When you think of Knoxville, TN, many things come to mind: a thick metropolitan downtown city built on a foundation of concrete and polished stone… a vibrant series of communities and artistic corners providing every cool, niche interest with a significant attendance that you could want… a mecca of all things modern and developing, a city with high rises and money and variety that makes one think of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Dallas or others while still having an interesting history significant to the oldest of old school country music… a long-running festival dedicated to the Dogwood trees of the Southern Smokies is probably not something one would expect from the same city. You might expect that kind of thing from nearby Townsend or perhaps Gatlinburg to coincide with their other Springtime nature events, but the Knoxville Dogwood Arts Festival has been going on since 1955 and it has earned all the same equity of Tennessee nature celebration as anything its neighbors in the foothills have done with their Springtime events.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to The Dogwood Arts Festival and detail out why we definitely think you should go see it in April.
The best summary for the Dogwood Arts Festival is that it’s just the kind of general purpose city festival we’ve come to expect in American pastimes: A huge central downtown location set up with sprawling amounts of tables and tents, vendors selling crafts, baked goods, jams, jellies and more, music artists performing from one end to the other, food providers of a wide variety offering some exciting plate lunches for the attendees, groups and ethnicities adding worldly representation and exotic flavor to the event at large, visual arts by some of the most creative local people around, and thousands and thousands of people attending for 1st, 3rd, 10th or even the 40th time. The Dogwood Arts Festival is Knoxville’s celebration of the culture and people of Knoxville and its multi-generational longevity is a testament to how much people have come to enjoy it.
So where do the Dogwoods of its namesake come from?
Dogwoods are the “popcorn” trees you see frequently in East Tennessee that bloom white in mid-March and then turn green, pink, purple or some shade thereof (they also often bloom in those colors to start with as well). The Library of Congress details the source of its namesake with: “The event’s origins can be traced to the mid-1950s when several Knoxville communities created “Dogwood Trails” to showcase their neighborhoods. These popular trails, designed to be enjoyed from the comfort of the family automobile, passed by azaleas, redbuds, daffodils, and dogwoods. Noting the trails’ popularity, city leaders in 1961 created an annual event, which combined the dogwood trails with a festival that highlighted regional arts and crafts. In 1962, the festival moved to Knoxville’s downtown Market Square, which is the region’s center of economic and cultural activity.
Festival activities have increased and diversified over the years. Among the entertainment are clowns, magicians, and street dancers who stroll and perform among visitors. Concerts and band music offer a variety of musical styles and headliner acts. Dance performances include ballet, clogging, and square dance. Visitors can see craft persons who make dolls from corn shucks, craft furniture, color woolen thread with vegetable dyes, create ceramic jewelry, make pottery, and weave baskets. Others artisans include blacksmiths, gunsmiths, quilters, and goose pluckers. The festival program also offers historical tours and exhibits, city tours, boat tours, a lawn and garden show, an air show, and the Dogwood Parade.”
Now that we have a brief but substantial understanding of its history, let’s look at what visitors who attend the Dogwood Arts Festival of today could have to look forward to: