The Perfect Duet

Music and food pair well together everywhere, but in Tennessee in the fall, the servings are ample.

By Margaret Littman

From "Cheeseburger in Paradise" to "Red Solo Cup" eating (and drinking) and music long have been a good combination. And when it comes to country music, well, let's just make that a double. There's a rich history of country musicians getting into the food business. The above-referenced Jimmy Buffett has Margaritaville (now with a location on Lower Broad) and Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill has his name in the title. Music City-based Fishbowl Spirits LLC makes Blue Chair Bay, Kenny Chesney's rum.

It isn't surprising that music and food mash up so well and so often. Think about your favorite song, that number to which you still know every single lyric (even if you routinely forget more recent things, like where you put your car keys). You might associate a certain food with that song. I can almost smell the french fries sold at the swimming pool of my youth when I hear "We Got The Beat" by the Go-Goâ€TMs.

The connection of food and music doesn't have to be nostalgia, though. A number of musical heavyweights are lending their names not just to restaurants or food products, but also to bona fide music/food experiences. Zac Brown's Southern Ground Music & Food Festival has set up stages in both Nashville and Charleston, S.C. in the past.

Big national foodie names—think: Andrew Zimmern and Carla Hall—will join those with local ties—among them Sean Brock and Josh Habiger—for the second annual Music City Food + Wine Festival. Held at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, this event is self-described as "Nashville's biggest culinary experience." This two-day event was originally organized by local rock giants the Kings of Leon. At press time the 2015 musical acts had not yet been released, except to say the music was being "curated by the Kings of Leon," so it's gonna be good.

During the days you can meet and chat with the chefs, watch demos to improve your own skills and sample food and drink. The Harvest Night party, in particular, will be the mash-up of food and music, held under a Music City sky. (See sidebar for more details and other festival picks.)



Festival Season

There's no better time than fall to get outside in Middle Tennessee and tap your toes and sip a locally brewed beverage and enjoy a culinary treat. If you think music festival food is just funnel cakes and brats (not that there's anything wrong with that), think again. Here's a roundup of a few festivals to whet your whistle and allow you to whistle along to some tunes, as well.

Music City Food + Wine Festival

Three tents, two days, one night, countless things to eat, drink and hear. Tickets: Range from $150 per day to $500 for the whole VIP enchilada Dates: Sept. 19–20

Nashville Whiskey Festival
Held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, this fourth annual festival combines two southern favorites: bluegrass and whiskey. Yes, there will be lots of Tennessee whiskey on hand, but also some Japanese, Scotch and Irish whiskey, as well. Tickets: $100 or $150; $40 for designated drivers Date: Sept. 12

ABC-TVâ€TMs "Nashville" star Charles Esten (better known as Deacon Claybourne) is headlining the city of Clarksville's annual Riverfest. While the event may be on the banks of the Cumberland River, it is all about the food and the music. Hungry crowds will be fed thanks to a Food Truck Rally, with a mobile culinary cross-section of dishes. Tickets: Free
Dates: Sept. 10–12

Where else would you find Nashville's biggest Oktoberfest celebration if not in Germantown? And what else would you find at a big Oktoberfest celebration but Tennessee craft beers and live music? At press time the 35-year-old festival had not announced its musical lineup. Tickets: Free, but VIP tickets with access for shorter beer lines and bathrooms with A/C will be for sale Dates: Oct. 9–11

Music City Bacon and Barrel Festival
Bourbon and beer samples, plus bacon, BBQ and live country music are all part of this one-day event held at the Nashville Farmersâ€TM Market. A cash bar supplements the sampling; proceeds benefit Hands On Nashville. Tickets: $40
Date: Oct. 10