TIFTON — Festivals say so much about a community.

For some cities, these annual signature festivals have become a way of life, a part of the culture and just a whole lot of fun.

The SunLight Project coverage area, which includes Tifton, Valdosta, Moultrie, Thomasville, Milledgeville and Dalton, takes a look at festivals and their impact.

Tift County

• Rhythm and Ribs BBQ Festival, held Saturday, March 7, at Fulwood Park, is the county’s premier event featuring both a professional and backyard barbecue competition, as well as children’s games, arts and crafts, food and live music. Visit tiftonribsfest.com for more information.

• Folk Life Festival and Quilt Show, hosted 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at Georgia Museum of Agriculture.

The festival has been going on for several decades and brings to life the region’s rural history and heritage. It takes place the first weekend in April at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

Attendees can learn how to shear sheep, make pine-needle baskets and sew quilt squares.

• Arts in Black Festival is 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at Fulwood Park.

The black community showcases talented artists and musicians.

It lasts two days with a talent competition taking up one evening and festival day following.

• Rock the Block is held throughout June and July in Downtown Tifton.

It is an annual summer block party that features live music, yard games, water slides and other summer activities for the kids and food from downtown restaurants and vendors.

• The Omega Pepper Festival is the second Saturday in September.

The small town of Omega hosts the Pepper Festival to mark the town’s spicy past. The event features a parade, live music, food and vendors.

• La Fiesta del Pueblo is held the last Saturday in September at Fulwood Park.

The event spotlights the unique culture and heritage of the local Latino population and provides a variety of food from many South American and Central American countries. There is live music, dancing exhibitions and vendors.

• Hometown Holiday Christmas Celebration is the first weekend in December in Downtown Tifton.

The festival features a parade through town. Most of downtown is blocked off to allow thousands of attendees to walk and experience live music, dance performances, food vendors and holiday decorations while shopping at local businesses and vendors for Christmas presents.

Lowndes County

Held each March, the Azalea Festival celebrates the abundant azaleas as well as the culture of Valdosta and Lowndes County.

The festival started in 2000 and has settled into a Saturday and Sunday event in mid-March at Drexel Park. The festival features dozens of arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, a Kids Zone, classic car show, various attractions, concerts by local bands, etc., all open to the public.

In 2000, Joanne Griner proposed a festival to celebrate Valdosta and its status as the Azalea City. She founded the Valdosta-Lowndes County Azalea Festival and served as its director for several years. She remained deeply involved in the festival until her passing in 2016.

“When I took over in August of 2011, I had the goal of making our festival the largest of its kind within a two- to three-hour radius,” said H. Aaron Strickland, festival executive director.

“What began as a small community festival with a single stage and a handful of vendors has grown to a major regional festival that draws vendors and patrons from as far away as New York, Kansas and South Dakota.”

Additional attractions include the Classic Car and Bike Show, the Azalea 5K sponsored by Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority Saturday morning and the Falconry Forever (Birds of Prey exhibits and demonstrations).

Strickland credits the increase in event attendance to organizers making the festival “bigger and better” each year. He said the free gathering covers the 10-acre park completely with vendors and offerings.

More than 225 arts, entertainment and food vendors are expected at the 2020 Azalea Fest, which is held 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 15.

The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show is sponsored by the Langdale Company. Wild Adventures Theme Park provides entertainment.

This year, food will range in variety from Southern barbecue, roasted corn, ice cream, Thai cuisine and more. Arts and crafts vendors will have products including soaps, jewelry, art, hand-made items, as well as informational booths by a few local businesses and nonprofits.

“This festival is a huge asset to the community. I can’t think of any other event that draws upwards of 25-30,000 people for an entire weekend,” Strickland said.

“As I said before, we have vendors and patrons that come from far and near. They stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants. Plus, Wild Adventures begins their season the weekend before, so folks have the opportunity to come and make Valdosta and Lowndes County their destination for the weekend. They can enjoy a day at the festival and one at Wild Adventures. It truly makes a terrific mini vacation.”   

