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Tennessee's 10 Best Art and Culture Events this Summer

Picture of Michella Combes
Michella Combes
Updated: 9 February 2017
Bordered by the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee is a crossroads of culture. Summer cultural events celebrate its status as the Country Music Capital and the birthplace of rock n’ roll. Additionally, the state is known for strong Appalachian heritage in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Tennessee delivers the expected blues and country music showcases, but also surprises with its avant garde art exhibitions and cutting-edge film festivals.


Film | Jodorowsky at the Belcourt Theatre

Wednesdays in June

The Belcourt Theatre in downtown Nashville is a non-profit cinema space showcasing art house films and limited-run productions. During the month of June, the Belcourt is featuring the work of legendary Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, ‘Father of the Midnight Movie’. Screenings of El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre lead up to the premiere of The Dance of Reality on 20 June, Jodorowsky’s first film in 23 years. For those travelling to Nashville after June, the Belcourt features a full calendar of indie releases, documentaries, classic films and special events year-round.

Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Avenue, Nashville, TN, USA +1 615 846 3150


 Marty Stuart
Marty Steart. Marvin Helper at Home, 2005. Archival Pigment Print | © Marty Stuart

Art | American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart at The Frist Center for Visual Arts

9 May – 2 November

Known as a country music legend, Marty Stuart has also been photographing the life around him since he was a young teenager. The best results of this unexpected side career are on view to the public for the first time at the Frist Center for Visual Arts in downtown Nashville. Music City is a natural venue for the show, allowing Stuart’s photographs to be experienced by viewers in the cultural setting they originate from and document. Visitors to the exhibit will also enjoy photographs by Stuart’s mother and inspiration, Hilda Stuart. The subject matter ranges from behind-the-scenes portraits of famous country musicians, to backwoods landscapes and documentary portraits of the Lakota Native American tribe of South Dakota.

The Frist Center for Visual Arts, 919 Broadway, Nashville, TN, USA +1 (615) 244 3340

Marty Stuart
Marty Stuart. Loretta Lynn, Blue Kentucky Girl, 1994. Archival Pigment Print | © Marty Stuart


Art | Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

14 June – 7 September

Although celebrated in the 1960s, the work of post-war American artist Marisol has since fallen off the art world’s radar. Memphis Brooks curator Marina Pacini seeks to rectify this oversight with a comprehensive retrospective of Marisol’s captivating works on paper and sculpture. Marisol was born in Paris of Venezuelan parents and lived most of her life in New York City; her artwork reflects her complicated relationship with a multicultural identity in the rapidly changing social structure of 1960’s America. Critics have interpreted her sculptures as satire on cultural stereotypes, particularly addressing the plight of Native Americans. Colourful, fantastic works on paper are just as fascinating as the sculptures.

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1934 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN, USA +1 901 544 6200


Marisol Escobar
Marisol, American (born France, 1930) Lick the Tire of My Bicycle, 1974 | © Marisol Escobar : Licensed by VAGA, New York


Music | Let Freedom Sing! Fourth of July in Nashville

4 July

Courtesy Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation Music City’s Independence Day celebrations have been hailed as some of the best in the country, particularly the spectacular annual fireworks display accompanied by a musical score from the Nashville Symphony. Revellers will also enjoy free concerts from Billy Currington, Ashley Monroe, and Striking Matches. This family friendly event will also include a Dippin’ Dots Guinness World Record Attempt for most ice cream cups prepared by a team of five in three minutes. International travellers looking to celebrate American Independence Day like an American should look no further than the quintessentially American offerings of country music, Southern food, and the largest fireworks display in the South.

Downtown Nashville, TN, USA +1 800 657 6910


Let Freedom Sing	
Image courtesy of Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation

Art and Music | Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival

4 – 5 July

For a different flavour of Americana in honour of Independence Day, cultural travellers should look to the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival. The small-town setting provides a calmer and less crowded celebration than Nashville, but just as true-blue American. The Jamboree is in its 43rd year of celebrating mountain culture with traditional Appalachian music, dance and crafts in East Tennessee, all in the historic Town Square. Festival goers will enjoy displays of clogging, flatfoot dance, gospel singing and music played on the dulcimer, banjo, and, of course, the fiddle. In between the music and dancing, peruse the juried crafts festival, offering homemade crafts and foods, such as jams and jellies.

Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival, Public Square, Smithville, TN, USA +1 (615) 597 8500

Theatre | The Secret Garden at the Bijou Theatre

18 – 20 July

Knoxville is home to several small theatre groups, including The WordPlayers. For the Summer 2014 season, the group is presenting The Secret Garden, a musical based on the children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett with music by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Performances will be held at the historic Bijou Theatre downtown. The theatre is housed in a building that dates back to the early 19th century, beginning its life as a tavern, becoming the Knoxville Hotel and shutting down before re-opening in 2006 after extensive renovations. Before the show, audiences can enjoy the current exhibit of the Theatre’s art gallery or dine at the exceptional Bistro at the Bijou.

Bijou Theatre, 803 South Gay Street, Knoxville, TN, USA +1 865 522 0832


The Secret Garden
Courtesy The Wordplayers


Culture | Elvis Week

9 – 17 August

During the month of August, the King of Rock and Roll’s estate of Graceland puts on a celebration known as Elvis Week to commemorate the life and legacy of Tennessee’s most famous resident, Elvis Presley. Festivities include a tribute artist contest and concerts, the Hound Dog Tour of Memphis, and a Jailhouse Rock movie screening and dance party. The grand finale of the week is the Candlelight Vigil on the anniversary of Elvis’s untimely death on 16 August 1977. Graceland is open year-round to Elvis fans, who can stay at the Heartbreak Hotel and receive guided tours through the Memphis Mansion. This year, the estate is celebrating 60 Years of Rock and Roll, referring to Elvis’s historic 1954 Sun Studio recording.

Graceland, 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN, USA +1 901 332 3322


Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
Image courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.


Music | Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival

21 – 24 August

The Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival honours the long history and success of Appalachian country and bluegrass songwriters in downtown Gatlinburg in East Tennessee. Audiences will enjoy performances from original songwriters, often of songs they have written for more famous artists, including Johnny Cash, Brad Paisley and Garth Brooks. In addition to star songwriters, the festival also features songwriters to watch, some of the best up-and-coming talent in the country and bluegrass scene. Gatlinburg offers a range of attractions to enjoy in between sets, from hiking in the Smoky Mountains to dinner shows and shopping.

Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival, Downtown Gatlinburg, TN, USA +1 (865) 604 9066


Music | Memphis Music and Heritage Festival

30 – 31 August

Hosted by the Center for Southern Folklore, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival traditionally takes place every Labor Day weekend in downtown Memphis. Five stages display the best of local music, dance, and poetry. Performances from ‘talkers’ demonstrate the rich oral history of the region. Food vendors and folk artist displays and workshops round out the cultural experience. A hallmark feature is the diversity of the festival, ranging from the expected blues and jazz musicians to Chinese and salsa dancing. The Festival seeks to celebrate the city’s roots and explore the contemporary incarnations and experimentations in Memphis’s thriving cultural scene.

Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, Center For Southern Folklore, 119 South Main Street, Memphis, TN, USA +1 901 525 3655


Film | Knoxville Film Festival

11 – 14 September

The Knoxville Film Festival is the result of the combination of the Secret City Film Festival with the new collaboration of Dogwood Arts. Housed in Knoxville’s arthouse cinema, the new incarnation of the festival is back for its second year after a highly successful premiere run. The 2013 festival screened over 80 independent films and hosted panel discussions to over 2,000 festival goers. Now the largest film festival in the region, the Knoxville Film Festival promises to be an exciting event to watch for the future.

Knoxville Film Festival, Regal Cinemas Downtown West Cinema 8 Movie Theater, 1640 Downtown West Boulevard, Knoxville, TN, USA +1 865 742 8783