Florida’s literature and music festival happening this weekend won’t be ruled by weather or convention.
During the first Word of South festival in 2015, rain and lightening caused venues in Tallahassee’s Cascade Park to shift indoors and crowds there to see authors like Ann Patchett to cram into the artists’ green room for what became a memorable festival moment. Last year, the weather was beautiful and sunny, and this year’s forecast predicts a zero percent chance of rain.
Word of South founder Mark Mustian says the show will go on no matter what the weather gods bring. There are tents covering all stages except one and a few backup venues if needed.
Mustian has published a few novels of his own and spoken at literary festivals around the country. He was also city commissioner. “Why wouldn’t we do something like that here?” he asks. Combining books with music rose to the top as the most logical idea for a festival theme. “A lot of musicians have written books, and a lot of people write books about music,” Mustian says. “Why not put some of these folks together?”
Much of what happens at Word of South is experimental. Artists are given the freedom to basically do whatever they want and many times haven’t met the author or musician they’re paired up with. This year, Miss Jane author Brad Watson will take the Edison Innovation Hall Stage with blues singer/songwriter Randall “Big Daddy” Webster, and poet and FSU professor David Kirby will join Kentucky-born cellist Ben Sollee.
Southern favorite Joshilyn Jackson will join her friend and fellow novelist Lydia Netzer in conversation on the Korean War Memorial Stage, and other notable guests include singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb, Robert Olen Butler, Harrison Scott Key and Joan Osborne. (Lauren Groff is pictured from the 2016 festival.)
But the best news is that the entire festival is being presented for free this year—even Eric Paisley, who opens with a block party on Friday at Kleman Plaza, and Shovels and Rope, who close things out on Sunday. (A full kids schedule of programming is also available on Saturday and Sunday.)
When booking guests, Mustian gets ideas from many FSU professors, since their college has one of the best creative writing programs in the country, and tries to select a broad range of authors. We couldn’t help asking him about Florida’s place in the South and the state’s ability to host a Southern word festival.
“We’re 30 miles from the Georgia line,” he says about Tallahassee, “so it’s much more Southern than a lot of the rest of Florida, but it’s still Florida. It’s its own unique thing with a cool mix of things.” The same could be said about Word of South.
Word of South takes place April 7-9, 2017. View the full schedule here; all events are free and open to the public.
Featured photo of Jason Isbell and Lauren Groff from 2016, courtesy of Word of South.