VALDOSTA — Funnel cakes, fried gator on a stick, arts and crafts, bouncy houses, pony rides, live music and crowded streets — hometown festivals.  

Yearly festivals and events in many ways identify a community, reflect its character and create a brand. In the SunLight Project coverage area — Valdosta, Thomasville, Tifton, Dalton, Moultrie and Milledgeville, Ga., along with Live Oak, Jasper and Mayo, Fla., and the surrounding counties — there is no shortage of festivals that celebrate the quirks, specialties, history and heritage of each town, county and region. 

That special something could be writhing rattlesnakes, breathtaking flowers or buzzing honey bees. It could be spicy peppers, white clay found in mines, a flavorful peach, folk music or blueberry pies.

It could be an old corn mill or little red wagons. It might be Civil War battles or a downtown square lighting that dates back to the Great Depression.

Whatever a city or county chooses to celebrate, the resulting festivals bring fun and a sense of place to an area. They also boost local economies with significant revenues while offering people a chance to bond over a shared identity.

Although there are hundreds of festivals and events taking place year-round in the region, here are some of the highlights found in the SunLight Project coverage area.

Lowndes County

According to the Lowndes County Historical Society, Valdosta’s “Azalea City” label can be attributed to one man: Richard J. Drexel.

His name is familiar to anyone who has strolled through or driven past Drexel Park, which is named after him and has hosted the city’s Azalea Festival for the past 17 years.

Drexel was a native of Indiana who came to work for the City of Valdosta in the early 1900s as Mr. Everything for the city parks — laborer, foreman, designer and supervisor.

“In 1925, he began planting hundreds of azaleas on public property and private land throughout the city,” the historical society writes. “His first task with the City of Valdosta was to clean up the very overgrown park on the college’s land.

“After clearing out the debris, underbrush and even a moonshine still, he started planting the azaleas. He planted hundreds, expanding to the college campus, Sunset Hill cemetery and along Patterson Street.

“He didn’t set out to re-title Valdosta as the Azalea City; he just thought that the large, vibrantly flowered azalea bushes looked good in town.”

It wasn’t until 1947 that local garden clubs suggested branding Valdosta as the Azalea City, the LCHS said.

Drexel passed away in 1986, but his legacy lives on through the azaleas that bloom throughout the city and in the festival that draws around 25,000 people and more than 200 vendors to the park that bears his name.

The two-day event in March includes the standard festivities — food galore, arts and crafts and live entertainment — but it also offers numerous unique events, such as a lumberjack show, a K-9 frisbee show, an exotic bird exhibit, clogging performances and a classic car and bike show.

Just north of Valdosta lies the city of Hahira, which at one time ruled the entire world when it came to honey bees.

“There were more queen honey bees shipped out of (Hahira) around the world than any other place,” said Lana Hall, chairman of the Hahira Honey Bee Festival.

In the early 1980s, three Hahira women —Mamie Sorrell, Adeline Landrum and Eula Copeland — set out to create an extravaganza that brought fun and character to the city. The town’s bee-buzzing history was a natural starting point, and so the Hahira Honey Bee Festival was born.

It started as a weekend event that included three or four vendors selling honey products. Now in its 36th year, the festival is a week-long celebration of close to 150 vendors that draws 30,000 visitors from throughout the Southeast.

The event turns Hahira into a city full of arts and crafts, food booths, live concerts and special events such as a bike ride, a 5K run and a large parade to top it all off. The theme for this year’s festival, taking place Oct. 2-7, is “Back the Blue” in support of local law enforcement.

Hahira no longer holds the title of honey bee capital, but the yellow and black striped insect is firmly rooted in the town’s identity through the annual festival and through the friendly honey bee logos that are printed, painted, stamped and embroidered all over the city.

In neighboring Cook County, the city of Adel never had a festival to call its own until 11 years ago. In 2005, Ann Knight, who was the general manager of the Adel News-Tribune at the time, wrote a column wishing that Adel had something it was known for, “something beautiful and with character.”

After the column ran, local resident Evelyn McCranie suggested Adel should be named the “City of Daylilies” because of how many places the deeply vibrant flower popped up around town.

Knight took the idea to Adel’s First Lady Sylvia Barr, the mayor’s wife. Barr was immediately on board, and the idea gained momentum.

Barr and several other women embarked on a beautification campaign to plant as many daylilies as possible in Adel, at homes, schools, businesses — everywhere.

The group pushed for the state to designate Adel as Georgia’s official City of Daylilies, and they succeeded. Soon after in 2006, the Adel Daylily Festival was started.

Originally called the Adelily Festival, the name was changed after several years to make it easier to understand and search online, said Jerry Connell, president of the Adel-Cook County Chamber of Commerce.

The festival brought in 6,000 people and more than 100 vendors last year. Connell said the festival this year, happening May 19 and 20, will have fried everything, local music groups, fashion shows and beauty pageants.

Vendors sell handmade wares such as furniture, leather goods and jewelry. Most importantly, the festival includes all the daylilies that someone could ever hope for, Connell said.

“It’s the food, the fun, the family entertainment, but it’s also the flowers,” Connell said. “There will be more daylilies for sale at the festival than you have ever seen in one place.”

In Brooks County, the annual Skillet Festival draws locals and visitors alike to Quitman’s courthouse square for a hodgepodge of cultural fun and finds.

The idea for the festival, now in its seventh year, originated from a desire to create a signature event for the county that celebrated the area’s agricultural heritage, said Tiffany Holmes, festival coordinator and executive director of the Quitman-Brooks County Chamber of Commerce.

The festival’s Skillet Toss is the spotlight event, which involves people of all ages hurling cast iron skillets through the air, trying to propel the weighty cooking pan as far as possible. In 2015, festival goers set a world record for the most skillets tossed simultaneously.

Almost 100 vendors line the sidewalks and fill the courthouse lawn, selling food, artisan wares and, of course, lots and lots of cast-iron skillets.

A myriad of events and activities fill the day, including a full-blown Civil War encampment, a handmade quilt show and several teaching sessions on gardening and cast-iron care. The 2017 festival will take place the third Saturday in October.

Just up the road in Morven is the Peach Festival, which celebrates Georgia's best known fruit. The festival, taking place May 20, gives people the chance to get some of the best peach ice cream around and includes a peach bake-off and parade.

Thomas County

Something for everyone is the secret to successful festivals and other community events.

Not everyone likes a car show. Not everyone likes an antiques show. Not everyone has the athletic prowess to compete in a run.

"One of the great aspects of a festival is that it gives a visitor a reason to visit or discover a new town," said Bonnie Hayes, Thomasville Welcome Center tourism director. "This person might hear about a music festival or an art event that's of interest to them, and it's this event that moves them into action to plan the trip and book their hotel room."

A festival by definition is a celebration, Ann McCrickard, a Boston civic leader, said.

"That's what happens in Boston during the annual Spring Fling and Auction held the Saturday before Easter and the annual Mini-marathon and Festival on the last Saturday in October," she said.

The annual Mini-Marathon and Festival, begun in 1979, added a festival aspect to provide activities for those waiting for runners/walkers to return.

Thomasville's Rose Festival, Rose Show and the many related events do not fall short of providing something for everyone.

Hayes and McCrickard agreed festivals and events provide much more than fun — they boost local economies.

"Boston businesses are very supportive and find these festivals bring in folks who, if they don't shop on festival day, often return to shop," McCrickard said. "The restaurants are filled to overflowing, and the community enjoys the opportunity to show off the town. Local festivals provide a reason to celebrate as a community. Community involvement is key to the success of a festival, and Boston has the best."

Hayes said the economic impact of Rose Festival-related events can be felt across several different businesses.

"You might think that only hotels or restaurants see an activity spike, but actually you'll find our local downtown merchants depend on these visitors, as do our local attractions like Pebble Hill, the Thomas County Museum of History and the Jack Hadley Black History Museum," Hayes said.

"Often these attractions will tie in exhibits and activities around the festival that will encourage more visitation, and you'll see shop windows featuring decorations and products specific to events chosen to draw customers through their doors."

Nothing is better for tourism than a well-planned event.

"Towns see a huge push of activity at all levels, and each event adds a quality to the community, providing a robust cultural environment," Hayes said. "The unexpected aspect of having a robust calendar of community events is the moment when a visitor decides that this town fills their need for cultural entertainment and goes from visitor to resident. Working in the Visitor's Center, we see that happen after the large cultural events."

As a City of Thomasville employee, Hayes sees first-hand what it takes to put on a multi-day festival.

"We are lucky to live in a city that has the resources to continually provide great family events several times a year," she said. “If you look at other communities, even ones larger than ours, they don't have the number or the quality of events that Thomasville is known for.”

Colquitt County

Depending on one's historical perspective or location in the world, May Day can mean many things: from an ancient pagan celebration of the coming of summer, to International Workers' Day, to the first large-scale U.S. worker's strike in Chicago in 1886.

Thirty-five years ago in Doerun, it was a chance for elementary school kids to decorate their Red Flyers as parade floats.

"When Verna Hollingsworth was principal, she wanted to get the community involved with the school," said Jane McCarty, who served as a school secretary for more than 40 years in Doerun. "She and I were just thinking, and she said other places have May Day. It was in spring, after Easter (when it's) getting warm and everything's blooming. She thought it would be a good idea.”

So in 1982, Doerun Elementary School decorated their "little red wagons," McCarty said. 

"Each class made a float and pulled it through downtown," she said.

Today Doerun's May Day Festival, in the town now numbering a little less than 800 souls, is always held on the first Saturday in May and has grown its parade to include beauty queens, big tractors, Shriners groups in their tiny cars, politicians, bands and life-size floats from churches and school organizations.

Today's May Day Festival has country, rock and gospel music all day Saturday and a street dance in the evening with the headlining band. It has even grown to a two-day event, with a Friday night band kicking off on May 6 and a karaoke contest from 7 p.m.-midnight.

During the day there are rides and activities for the kids.

"I think it's gotten more and more people involved," McCarty said. "Every year more people would call and want to participate ... bands, Shriners from Fitzgerald, Shriners from Albany.”

Classes from the former Doerun High School use the occasion to hold class reunions in conjunction with the festivities.

"So people can see everybody uptown and then see people for their class reunions," McCarty said.

About 15 miles down the road in the county seat of Moultrie, and during the time of year when days grow dark early, people gather for a tradition that dates back to the Great Depression.

The first lighting of the Moultrie square occurred in 1934, when a strand of lights were draped from each of the four corners of the Colquitt County Courthouse and a star was placed on top of the centrally located building.

Tradition has it that a lighting ceremony was held on the square to welcome World War II veterans and has since become an annual event.

The lights — changed out to LED bulbs recently — go up about a week or so before Thanksgiving night, when the switch is thrown to illuminate the "canopy of lights.”

Since 1999 downtown stores have stayed open late in conjunction with the event to give people the opportunity to start their holiday shopping at local vendors.

Santa Claus and some of his reindeer make an appearance at “Lights! Lights!,” as the event is known, and it includes a parade. The special night is sponsored by the city of Moultrie, Downtown Moultrie Association and Colquitt County, and is organized by Main Street Moultrie.

In April, Moultrie puts on its Spring Fling Festival, started in the 1980s to bring the arts and local residents together. From its origins as an event that featured a picnic, arts and crafts for kids, artwork and a dance at one of the numerous tobacco warehouses near downtown, it now has sprouted octopus tentacles as it features a barbecue competition, pet parade, concert and artisans selling their crafts. 

Another long-running event in the county is the Calico Arts & Crafts Show, which holds events in the spring and fall at the Spence Field grounds of Sunbelt Agricultural Expo, which took over operations in 1996.

The spring show brings in about 10,000 people, but the holiday version, held the second weekend in November, has grown and draws as many as 17,000 people, said Gina McDonald, Expo director of marketing and public relations.

While the spring show gives people something to do in March when the weather is just starting to warm up, the November arts show has even more appeal, she said.

"It's a tradition," McDonald said. "I have six ladies who come in matching T-shirts from Orlando every year. For the holidays it gets people in the Christmas spirit."

Baldwin County

Milledgeville’s Deep Roots Festival is a yearly event (started in 2004 at the Sweetwater Festival) in downtown that brings food, craft vendors, musicians, and visitors from far and wide.

Aside from varied musical artists from all over the country, Deep Roots also hosts a classic car show, local artists market, and a Memphis Barbecue Network-sanctioned BBQ competition.

The festival has been named one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 events. This year’s festival is planned for October 21 from 10 a.m.- midnight. Advance tickets are $6.

Main Street Executive Director Carlee Schulte said the festival, which has grown every year, is a great economic boost for the community.

“I know the downtown businesses do about 250% better on Deep Roots than they would on a regular Saturday,” Schulte said.

“It shows Milledgeville well to have such a popular event, and we’ve been lucky enough to have a great entertainment group that brings in some really good up-and-coming musical artists, and that usually brings a lot of people.”

She added that local festivals give a community its unique identity and stamp on the map.

“For me, building a sense of pride, place and excitement in the community is a very big deal for a city. Having (festivals) downtown, which is usually the heart of your community, is always beneficial. Even besides the economics of it, which is self-explanatory, it’s very positive.”

The city’s Hometown Celebration was first thrown in 2014 after Milledgeville was named one of three “Great American Main Street Cities” by the National Main Street Center, and the inaugural event was so popular that Main Street has decided to revive it for a third year.

The event combines music, activities, and tables from local organizations Saturday, April 22, from 2-10 p.m.

In neighboring Middle Georgia counties, other colorful festivals dot the map.

The Putnam Dairy Festival is an event put on every year by the Pilot Club of Eatonton celebrating Putnam County’s status as a leading producer of dairy in Georgia.

It includes a 10K road race, arts and food vendors, a parade and a “Dairy Festival Queen” pageant. This year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday, June 3rd, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m in downtown Eatonton.

The Washington County Kaolin Festival dates back to 1956 when Sandersville and the rest of the county first threw a celebration of the Kaolin industry’s role in the local economy.

Kaolin is a white clay that is mined and used in the creation of paper, porcelain, paint and a variety of other products.

The festival has endured to this day to include a parade, tours of actual kaolin mines, and a Ms. Kaolin Festival pageant. The event is held the second Saturday in October in downtown Sandersville.

To discover more of the unique festivals (and their rich histories) that are found throughout Georgia and North Florida, pick up Tuesday's edition of the Valdosta Daily Times.

The SunLight Project team of journalists who contributed to this report includes Thomas Lynn, Eve Guevara, Patti Dozier, Will Woolever, Alan Mauldin and Charles Oliver, along with the writer, team leader John Stephen.

To contact the team, email sunlightproject@gaflnews.com.

— Festivals of the South: Part II —  

Yearly festivals and events in many ways identify a community, reflect its character and create a brand. In the SunLight Project coverage area — Valdosta, Thomasville, Tifton, Dalton, Moultrie and Milledgeville, Ga., along with Live Oak, Jasper and Mayo, Fla., and the surrounding counties — there is no shortage of festivals that celebrate the quirks, specialties, history and heritage of each town, county and region. 

Although there are hundreds of festivals and events taking place year-round in the region, here are some of the highlights. To discover the festivals that Lowndes, Thomas, Colquitt and Baldwin Counties offer, pick up the Sunday, April 16, edition of the Valdosta Daily Times.

Whitfield County

The skirmishes around Whitfield County’s Tunnel Hill weren’t that bloody, and they probably weren’t considered that remarkable when they took place back in 1863.

But with the value of hindsight, we now know they marked the start of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. We know also that Sherman’s eventual capture and destruction of Atlanta ensured that Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected president of the United States, which changed the course of the Civil War.

Since 1993, re-enactors from across the country have gathered each fall to re-enact the Battle of Tunnel Hill. In past years, the event has drawn up to 1,500 re-enactors. Organizers say one thing that attracts re-enactors to the event is that it is one of a relative few re-enactments that take place on the actual battlefield.

Because of development or other factors, many other Civil War re-enactments have to take place near but not on the actual site of the battle.

"Events such as the re-enactment of the Battle of Tunnel Hill obviously bring people into a community and help give it an identity," said Janet Cochran, state tourism project manager for Georgia's historic high country.

"But what makes them even more effective is when they can tie together with other aspects of the community's history and build on that," she said.

The Tunnel Hill re-enactment ties in immediately to two other parts of local history. The battlefield is right next to the Clisby Austin House, one of the oldest remaining houses in Whitfield County.

Built in 1848, the house was a hospital during the Battle of Chickamauga. Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood recuperated at the house after his leg was amputated, and the leg was buried nearby.

And just a short walk away is the original tunnel for the Western & Atlantic railroad. Work began on the tunnel in 1848, and the first train ran through in 1850.

Dynamite hadn't been invented then, so workers had to "drill" into the hard stone by driving an iron rod into it with a sledge hammer. They would then pack the hole with black powder and light it.

The Battle of Tunnel Hill Reenactment will take place Sept. 9-10, 215 Clisby Austin Road, Tunnel Hill.

The Prater's Mill Country Fair, taking place in Dalton Oct. 14-15, focuses on Appalachian history, culture, music and food.

Each year about 200 artisans and artists display and sell their art. There are also demonstrations include blacksmithing, spinning, quilting, rug hooking, woodcarving and hand tufting as well as tours of the mill, pony rides and canoe rides. Admission is $7. Children under 12 are admitted free.

Founded in 1855, Prater's Mill quickly became a hub of activity, as farmers from across north Georgia brought their corn to be ground at the mill. But by 1971, the mill had fallen into disrepair.

