The sweaty climes of summer might not be the traditional kick-off setting for so many festivals across Atlanta, but after 2020 and the woes of last winter, we'll take what we can get.
Yes, from Brookhaven to Atlantic Station and Decatur, Atlanta’s beloved neighborhood festivals are back, in city parks and venues large and small.
The traditional launch to fall fest season, Grant Park Summer Shade Festival, won’t return in full force until next year. But the late summer and autumn nonetheless look like sure bets for sizzlin' good food, outdoor socializing, and live music—in many cases, for free—across our fair city.
Below are some forthcoming, open-air highlights Atlantans might want to jot on the social calendar:
July 30, 31
Dresden Drive and Apple Valley Road, Brookhaven
Brookhaven’s downtown is set to transform into a pedestrian-only zone Friday and Saturday for 2021’s incarnation of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Expect the city’s restaurants to spill onto sidewalks, joining artists, food trucks, and other activities.
Outdoor performances will be staged in a Brookhaven MARTA Station parking lot (attendees are encouraged to actually ride MARTA) along Apple Valley Road.
Headliners this year include homegrown national artists Collective Soul (9:30 p.m. Friday) and The Revivalists (9:15 p.m. Saturday). Also playing: Rick Springfield, Better Than Ezra, Jagged Edge, and more. It's free to attend.
Noon to 8 p.m., July 31
Bessie Branham Park, Historic Kirkwood
Spring might be behind us, but Kirkwood will kick off a festive season on Atlanta's eastside with a scaled-back version of its Spring Fling Festival on Saturday—albeit in late July.
A smaller 5K run is planned in the morning, and the famed home tour and BBQ competition have been nixed out of caution this year. Still, the neighborhood’s signature festival will host a slate of artists and food vendors, plus an afternoon of live music ranging from Americana to pop and DJ mixes.
Find a schedule of planned events and music acts here.
August 6, 7, 8
It hardly seems like Atlanta without this artful, inclusive gathering in Piedmont Park, set against so many blazing blossoms of spring.
Expect the scenery to be decidedly more green this year, as the Atlanta Dogwood Festival—one of the Southeast’s largest events, held for more than 80 years—will roll out across three days in early August. More than 100 artists from around the country are expected to showcase their wares, alongside an array of live music and a Kids Village. Plus, there will be funnel cakes.
The free festival opens at noon that Friday, and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Note that the artist market closes at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
As always, keep Fido at home, as no dogs are allowed.
September 5, 6 (Labor Day Weekend)
After a hiatus in 2020, one of the country's most popular and largest free music festivals returns to Piedmont Park over Labor Day Weekend (Sunday and Monday).
The 43rd Atlanta Jazz Festival will showcase top jazz performers and acts—Mike Phillips, Archie Shepp, and Patti Austin among them—plus a free Jazz 101 master class for a maximum of 250 attendees per workshop.
Long a stage for jazz legends and up-and-comers, the festival was founded by Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson decades ago to foster an appreciation for the art form where it originated, in the South.
September 10, 11
Candler Park (the greenspace)
Featuring an abundance of jammy tunes and a “handpicked selection of the best food trucks and vendors from Atlanta and beyond,” the Candler Park Music Festival returns to its grassy setting in early September.
Headliners include Galactic, Ripe, and The Infamous Springdusters.
Gates open at 1500 McLendon Avenue at 4 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. Single-day tix start at $30.
Noon to 6 p.m., September 18
What’s described as “Atlanta’s favorite smoked meat onslaught” is back for a ninth annual helping on the streets of Atlantic Station in mid-September. (It’s typically held in the spring, too.)
Expect a super serious cornhole tournament, 100 different beers and bourbons, and live music that includes an ’80s tribute band, The 80ators. The official squeal—err, spiel: “It’s a great day of beer sippin’, bourbon tastin’, music listenin’, cigar smokin’, and barbeque eatin’.” Sold.
A general admission “session” costs $39. The VIP experience is 50 bucks more.
September 18, 19
Also the weekend of September 18 (Saturday and Sunday this time), Music Midtown will make its comeback in Piedmont Park with more than 30 artists across four stages, including rock, hip-hop, pop, and electronica genres, among others.
Headline performers for ’21 include Maroon 5, Miley Cyrus, DaBaby, Jonas Brothers, 21 Savage, Machine Gun Kelly, Megan Thee Stallion, and Black Pumas.
The storied Midtown fest has been Atlanta’s largest musical showcase since 1994—minus a six-year hiatus until 2011, and another, of course, in 2020. General admission, two-day tickets start at $135. Expect extended closures around Piedmont Park.
September 18, 19
A busy September weekend for festive gatherings will continue in the heart of Buckhead Village.
That’s where the Buckhead Fine Arts Festival will feature the work of roughly 100 top-level sculptors, painters, photographers, glass artists, jewelers, metalworkers, and more on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Added bonus: artist demonstrations, live acoustic music, and nosh from Buckhead Village vendors.
October 2, 3
Big changes are afoot on Decatur’s festival scene in ’21.
The long-running Decatur Arts Festival is moving from its traditional Memorial Day Weekend slot to the first weekend in October, which should help cool things off.
On that Saturday, you’ll also find the AJC Decatur Book Festival in its new permanent home (a single October Saturday). After 15 years, festival organizers have decided to move the bibliophile-palooza back from Labor Day Weekend.
Expect five author events to complement the arts festival but no street book fair this year.
Noon to 7 p.m., October 9
Porches all over
The “post-lockdown edition” of Atlanta’s original musicians-performing-on-private-porches extravaganza happens in early October this year, likely at more than 100 homes and greenspaces around leafy Oakhurst.
The grassroots music fest began humbly in 2015 but had grown to 220 performers within two years. As organizers note, Georgia’s music tourism bureau has called Oakhurst Porchfest “very likely the most diverse lineup of any festival” in the Peach State.
As always, it’ll be free in 2021. Expect the official lineup to emerge in late September.
Central Park, Old Fourth Ward
The well-organized rocktopia that is Shaky Knees Music Festival is opting for a three-day weekend in late October this year, bumped from its traditional slot in May. Expect more than 60 bands and no shortage of volume in O4W.
Eclectic highlights of 2021 are set to include Stevie Nicks, The Strokes, Run the Jewels, Alice Cooper, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent, Mac DeMarco, Phoebe Bridgers, and Portugal. The Man.
Tickets for Shaky Knees’ eighth incarnation start at $99 (single day) or $219 (all three days) for general admission.
Atlanta’s Summer Wine Fest is August 6 and 7 at City Winery; the 14th annual Atlanta German Bierfest returns to Woodruff Park on August 21; the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival takes over Atlantic Station on September 11; The Loc Fest, a celebration of beauty and health, happens at the new Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City on October 2; and last but never least, the artful Fall Festival on Ponce returns October 9 and 10 to a scenic strip of Olmsted-designed parks in Druid Hills.
ADDITIONALLY! Atlanta Pride will be celebrated with its iconic parade and events across the city between October 8 and 10 this year. And Virginia-Highland's longstanding Summerfest will almost actually fall within summer 2021 the weekend of September 25 and 26. [This story has been updated to include the two marquee festivals in this paragraph. Please feel free to mention any not listed above in the comments section.]
• Recent Midtown news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)