Best Southern Event (2015)


Live music, grand tastings, blossom watching, horse races and pirate antics ...the Southern United States plays host to a full calendar of travel-worthy festivals.

  • Memphis in May International Festival

    Memphis in May International Festival

    Memphis in May began small, with a tiny budget, nearly 40 years ago. The idea: the chamber of commerce wanted to promote the city and various springtime events, such as the Cotton Carnival. Today, it’s a month-long, large-scale, $7-million nonprofit and considered one of the nation’s most noteworthy festivals. It spans multiple big events: The Beale Street Music Festival, International Week, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony evening of classical music. Memphis in May is internationally known and draws famous faces.
    Photo courtesy of Memphis in May

  • Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival

    Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival
    Winchester, Va

    This annual spring festival draws major crowds: around 300,000. And that’s because the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival offers more than just, well, apple blossoms. It comprises a carnival, concerts, dancing, fireworks, music, a circus, golf tournament, parade, a race, food and more. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival lasts 10 days and has been celebrated in Virginia for more than 80 years.
    Photo courtesy of Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival

  • Tupelo Elvis Festival

    Tupelo Elvis Festival
    Tupelo, Miss.

    Elvis is alive and well – or at least his memory is – at the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival in Mississippi. Every June, this event celebrates Elvis Presley, who was born in Tupelo. Fans attend this event to hear tribute musicians, a gospel concert and other music types influenced by Elvis, and also participate in a run, disc golf, pet parade, food, a carnival and a beauty pageant. But the music and Elvis’s legacy is the heart of the festival.
    Photo courtesy of Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Cruisin' The Coast

    Cruisin' The Coast
    Mississippi Gulf Coast

    Cruisn' The Coast is considered “America’s largest block party.” Imagine more than 7,000 vehicles – hot rods, classics, antique vehicles – in a massive car show along the beachside highway on the Mississippi Coast. Car lovers love this annual event, which has taken over the Mississippi Gulf Coast every year since its inception in 1996. Cruise between the different venues, each a festival in and of itself, and catch live music, food, merchandise, a car auction, swap meet, parade and plenty of car talk.
    Photo courtesy of Cruisin' The Coast

  • Luling Watermelon Thump

    Luling Watermelon Thump
    Luling, Texas

    Texas celebrates – what else? – the watermelon, at this quirky annual June event that spans four days. Watermelons are a big deal here; the champion melon (as determined by the melon contest) can go for as much as $22,500. The “Thump,” which started in 1954 by a school principal, also includes a carnival, pageant, booths, entertainment and watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests.
    Photo courtesy of moodboard

  • 30A Songwriters Festival

    30A Songwriters Festival
    South Walton, Fla.

    The 30A Songwriters Festival in Walton County, Fla., is a relatively young event – only seven years old – but it has garnered much attention for attracting internationally esteemed songwriters and performers, such as the Indigo Girls and Jason Isbell. See some of the top singer-songwriters perform in various locations along the scenic highway. This event is unique, in that it brings singers, songwriters, writers and musicians from around the nation gather together to inspire and honor the craft of making music.
    Photo courtesy of Evan Carter

  • State Fair of Texas

    State Fair of Texas

    Texas does everything big – especially its state fair late September in Dallas. We’re talking 24 days of exhibits, entertainment and a large-scale auto show, plus the college football game between Texas and Oklahoma. The State Fair of Texas traces all the way back to 1886. This fair is also known for its over-the-top (although not exactly healthy) treats, like deep-fried Samoa cookies and chicken fried bacon. Only in Texas.
    Photo courtesy of Kevin Brown / State Fair of Texas

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival

    National Cherry Blossom Festival

    In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gifted Washington 3,000 cherry trees, which ended up growing as a symbol of the relationship between Japan and the United States. And in return, the United States gave Japan the gift of dogwood trees. The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the friendship between the two countries. The First Lady of the country is traditionally involved in the festivities and tree planting reenactments, which stretch across four weekends. More than 1.5 million people join in this annual event.
    Photo courtesy of National Cherry Blossom Festival

  • FloydFest

    Floyd, Va.

    FloydFest is a world music and art festival that has gained esteem for only selling a limited quantity of tickets. The goal: to provide the best music festival possible. For four days every July near Floyd, Va., you can hear music from reggae to Yiddish to Appalachian, and also see arts and crafts, take yoga, hear poetry and storytelling and more. Every year has a unique theme that shapes the offerings.
    Photo courtesy of FloydFest / Roger Gupta

  • Bonnaroo

    Manchester, Tenn.

    More than 150 musical performances over four days in June mark this popular Tennessee music festival, which has drawn the likes of the Allman Brothers, Jay-Z and many more in between. Bonnaroo also features live comedy, a film fest and other events. Rolling Stone called the first Bonnaroo one of the “50 moments that changed rock and roll,” and the 85,000 “Bonnaroovians” who attend every year may agree.
    Photo courtesy of Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

After a panel of Southern travel experts nominated their 20 favorite events, we turned it over to our readers to vote for their top picks. After four weeks of daily voting, the top 10 list has been decided.

Winning the title of Best Southern Event is the Memphis in May International Festival, a month-long celebration comprising multiple big events: The Beale Street Music Festival, International Week, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony evening of classical music.

The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, runner-up for Best Southern Event, takes place each spring with dancing, concerts, a carnival, cooking contests, a parade and plenty of apples.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Southern Event are as follows:

  1. Memphis in May International Festival
  2. Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival
  3. Tupelo Elvis Festival
  4. Cruisin' The Coast
  5. Luling Watermelon Thump
  6. 30A Songwriters Festival
  7. State Fair of Texas
  8. National Cherry Blossom Festival
  9. FloydFest
  10. Bonnaroo

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Larry Bleiberg (, Tanner Latham ( and Lacy Morris (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of travel in the American South.

Additional nominees for Best Southern Event included Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the French Quarter Festival, Gasparilla Pirate Fest, Hangout Music Festival, the Kentucky Derby, Mardi Gras, New Orleans JazzFestSouth Beach Wine & Food Festival, South by Southwest and Spoleto Festival USA.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

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AlertThe Experts

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Tanner Latham

Tanner Latham

Tanner Latham

Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris