Study up: This is the course for the 2012 Mid-South Maze at Memphis' Agricenter International. Photo courtesy of Mid-South Maze.

Fall for a festival in West Tennessee

Until I moved to Tennessee, fall was but a notion. Sure, there were college football games to watch and pumpkin spice lattes to sip, but those things go so much better with crisp air and changing leaves. As do the following festivals and events, which signal that everyone’s favorite trick-or-treating, pumpkin pie-eating, get-outside-now season has arrived in West Tennessee.

Art Festivals

Reelfoot Arts & Crafts Festival Oct. 5-7

I can’t think of a better backdrop for an arts festival than the visual feast that is Reelfoot Lake – a mirror of blue punctuated by cypress knobs like jolts of color on a pop-art canvas, framed by sculptural trunks dripping with lacy canopies. To paint more people into the scene, locals planned the first Reelfoot Arts & Crafts Festival in 1971. Today, it brings some 40,000 people and 300 exhibitors to Tiptonville, including Mrs. Armintha Haws of Bertrand, Missouri, a veteran exhibitor (and centenarian) who sells crocheted baby items and quilts. Visitors can also shop for woodcrafts from swings to birdhouses, jewelry and pottery; sample anything from fish to fried pies and listen to old-time string music (plus gospel following church on Sunday). File this away: Should you miss the Arts & Crafts Festival, block Oct. 13-14 to visit the area, when the Reelfoot Lake Waterfowl Festival promises a duck calling championship and sporting collectibles show.

40th Annual Pink Palace Crafts Fair Oct. 12-14

There are exhibitors, demonstrations, refreshments and kids’ activities enough to fill the better part of your day – or even your weekend – at the Pink Palace Crafts Fair inside Memphis’ Audubon Park. We like to leisurely browse the booths, catch a demo (metal-smithing! glass-blowing!) and let our daughter feel her way through the petting zoo. There are fees to enter the fair and participate in some of the children’s activities, so plan ahead: Buy advance (discounted) tickets; consider purchasing a multi-day pass; look for free parking off of Cherry Road; and, for 55-and-up fair-goers, visit on Sunday afternoon when senior admission costs just $1.

You all know I’m originally from Florida. My friend Amy’s father, Morris Johnson, is a Florida-based folk artist who’s been exhibiting at Memphis’ Pink Palace Crafts Fair for a decade. He told me he returns year after year because of “the great response of the people who love to come to the show and appreciate folk art.” Stop by his uber-colorful booth and tell him I sent you, okay? Photo courtesy of the artist.

River Arts Fest Oct. 26-28

If Reelfoot Lake is the perfect natural setting for an art festival, Memphis’ South Main Historic District is the perfect urban setting, marked by galleries and storefronts where modern colors and window displays mix with aging brick – suggestive of the neighborhood’s sense of place. Take it all in during River Arts Fest. Organizers are planning for 170-plus artists to exhibit their original works (from watercolors to woodcuts to weavings); “Artists in Motion” (when artists interact with festival-goers while demonstrating their techniques); “Hands On Art,” an inviting creation station; live music; food courts and perhaps 80,000 attendees. I go to seek out the work of regional photographers and relax on the lawn of the National Civil Rights Museum, where the sounds of local bands and an art-curious crowd swirl into the open air. Admission to River Arts Fest 2012 is $5.

Fall & Halloween Festivals

Zoo Boo Evenings: Oct. 19-20, 26-28

Memphis Zoo’s not-so-scary soiree is just right for families with younger children – kids get to show off their costumes; parents get a load of pumpkin-powered photo ops thanks to the fall décor that transforms the attraction. Save a couple of dollars by buying tickets in advance, and expect plenty of spirited activity once you’re inside (among them, a straw maze, trick-or-treat stations, haunted hay rides and appearances by fortune tellers, magicians and Ballet Memphis). Select animal exhibits will be open, including Animals of the Night, Once Upon a Farm and the Herpetarium, and for $5, you can even ride a camel.

Parents, get your cameras ready for Zoo Boo. Photo courtesy of Memphis Zoo.

Hatchie Fall Fest Oct. 20

Though it’s Brownsville’s largest festival, Hatchie Fall Fest stands for all that’s good about small-town get-togethers: loads of live music by local and regional musicians (from Memphis Jones to gospel), arts and crafts vendors, a cake- and pie-baking contest, kids’ activities, a pet show, a car show…all for free on the town’s historic Court Square.

Monsters Cafe Oct. 27

Hike a half-mile through Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva – this evening, the trail will be marked with “creepy crawly things” and ghosts. If that’s the trick, here’s the treat: A park shelter will be made over as Monsters Café, full of food, games and sweets for attendees.

SPOOKtacular Oct. 27

Spend an afternoon in downtown Paris – from noon to 4 p.m., SPOOKtacular invites kids to trick-or-treat from shop to shop, make crafts and enter a costume contest (adults and pets are welcome to enter, too). Enjoy entertainment, food and the friendly competition that ensues when festival-goers attempt to guess the weight of “Pumpkin Patch Pete.”

The Mid-South Maze Select dates through Oct. 31

Grab your sense of direction and hit the corn maze at Memphis’ Agricenter International. Plan on wandering for an hour or so (unless you’re like me, in which case you should allocate half a day and rely heavily on assistance from the “corn cops” stationed throughout the maze). If you mastered last year’s labyrinth and plan on breezing through this time around, think again: The maze is redesigned every year. For 2012, it traces a tangly spider web (see below). Kids 5 and under are free with adult admission, and you should totally take advantage of the coupon available on the maze’s homepage. With a few extra bucks, you can also launch ears of corn from a cannon (hit a target and win a prize) or take a haunted hay ride (select nights).

Study up: This is the course for the 2012 Mid-South Maze at Memphis’ Agricenter International. Photo courtesy of Mid-South Maze.

Scarecrows! at Lichterman Nature Center Through Nov. 16

This is one of my family’s musts for fall, not only because it’s one of the prettiest times to explore Memphis’ Lichterman Nature Center (65 acres of lake, meadow and certified arboretum crisscrossed by trails, bridges and boardwalks), but because it’s when scarecrows stand watch over the grounds – scads of them dreamed up by locals that illuminate themes from the literary to the scary, the comical to the educational. The display makes for a whimsical walkabout – add a layer of interactivity by downloading a scavenger hunt from the event website before you go.

So many scarecrows to make kids (and adults) smile at Memphis’ Lichterman Nature Center

Now tell me – what West Tennessee festival season would be complete without barbecue? Thank Covington for hosting the World’s Oldest Barbeque Cooking Contest (now in its 40th year) at the city’s Cobb Parr Park Oct. 4-6. Registered teams will compete in categories including shoulder, whole hog and ribs, and you can bet there will be live music, kids’ activities – and a tractor pull – to boot. At the same time, Halls will be hosting the Lauderdale County Fair, with wrestling, livestock shows, concerts and more. So many possibilities for fall fun in October…which events are on your to-do list?

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on



    Samantha Crespo

    p.s. I just learned that admission to River Arts Fest in Memphis’ South Main Historic District will be free on Friday from 6-9 in the evening and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon. Kids 10 and under enter for free all weekend long.

  1. Pingback: 5 Can’t Miss Fall Festivals in West Tennessee | Tennessee Triptales

  2. avatar

    Susan Hall

    My husband and I attended our first Paris Landing State Park Arts & Crafts Festival. We enjoyed it so much we can’t wait to attend the Reelfoot Lake Arts & Crafts Festival in October.

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