Mardi Gras, food festivals, and more—the states along the southern Great River Road offer an outstanding calendar of events all year long. Here’s a look at just a few of the annual events you’ll find in Mississippi River cities and towns in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
- Banana Festival, Fulton – Every September, the twin towns of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, come together for this fun event that celebrates the area’s history as an important railroad stop (it had the only icehouse on the way to Chicago from New Orleans, meaning fruits like bananas could make the long trip). The festival includes food vendors, craft vendors, and (obviously) lots of banana treats.
- Memphis in May – Head to the Home of the Blues every spring for a monthlong celebration of music, international culture, and food. The festivities traditionally kick off with the Beale Street Music Festival (on pause for 2024), which attracts world-famous acts from a diverse array of genres for a three-day celebration. Bring your appetite for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in the middle of the month and work of the calories at the annual Great American River Run over Memorial Day weekend.
- Let it Glow Light Show, Union City – Discovery Park of America is part of the official network of Great River Road Interpretive Centers and holds events throughout the year for school groups and other visitors. A holiday highlight is the Let it Glow Light Show, a walk- or drive-thru display that features more than a million lights spread throughout the park’s grounds, as well as live music, visits from Santa and Mrs. Clau, and other attractions.
- King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena-West Helena – Discover the sounds of the Delta at this annual event held the weekend before Columbus Day. Named for King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily radio show (which broadcasts from the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena), the festival brings thousands of visitors to the banks of the Mississippi for a weekend of blues music from performers across the South and the country.
- Lake Chicot Fall Festival, Lake Village – The community of Lake Village in southeastern Arkansas is home to not only Lake Chicot—the state’s largest natural lake and the largest oxbow lake in North America at 20 miles long—but also the annual Lake Chicot Fall Festival, which features a barbecue cookoff, a classic car show, and more fun events.
- Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale – Clarksdale is rich in blues history—it’s the site of the Delta Blues Museum and the famous Crossroads where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul for his legendary musical talent—so it makes sense that it’s home to lots of great opportunities to catch live music. One event that visitors shouldn’t miss is the annual Juke Joint Festival, which features a day (and night) of live music from more than 100 blues artists at venues throughout the city.
- Spring Pilgrimage, Natchez – Every March and April, the historic city of Natchez—the oldest continuous settlement on the Mississippi River, it was officially established in 1716—opens more than a dozen of its iconic homes to the public for tours as part of the Spring Pilgrimage. The event includes guided tours of pre-Civil War homes and other properties on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Christmas Eve bonfires, St. James Parish – This uniquely Louisiana tradition features the lighting of gigantic bonfires along the levees on the Mississippi River to help “Papa Noel” (the Cajun Santa Claus) navigate his route on Christmas Eve. These bonfires can be found throughout Louisiana’s river parishes but are most common in the communities of Grammercy, Lutcher, and Paulina in St. James Parish, about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans.
- Festivals & celebrations, New Orleans – New Orleans isn’t called the Festival Capital of the World for nothing. Throughout the year, the Big Easy welcomes millions of visitors to music festivals, cultural celebrations, arts events, and much more. There’s a festival going on every weekend—visitors can find fun at Mardi Gras, Essence Fest, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many more.
Photo Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism