The South has always excelled in two things: food and music. Indeed, we can thank the states south of the Mason Dixon Line for the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and gospel, and for dishes like jambalaya, fried chicken, and barbecue. To celebrate that heritage, Zac Brown, of the Zac Brown Band fame, and his friend and traveling chef, Rusty Hamlin, created the Southern Ground festival – a two-day romp at the end of September that combines eats and tunes into one hell of a time. The first festival took place in 2011 in Charleston, S.C., but this year’s installment kicks off in Nashville first, with a follow-up weekend in Charleston.
“Southern food and music just go together so well,” says Hamlin. “So we’re gathering huge names in the food and the music spheres to create an event that will give fans an incredible, full-circle experience.” No, this isn’t your typical music festival, where the music lineup shines and the food is just an afterthought, usually consisting of over-fried corn dogs, and oil-slicked slices of pizza. “The idea was to host a music festival where the food served was not only up to par with the music, but part of the festival itself.”
At Southern Ground you’ll hear the Zac Brown Band, Willie Nelson and Family, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Eli Young Band, Kacey Musgraves, The Head and The Heart, and many, many more. Take in their tunes while you eat “Sloppy Goat” sandwiches made with Illinois farm-raised goat topped with rosemary slaw served on a freshly baked roll, put together by James Beard award winning chef Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat, in Chicago; oyster po’boy sliders with kimchi and peanuts, a dish named one of the James Beard Foundation’s Top 10 of 2011, prepared by Giuseppe Tentori of GT Fish and Oyster, in Chicago; S’mores with homemade flavored marshmallows, dark chocolate, and organic, salt-cured bacon all prepared over an open fire made by Shon Foster of Amangiri, in Utah; and, of course, Chef Hamlin will be preparing his famous jambalaya. “It’s a Creole recipe,” he says. “Plump tomatoes, shrimp, chicken, and homemade sausage& ndash; people definitely like it.” Those dishes will all be paired with craft beers hand selected by beer sommelier Gary Valentine. Pop for a “foodie ticket” and you can even watch cooking demos by those chefs.
But just because Southern Ground is preparing a large quantity of food doesn’t mean that quality will suffer. Hamlin has been collaborating with four different farms within a 60-mile radius of the festival to bring fresh, organic ingredients to as many dishes served at Southern Ground as possible.
Can’t make it to Nashville? Southern Ground will also be held in Charleston in mid-October, and it isn’t the only music festival that’s upping the ante when it comes to food service. This year Lollapalooza hosted three-dozen different food vendors personally chosen by culinary virtuoso Graham Elliott. The Great GoogaMooga in Brooklyn (despite an unfortunate name) brought together killer music and 85 different NYC vendors including Luke’s Lobster, Fatty Cue, and Bao Haus. August’s Outside Lands in San Francisco gathers the city’s best food trucks to supply delicacies to concert goers.
“Everything that we do needs to be geared around making sure the fans have the best experience possible,” says Hamlin. “Making sure the food and drink is as good as the music is almost a way to give back to our fans and say thanks, we really appreciate you coming.”
More information: the two-day festival takes place September 27-28 in Nashville, and October 19-20 in Charleston, SC. Ticket prices range from $79-$299, but act fast, they’re going quick.