Though the Community-wide Family Reunion does not pull in the crowd that the Azalea Fest does, the festival-style event has impacted the area in a way that provides free resources to residents.

It is hosted by the Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women in September yearly.

The reunion first began by bringing families together nine years ago, but it has since grown to connect everyone.

Organizers said the event has grown tremendously and continues to improve.

“I think the interest in attending this event continues to increase due to us offering a variety of things to do for both adults and kids, as well as it being a fun, family-themed event,” said Dr. Jamie Foster-Hill, section president. “The committee’s drive and the person who spearheads the event is what attributes to the increase of the participants and the success of this event each year.”

The reunion is true to its definition as it unites families together that are not only from the Valdosta-Lowndes County area but also surrounding counties.

“Local vendors, organizations and businesses all come together on this day to celebrate the importance of the family unit by providing health screenings, informational booths, free clothing live entertainment, free food and activities, door prizes and much more,” Hill said.

Vendors are diverse and come from a variety of backgrounds, which promotes inclusion, she said.

Valdosta State University, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, the Rotary Club of Valdosta and Second Harvest of South Georgia are a few known vendors.

In 2019, Second Harvest provided free groceries that included beans, produce, bread and canned goods.

Among other festivals around the Valdosta area are:

• The South Georgia Film Festival, scheduled for March 6-8, offers film screenings and panels. Filmmakers, both nationally and internationally, are participants.

• 100 Black Men of Valdosta Barbecue Cookoff, a barbecue contest held in August on the Lowndes County Courthouse Square that draws in hundreds of patrons;

• Brooks County Skillet Toss, held in Quitman in October. Includes arts, crafts, vendor and the skillet toss competition;

• The Morven Peach Festival, held in May, celebrating one of Brooks County’s leading crops;

• The Hahira Honey Bee Festival, held in October with vendors, arts, crafts and a large parade offered. The honey bee theme celebrates the city’s past as one of the nation’s leading providers of queen bees for beekeepers;

• The South Georgia Pride Festival, held in September in John W. Saunders Park. The event supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Vendors include merchants, nonprofits and food;

• The Safe Trick or Treat Fall Festival, held in October by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, gives kids a safe place to observe Halloween.

• RKDS Film Festival. Scheduled for July 10-12 at Old Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center, 3101 N. Forrest St., the third annual RKDS Film Festival will feature chosen films, more. Past film festivals have included celebrity salutes to and visits by Burt Reynolds and “Sonny” Shroyer. Run dates: July 10-12. More information: Visit https://filmfreeway.com/RkdsFilmFest

Colquitt County

The Calico Arts and Crafts Show, scheduled for March 21-22 and Nov. 14-15, is known as a one-stop shopping extravaganza for lovers of all things handmade and crafty.

Calico Arts and Crafts show is a two-day festival of art that draws in hundreds of patrons from all over the county and about 300 vendors to share their wares. It occurs once in the spring and once in the fall.

• Lights! Lights! Thanksgiving Night offers visitors a chance to see the Moultrie Courthouse Square lit up with hundreds of Christmas lights on Thanksgiving night to roll in the holiday season.

Once residents have had their fill of turkey for the evening, they can come watch the square light up for Christmas and even meet Santa early. It is because of “Lights! Lights!” that Moultrie has been voted one of the most charming Southern cities to spend the holidays in by Southern Living Magazine, according to organizers.

• Santa Stroll n’ Roll is held in December. The event began nine years ago to raise money for local nonprofits. The event usually sees about 250-plus participants who come out to jog or ride around the Moultrie Courthouse square with Santa every year.

• Spring Fling and Backyard Barbecue Festival is usually scheduled for every third weekend in April. This year, it is scheduled for April 17-18.

An annual celebration of spring, the Spring Fling and Backyard Barbecue Festival brings hundreds of visitors into the heart of Downtown Moultrie for two days of fun-filled activities, from arts and crafts and kids activities to a pancake breakfast sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and the titular Backyard Barbecue Competition.