That year, a group of volunteers came together to raise money to help repair the mill, one of less than 1,000 grist mills remaining in the United States. That was the beginning of the annual Prater's Mill Country Fair.

"What makes the Prater's Mill Fair so successful is that it ties into not just the local history and culture of Whitfield County and north Georgia but that larger Appalachian and Southern culture and really attracts vendors and visitors from a pretty wide area," said Cochran.

The festival has not only become a regional attraction; it has helped preserve the mill, which is still powered by Coahulla Creek, in working order. In fact, some people who have attended the festival in the past said they'd come even if all they got to do was buy the corn meal, flour and grits produced by the mill.

The Prater's Mill Fair and the Tunnel Hill re-enactment have long traditions, but they'll be joined by the Dixie Highway Festival April 21-22 in downtown Dalton. Those attending will hear live music and get a chance to tour the historic Crescent City train car.

In addition, there will be a "family fun zone" for the children and a cruise-in featuring classic cars from the Golden Age of the Dixie Highway (U.S. Highway 41) from the 1920s to the 1970s.

"There's a short-term impact to any of these events — the people that come into the community and spend money at that event," said Dalton Tourism Director Brett Huske. "But there is also a longer-term benefit. For example, with the Dixie Highway program, long term, we want to work with the different regions of the state to get people off I-75 and get people to driving some of the backroads.

“Drawing attention to Highway 41 — its history as the first major north-south route in the United States and all of the history that still lies along the Dixie Highway — can only help.”

Huske says that while festivals and fairs are typically one- or two-day affairs, the sites they are held at are often open year-round, so the events can have an impact long after they are over.

"I know there have been people who have had weddings at Prater's Mill or who go there fishing," he said. "The battlefield at Tunnel Hill is open year-round, and there's a walking track around it for people who just want to come and contemplate what happened there.”

Suwannee County (Florida)

Suwannee River Jam will be celebrating its 26th year since it began in 1991. The festival will be from May 3 to 6 at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Suwannee County.

Country greats signed so far are Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Hunter Hayes, Montgomery Gentry, Jerrod Niemann, Roots and Boots Tour artists Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye and Aaron Tippin. Each of these artists are award-winning, multi-charting, career country artists revered by their fans and the country music world.

This year will also see the 33rd year for the City of Live Oak’s Christmas on the Square in the city’s historic downtown.

Susan Lamb, Betty and Stanley Johnson and Edwin McCook joined together in 1984 to start Christmas on the Square because there was nothing happening downtown to draw people into the city.

“We needed to do something to stir things up,” Lamb said. “We never put on a festival before. We just did it.”

The first year they had 50 vendors, and more than 2,000 people showed up on a Friday. The festival started at 8 in the morning and went until 5 in the afternoon.

The tobacco festival had ended a couple of years before and they knew they needed to start something new to bring the community together, Lamb said.

Now, the Christmas on the Square is one of the largest arts and craft festivals in north Florida. Last year more than 250 vendors participated and around 20,000 people attended.

“It just keeps growing each year,” Lamb said. “You don’t often see festivals of this nature that last that long, but in our community, many people, hundreds and hundreds, have stepped up over the years to help. And that is what makes it successful. It’s a community event.”

When the original four founders eventually stepped down, there was always someone to take on the mantel, she said. That is a legacy that has continued to be true and shows no signs of giving up.

The 24th annual Wellborn Blueberry Festival is a great opportunity to stock up on everything blueberry, from blueberry jelly, jams, pies, muffins, cookies to candies, syrup and plants.

Jim Mikitta, the festival chairman, said it took around 500 pounds of berries just to put on the festival last year.

“That doesn’t even include all the berries the vendors brought,” he said. “And we sold out of pies; around 150 were sold.”

Last year more than 6,000 people attended and around 100 vendors participated. Fire trucks, church choirs, candidates running for office and classic cars all participated in the festival parade. 

The Branford River Reunion has been organizing a local Fourth of July celebration for more than 35 years, and Peggy Terry, the group’s secretary and treasurer, said they have the best fireworks display in Suwannee County.

Last year the all-day celebration culminated in a 30-minute fireworks display worth more than $10,000. Before the fireworks, participants wake up early to sign up for the Firecracker 5K and 10K race on the greenway at 7:10 a.m. 

Then the Suwannee River Kayak and Canoe Race at 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. begins at Little River Springs. And the Rotary Club Duck Race is an annual attraction for participants, as hundreds of rubber duckies are dumped into the Suwannee River to race downstream, with the winner receiving a grand prize.

In neighboring Hamilton County, the Stephen Foster Memorial All Florida Folk Festival stretches back to 1953.

In 1952, Sarah Gertrude Knott, founder of the National Folk Festival, came to Florida to survey the possibilities for an authentic folk festival. In the state’s old world culture and pioneer qualities, she found a wealth of rich material and natural talent. Then she went to work.

Four months later, the call of a town crier opened the festival. By the time the last program ended at sunset two days later, Sarah Knott had introduced Floridians to themselves and to their visitors as they had never been known before.

This year the Folk Festival celebrates its 65th year. It will be held Memorial Day weekend, May 26 through 28, with more than 300 performances at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.

In Lafayette County, the biggest festival is the annual Pioneer Day, which celebrates when goods were hand-crafted by the early settlers of Lafayette County. Now in its 37th year, the festival will be held Oct. 14 and will include re-enactments and canning and craft demonstrations.

Tift County

Tyron Spearman, executive director of the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association, said Tifton is one the few towns in Georgia with a festival for all the different populations in the area.

The Arts in Black festival, on the last weekend in April in Fulwood Park, allows the local black community to showcase talented artists and musicians. The La Fiesta Del Pueblo event, on the last Saturday in September, spotlights the unique culture and heritage of the local Latino population.

Tift County also uses its festivals to highlight what the local land offers to the community.

“There’s a lot of commodity festivals. I could name you probably 15 or 20 in this area, from the sweet potato festival to the fire ant festival,” Spearman said.

The small town of Omega hosts the Pepper Festival every September to mark the town’s spicy past.

“Years ago they grew a lot of pepper,” Spearman said. “They were kind of the transplant pepper capital of the world with bell pepper and jalapeños, and they still grow a lot of pepper.

“They have a good time, and that's what these festivals are for, to bring the people out to have a good time and be a part of their community.”

The Folklife Festival has been going on for several decades and brings to life the region’s rural history and heritage. It takes place the first weekend in April at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

At the festival people can learn how to shear sheep, make pine-needle baskets and sew quilt squares. Antique tractors are on display and bluegrass music fills the air as people are transported back in time with fun events and intriguing exhibits.

The festival’s big moment is the firing up of the turpentine still for the Village’s annual turpentine distillation.

“I think it’s the only one in the Southeast that makes pure turpentine, so if you’ve got an ache or a pain you can rub it on,” Spearman said.

Tifton’s Rhythm and Ribs BBQ Festival, on the first weekend in March, is the county’s premier event, featuring a professional and backyard BBQ competition, children's games, arts & crafts, food and live music.

This year’s festival brought in 50 teams for the BBQ competition (which had a $3,500 grand champion prize) and more than 100 vendors.

“We’re just booming and it’s getting bigger and bigger,” Spearman said. “If you go to other festivals, they’re talking about the Rhythm and Ribs Festival, so we’re going to have to keep up and make it bigger and better and more special next year.”

Even though the tourism association already shells out $40,000 a year for festivals and events, it wants to add to the list of local gatherings, Spearman said.

The association has created an outreach marketing group that is whipping up new events with the goal of driving more people to the area.

“The outreach marketing group is designed to start up new events, new things that will mainly attract people to downtown Tifton, to what I call the metro area, and especially Fulwood Park, which is such a great facility,” Spearman said.

“We tried to come up with a commodity that we could have for Tifton. What are we famous for, and what festival could we have? I’m looking for something in the fall that will match Rhythm and Ribs in the spring, so we are open to another festival.

“We’ve got a lot of good things to showcase to anyone who comes to town. It’s just a matter of organizing and getting it all together.”

The SunLight Project team of journalists who contributed to this report includes Thomas Lynn, Eve Guevara, Patti Dozier, Will Woolever, Alan Mauldin and Charles Oliver, along with the writer, team leader John Stephen.

To contact the team, email sunlightproject@gaflnews.com.

When They're Happening

Adel Daylily Festival

May 19 & 20, 2017

Info: www.adelcookchamber.org

Contact: 229-896-2281

Morven Peach Festival

May 20, 2017

Contact: 229-263-4841

Hahira Honey Bee Festival

Oct. 2-7, 2017

Info: www.hahirahoneybeefestivalinc.com

Contact: 229-794-1425

Brooks County Skillet Festival

Third Saturday in October

Info: www.skilletfest.com

Contact: 229-263-4841

Valdosta-Lowndes Azalea Festival

March 10 & 11, 2018

Info: www.azaleafestival.com

Contact: 229-269-9381

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