Music Writers and Artists Unite on the Flamingo Stage at the Word of South Festival

The crowd welcomes journalists, musicians, authors and chefs on the Flamingo stage. Photography by Word of South.

Cheerful voices and thoughtful prose rang out from every corner of Tallahassee’s Cascade Park this year Southern Word Festival, where attendees soaked up the sun with sensational performances from nationally and regionally acclaimed authors, musicians, chefs, directors and more. As always, this year’s lineup featured renowned artists of musical and written expression, including an impressive roster on our own Flamingo arrange. From the conversations with environmental journalists to the pimento cheese tastings and jam sessions with folk-pop bands we have on repeat, here’s a look at what you missed on our festival stage this weekend.

On this crisp Saturday morning in the state capitol, twisty thriller fans were treated to a conversation with stellar thriller novelist Meg Gardiner in tandem with local legend Jeff Vandermeer. Gardiner has been heralded as one of the greatest thriller writers of our time, weaving together stories of fast-paced, jaw-dropping suspense that kept even Stephen King hooked until the last page. The novelist chatted with Vandermeer, a Tallahassee resident whose mind-blowing works of fiction have been turned into great movies, including his first novel, Annihilation. We sat on a picnic bench at San Luis Mission Park with Vandermeer in 2017 to find out where this “strange Thoreau” draws inspiration from, and Saturday festival-goers got an even bigger glimpse of unorthodox minds. of these two best-selling authors.

Chef Leon Brunson and award-winning food writer Sheri Castle pose for a selfie.

Attendees got up with a lighter shiver when The 502s, a rowdy indie-folk band from Orlando, hit up the Flamingo stage on Saturday night and rocked the oaks with their happily infectious performance. We caught up with the band on their rocket to stardom in 2021, just before the release of their second album, Could it do better than this. The guys swear they never intended to create a whole new kind of music – what they call “happy folk” – but there’s no denying that almost every song on the album brings a smile. Dressed in their signature pastel accents, the 502 featured fan favorites including “Just a Little While” and “Olivia” as the crowds eager to sing along.

Sunday brought warmer temperatures and more incredible mixes of singers, chefs and authors sharing the stage, not to mention the occasional slice of strawberry shortcake. The day’s festivities began with a captivating conversation between Flamingo columnist Diane Roberts and award-winning environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett on the historic past of seashells and what they can tell us about the fate of our oceans, as chronicled in her latest book The sound of the sea. The dynamic duo covered everything from state environmental policy to the origins of gas company Shell and left members of the public with practical ways to care for the world around them.

The Currys collaborated with cookbook author Joy Harris for their performance. Photography by Word of South.

Just in time for lunch, The Florida Cracker Cookbook author Joy Harris teamed up with American trio The Currys to deliver a performance that satiated the audience’s appetite for good music and good food. Between the sing-song harmonies of the Currys and the breezy tunes, Harris shared stories about the Sunshine State origins of recipes found in her cookbook. Audiences were even treated to chilli cheese prepared by talented local chef Leon Brunson, based on a recipe from Harris’ cookbook. The group said goodbye to the public with an unconventional ode to The Florida Cracker Cookbook: a nearly seven-minute rendition of Harris’ Strawberry Shortcake Recipe over the rousing notes of a banjo.

What the Currys didn’t know was that their rhythmic recipe fortuitously foreshadowed the day’s closing act. Bluegrass ensemble The Kenny Hill Band collaborated with recipe developer and food writer Sheri Castle for an afternoon of soothing tunes and strawberry shortcake. As the Big Bend band of pals strummed roots soul music, Castle made everyone hungry with stories from his latest release, The New Southern Garden Cookbook. Meanwhile, Chef Brunson has whipped up a strawberry shortcake that puts the traditional version of angel food cake to shame. Marinated strawberries were ladled over a soft scone sitting in chocolate sauce, assembled with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

This weekend of books, bites and bands will be long thought of, but if you missed it, don’t worry. This festival will return to Cascades Park next year, with a whole new lineup of wordsmiths to enjoy.

William N. Fernandez