• Sunbelt Agricultural Expo is scheduled Oct. 20-22. It began in the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s Ag Engineering Technology Club and its Dealer Days. The very first Dealer Days was held on the Tifton college’s campus in 1964; the mini-trade shows were designed to allow local dealers to show off new tractors and implements, as well as allow students to meet with potential employers.

The expo moved to Spence Field in Moultrie many years ago and now attracts more than 1,200 vendors and exhibitors each year and even more visitors.

• Doerun May Day is May 3-4. In 1982, Doerun Elementary School’s principal, Verna Hollingsworth, began the May Day festival so her students could celebrate the spring season.

The Doerun Booster Association worked alongside school officials to create a parade and a festival, which has been a staple of the City of Doerun ever since.

Typically, the festival has more than 5,000 attendees and features live entertainment, a barbecue cook-off of rib-eye steak and Brunswick stew and the May Day parade.

Whitfield County

• The Prater’s Mill Country Fair in October raises money to help preserve a historic mill built in 1855.

The first event took place Mother’s Day weekend 1971. During the first year, organizers held one festival every month from May through December.

That proved a little ambitious, organizers said. But the fair continued as a twice-yearly event for almost 30 years before being scaled back to once a year.

The 2020 fair will run Oct. 10-11 at 5845 Highway 2 in Dalton. The fair focuses on Appalachian history, culture, music and food.

Demonstrations of blacksmithing, spinning, quilting, rug hooking, woodcarving and hand tufting as well as tours of the mill, pony rides and canoe rides.

Admission is $7 per day. Children younger than 12 are admitted free.

• The Creative Arts Guild Festival of Arts and Crafts is Sept. 19-20 at 520 W. Waugh St. in Dalton.

The festival is free and opens 10 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday.

There will be live music and other performances and tours of the Guild’s sculpture garden. Artists from around the nation will display and sell their art.

• The Black Bear Festival is in October at 400 N. Third Ave., Chatsworth. Food, music and plenty of arts and crafts on sale.

Baldwin County

• Hometown Celebration. Since 2014, the Milledgeville Main Street Downtown Development Authority has put on a yearly Hometown Celebration, which brings music, activities and tables from local organizations to downtown.

Held in celebration of Milledgeville’s inclusion on the National Main Street Center’s “Great American Main Street Cities” list, the daylong event has been held in the spring for the past two years after August heat significantly diminished turnout in 2016.

The free event is 6-9 p.m. Friday, May 1, in Downtown Milledgeville.

• Deep Roots. The biggest of Milledgeville’s yearly festivals is Deep Roots, a daylong event combining food and craft vendors, a car show, a Georgia Barbecue Association-sanctioned barbecue contest and touring musicians from across the country.

Festivities kick off 10 a.m., Oct. 17, and the music plays until midnight.

Deep Roots began in 2000 and is organized by Milledgeville Main Street.

Downtown streets are closed, allowing festival-goers to dine in their favorite establishments or try a pop-up vendor, shop the festival arts and merchants, and dance in the street. In addition to the music, there’s an antique car show, live entertainment ranging from bluegrass to rock-and-roll, artist market and a LittleRoots KidZone.

Admission to the festival is an all-day pass, festival attendees may come and go throughout the day.

Named one of Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 events, winner of SFEA’s Best Event 2009 and also voted Lake Oconee Living magazine’s Best Event for 2010, Deep Roots is held late October each year.

Admission is $6 in advance, $8 at the door and $6 for four or more tickets. After 5 p.m., tickets are $15.

• ArtHealthy Festival returns each spring; the community-hosted festival melds health and fitness with the arts.

The festival is in its seventh year and is 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at the front campus of Georgia College in Downtown Milledgeville.

The one-day event joins campus and community members to promote art and healthy living in the Central Georgia area. The festival is free and open to the public.

ArtHealthy is a collaboration between CREATE Inc., a local nonprofit, and Georgia College.

