for VIP ticket holders is $60.

Memphis in May International Festival

While the New Orleans festival is winding down, Memphis is revving up for a month-long party that includes an international barbecue competition, the popular Sunset Symphony, and an extensive schedule of performances and exhibits.

The theme for the 2012 festival is a Salute to the Republic of the Philippines, an archipelago nation made up of more than 7,000 islands. Stages will swirl with elegant dances, songs, and costumes representing the Philippines’ culture. Museums, galleries, and public spaces will have displays and events honoring the nation, while celebrity chefs will serve Philippine cuisine.

The event kicks off with the Beale Street Music Festival, May 4–6. Although names of the acts were not available at press time, a galaxy of music stars is sure to bring the Beale Street beat to your feet. It’s always one of the month’s best-attended weekends, with some ticket categories already sold out.

The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, May 17–19, will lure the world’s top barbecue teams to Tom Lee Park. They’ll compete for bragging rights and $110,000 in prizes. It’s serious grilling, but the event also offers plenty of wacky fun with amusing team names, outrageous costumes, vocal competitions in the Ms. Piggie Idol contest, and a prize for the best booth.

Bring a blanket or chairs to the riverfront for the festival’s closing event on May 26. The AutoZone Sunset Symphony is more than music. It’s a family reunion that fills the day with picnics and performances. A fly-over by the Commemorative Air Force at 6 p.m. starts an evening starring the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Fireworks create an unforgettable finale.

Tickets start at $65 for a three-day pass. VIP packages are $550 or $650 with parking. Hotels offer a variety of packages. People with mobility challenges who have a state-issued handicap tag can park on a first-come basis on Riverside Drive from Beale Street to Union Avenue.

Music, food, and wonderful traditions are a part of these festivals. Make plans for a fun weekend that’s not far from home and enjoy the best of spring in the South.

Janet Groene is a new contributor from Live Oak, Fla.

Mar/Apr 2012 Issue


For more information, contact:

• Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, (800) 647-6742,
(601) 446-6631, or;

• New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,
(504) 410-4100 or;

• Memphis in May International Festival, (901) 525-4611 or

To visit Natchez, New Orleans or Memphis, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.

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