When Do We Go?

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It’s no secret that the Gulf Coast is many Memphians’ favorite place for a getaway. The Emerald Coast, a stretch of white sand beaches along Florida State Route 30a, is a simple day’s drive (or short flight) away. The weather is usually great, even in the off-season, and the amenities are abundant.

As you plan your family’s vacation excursions for 2022, you may be asking yourself when is the best time to head to the Gulf Coast? You can plan your trip around breaks and holidays, of course, but if you’re flexible with your schedule, you can find the perfect time and spend less on lodging.

One factor to consider in timing your visit is events. The calendar is packed with fun and interesting activities that go beyond swimming, sunbathing, and seafood. Here’s a sampling of the best upcoming concerts, sporting events, and festivals along the Gulf Coast.

Music by the Sea

Since its inception in 2010, the 30a Songwriters Festival has become one of the premier musical events in the Southeast. The festival began in 2010 as a fundraiser for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton Count, and this year’s event takes place January 14-17. The emphasis here is on song craft. Plenty of big names have played the Songwriters Festival over the years: The Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson; ’70s superstars Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Don McLean, and Heart’s Ann Wilson; rough and tumble folk-rock legends like Richard Thompson, Steve Earle, and the late John Prine; pop rockers Cheap Trick and The Bangles; heartfelt singers like Suzanne Vega, Joan Osborne, and Ani DiFranco; and down-home country crooners like Tanya Tucker and Grace Potter.

Many Memphis-area musicians, like the North Mississippi Allstars, Amy LaVere, and John Paul Keith also make a pilgrimage to the annual festival, which fills amphitheaters and beachside venues all along Route 30A.

This year’s festival headliners include a Memphis legend. As a member of the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples recorded a string of inspirational hits for Stax Records in the late ’60s and early ’70s. She can be seen singing a stirring duet with Mahalia Jackson at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in the recent documentary Summer of Soul. She has recorded with everyone from Prince to Jeff Tweedy, and once broke Bob Dylan’s heart by turning down his proposal of marriage.

Sharing the spotlight with Mavis are Chris and Rich Robinson, who founded the Black Crowes in 1984 and rocked America with “Remedy” and “She Talks to Angels.” In 2013, the Robinson brothers ended their partnership after a 12-album run — and reportedly vowed never to speak to one another again. The 30a Songwriters Festival show will be their first public reunion since the acrimonious breakup.

Emmylou Harris returns to 30a as a living reminder of the pure soul of country music. The 14-time Grammy winner has performed everywhere from The Ryman Auditorium to Lilith Fair, and her beachside festival set is sure to be unforgettable.

Food and Wine

If you’re looking for a culinary experience, February, March, and April are good months to hit the coast. Vintners gather in Alys Beach February 23-27 for the 30a Wine Festival. This year’s event is about more than just the fruit of the vine. In addition to the inaugural four-course wine dinner by chef Kevin Cavanaugh at Caliza Restaurant, a champagne and oysters concert in central park, and Saturday’s centerpiece Grand Tasting with more than 80 wines, there’s also a rum dinner, a mixology seminar, and the irresistibly titled “Bourbon, Beer & Butts.” The tenth annual festival benefits the Florida Children’s Volunteer Health Network.

A strong connection has always existed between the Gulf Coast and nearby New Orleans. The biggest coastal celebration of the Big Easy’s cuisine is the Sandestin Gumbo Festival at Baytowne Wharf in Miramar Beach, which runs March 17-18. You can taste all of the varieties of the classic dish, from chicken and sausage to seafood, with a light roux or a dark one, or something in between, made by restaurants up and down the coast, and vote on the best one for the People’s Choice award. And not just that — over the 33 years that the Sandestin Gumbo Festival has been stewing and brewing, another competition has sprung up. The Best Bloody Mary at the Beach trophy is just as hotly contested as the gumbo. It’s going to be a spicy weekend.

April 21-24 also presents travelers with the South Walton Wine & Food Festival. The event fills the Grand Boulevard with wine and song, and is one of the largest events of its kind in the nation. The Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday features more than 800 wines from all over the world.

Get Active

As we see every winter in Memphis with the St. Jude Marathon, dedicated runners will travel far and wide to compete against their peers and personal best. The Gulf Coast hosts two half-marathons. The first one is the Seaside School Half Marathon & 5k, which celebrates its twentieth iteration on February 20. This year’s return to in-person running will feature a new course that sends the thousands of expected runners east from the Seaside community, giving them views of what will hopefully be a spectacular sunrise. The race weekend begins with a Taste of the Race event, which welcomes the runners to the historic community.

The second big running event is in October. The 30a Half Marathon & 5k is a three-day celebration that brings hoards of road runners to the famed stretch of beachside highway. If you’re not that intense of a runner, there’s always the CVHN Smile Mile and 5k at Marina Park in nearby WaterColor. The May event benefits the Children’s Volunteer Health Network.

Classic Cars

For car enthusiasts, the Gulf Coast offers several options. The Vettes at the Village celebration, which revs up March 26, brings a bevy of Corvettes to the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin. Presented by the Playground Corvette Club of Fort Walton, the gathering of the classic American sports cars is officially sanctioned by the National Corvette Museum.

In October is Cruisin’ the Coast, one of the biggest gatherings of classic cars in the nation. Thousands of vehicles of all shapes and sizes come together in Biloxi, Mississippi, to ride the roads of the Gulf Coast in style. You’ll see everything from vintage fire trucks to custom street rods, drag racers to pickup trucks, and everything in between. The Cruisin’ the Coast crews, who number more than 9,000, truly care about their cars, and their joy is catchy.

Art and Dance

May is the time to visit the coast for art lovers. That’s Art Month South Walton, the Cultural Arts Alliance’s celebration of the humanities. Events include Under The Sea, a fundraising ball for the Underwater Museum of Art. About a mile offshore of Grayton Beach State Park, the sculpture garden is the only one of its kind in the United States. The UMA’s sculptures are all designed to attract marine life, and will eventually become a living artistic artificial reef.

The ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival (May 7-8) brings more than 100 ceramics, fiber, glass, and fiber artists together for a juried show at the Grand Boulevard Town Center in Sandestin, awarding $10,000 in cash prizes. The theme for the third biennial Rosemary Beach Sculpture Exhibition is Caring About Tomorrow: Exploring Environmental Interdependence Through Public Art. And in Seaside, the Longleaf Writer’s Conference, which takes place May 14-21, will bring New York Times bestselling nature essayist Aimee Nezhukumatathil and novelist Maurice Carlos Ruffin as the visiting artists for the weeklong gathering of scribes of all levels.

The beachside architecture of Alys Beach features lots of tropical white walls. It turns out to be a perfect medium for a relatively new art form. Projection-mapping artists use digitally manipulated video to bring inanimate surfaces alive. The projects can create soothing scenes or mind-bending illusions. You’ve probably seen this during Olympics opening ceremonies or in monumental works on the sides of skyscrapers. The Digital Graffiti Festival brings some of the most cutting-edge digital artists in the world down to street level, in one of the most beautiful communities in the South.

Ocean Adventure

Of course, the Emerald Coast is most famous for the incredible seafood that comes from the area’s clear blue water. These communities started out as fishing villages, and their legacy lives on today in the area’s biggest annual event.

The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic sets out from the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort June 22-26. On shore during this tournament are cooking demonstrations, fireworks, and live music.

But the real action is on the ocean. More than $2 million of prizes are at stake as some of the best anglers in the world compete for the ultimate catch. It’s a unique event that defines the height of the season, and celebrates the strengths that make the Emerald Coast famous all over the world.

source : memphismagazine

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