Thomas County

• The 99th Annual Rose Show and 72nd Rose Festival are scheduled April 23-25 as a celebration of Thomasville’s rosy history and heritage.

The Rose Show will be located on Remington Avenue under the big tent with hundreds of roses of all shapes, sizes and colors on display.

Vegetables — not roses — should be given credit for the first Rose Show in the 1920s. A few industrious local women entered their vegetables for display in the State Fair in Macon in fall 1920 and took home the $25 first-place prize. This seed money was given to the Garden Club to host the first Rose Show in 1922.

So many roses were entered into the show that Neel’s Department Store in Downtown Thomasville, site of the first show, was covered in flowers. A Thomasville tradition had been born.

Kicking off festivities early in the week will be the annual Thomasville Police Department inspection at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, at Broad Street downtown. The inspection is open to the public.

This year’s event will include a new theme for the Rose Parade: Thomasville Traditions. Entries are encouraged to get creative and observe city traditions.

The Rose Parade is 7 p.m. Friday, April 24. After the parade, the Swingin’ Medallions will play at a street dance on Broad Street.

On Saturday, downtown’s 100-plus shops and restaurants will be open.

“Many will feature special menu items that highlight roses, everything from sweets to drinks. Roses in Restaurants was a big crowd favorite last year when it debuted,” said Sarah Baggett, City of Thomasville marketing manager.

“One of the highlights of the festival was tasting all the unique ways roses were incorporated into beverages, meals and desserts. We are looking forward to tasting the creative rose-themed foods our restauranteurs create this year.”

New to the Saturday lineup is Rose Fest at the Ritz event, which will replace Art in the Park. Rose Fest at the Ritz is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

“This new event will feature an artisan market with one-of-a-kind pieces available for purchase, as well as popular children’s activities, such as face-painting and art projects,” said Madison Eaton, city events coordinator. “The event will also feature live music on the Ritz Amphitheater stage throughout the afternoon, as well as food vendors.”

Rose Fest at the Ritz is free and open to the public.

Finishing up the Rose Show and Festival this year will be the Rose Fest Finale on Saturday night. Street bands will fill the downtown air with music 4-6 p.m., with a Sip and Stroll beginning 6 p.m.

From 7-10 p.m. Saturday, at the Ritz Amphitheater, a free outdoor concert will feature The Company Band. The Ritz Amphitheater also will feature food trucks, a photo booth bus and more. The Rose Fest Finale will end with a spectacular fireworks show. Admission is free.

• The Garden Club Standard Flower Show, held at the Thomasville Garden Center, features many types of blooms in various arrangements. Orchids on Parade showcases orchid plants including rare and hard-to-grow species.

The Civic Garden Club Show, held at the Ritz Amphitheater, highlights native flowers and plants in creative ways — from hanging baskets to table settings incorporating living flowers.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Civic Garden Club Show to the Ritz Amphitheater this year,” Eaton said. “This new location will provide better walking traffic and access to the show.”

The tent will open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission to all flower shows is free. Donations are accepted.

Download the Visit Thomasville GA! application to create custom itineraries, tour routes and more. Visit thomasvillega.com, or call the Thomasville Visitors Center at (229) 228-7977, for more information.

• The 30th Annual Boston Spring Fling and Auction. Always scheduled for the Saturday before Easter, the fling/auction is slated for Saturday, April 11. Activities are centered in the downtown area. Vendors sell food and crafts.

• The 41st Annual Boston Mini-Marathon and Festival is in late October. Activities include food, arts and crafts for sale, a walk, the run and a Halloween costume contest Saturday, Oct. 31.

• Pavo’s Peacock Day is the second Saturday in May each year at the Pavo Peacock Center, 2061 W. McDonald St. The event provides food, arts and crafts, entertainment and rides.

Amanda M. Usher, Patti Dozier, Savannah Donald, Eve Copeland-Brechbiel, Charles Oliver and Natalie Linder contributed to this report.

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