Chattanooga's leisure-time calendar is filled year-round with a variety of festivals and fundraisers. The majority of them are in-town, others within a two-hour drive. Mark your calendar for these established favorites plus two new events.
4 Bridges Arts Festival (April 14-15): Hundreds apply, but only 150 artists are selected for this prestigious fine arts show, which is held each spring in First Tennessee Pavilion. Named by Art Fairs Sourcebook as one of the Top 100 Fine Art Fairs in the country, it's no surprise that the 2011 4 Bridges show drew more than 18,000 visitors. It's sponsored by the Association for Visual Arts. Admission is $7 per day for ages 18 and older, $10 for both days.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 7-10): One of the nation's biggest music festivals -- 125 musical acts and 30 comedians -- is held in a field near Manchester, Tenn., just a two-hour drive up Interstate 24 from Chattanooga.
Announced 2012 headliners include The Beach Boys, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish. Other expected acts include Bon Iver, The Avett Brothers, Alice Cooper, Ludacris, Foster the People, Skrillex, Feist and a reunited Ben Folds Five.
General-admission passes for all four days range from $234 to $259. Find out more at www.bonnaroo.com.
Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival (May 3-5): Pull up a folding chair, relax and enjoy the music at the 22nd annual Boxcar Pinion festival, held on the grounds of Raccoon Mountain Campground.
Performers will include Dismembered Tennesseans, Don Rigsby and Midnight Call, Lone Mountain Band, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out. In addition to 15 musical acts, Folk School of Chattanooga will host workshops on-site.
Tickets purchased before April 15 are $10 to $55; after that date, $15 to $70.
Chattanooga Market (April 22-Dec. 16): This Sunday afternoon market in First Tennessee Pavilion is a popular source for locally grown produce and work by regional artists. Each Sunday's market has a theme on which a program is based, such as FiveStar Food Fight on Aug. 12 or Cast Iron Cooking on Sept. 23.
Some events have become such local favorites that market management has expanded them to two days. Among them: Oktoberfest, sponsored by VW, Oct. 13-14; and holiday markets Dec. 1-2 in the pavilion, Dec. 8-9 and 15-16 in the Chattanooga Convention Center.
New this year: Three night markets. The first, April 28, will coincide with the Tennessee Aquarium's 20th anniversary celebration.
Chattanooga Traditional Jazz Festival (May 4-6): The 22nd celebration of Dixieland and traditional jazz will be held in the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo. Featured acts will include Bob Schulz' Frisco Jazz Band, Buck Creek Revival Jazz Band, Grand Dominion Jazz Band and High Sierra Jazz Band.
Weekend tickets are $150, $175 and $200. Any available single seats will be sold for $25 per concert. For tickets: 423-266-0944.
Children's Hospital Dragon Boat Festival (May 19): The sixth annual Dragon Boat festival will be held at TVA Park at Chickamauga Dam. It is a major fundraiser for Children's Hospital Foundation, raising more than $100,000 in 2011.
Boat registration is $500 per SRDBA or USDBF club teams; $650 nonprofit teams and $700 corporate teams if registered by April 2.
After April 2, registration rises to $750 nonprofits, $800 corporate teams. The final deadline to enter a boat is May 7. Register a team at www.Chattanooga.RaceDragon Boats.com.
Fall festivals: More than 70 arts and crafts shows and fall fairs are held around the Tennessee Valley each year, drawing visitors on day-trips to admire mountainsides splashed with color, as well as the talent of local craftspeople. The fun begins the end of August and continues each weekend through November.
THREE FESTIVAL FAVORITE TO NOTE:
Hamilton County Fair: Sept. 29-30, Chester Frost Park. You'll park at either Northgate Mall or Middle Valley Recreation Center to catch a shuttle to the fairgrounds. Fair admission is free, but it's $6 per adult to ride the shuttle, $4 children ages 3-12.
Ketner's Mill Country Fair: Oct. 20-21, Powell's Crossroads between Highways 27 and 28.
Prater's Mill Country Fair: Oct. 13-14, 5845 Georgia Highway 2, Dalton, Ga.
Fall leaf cruises: Leaf lookers can enjoy fall color by air, land or water during peak color season mid-October through mid-November.
Travel the Tennessee River Gorge on the Southern Belle riverboat. Fall leaf tours are offered Oct. 13-Nov. 4, 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., $30 per adult, $16.50 ages 3-12. For reservations: 266-4488.
HATCH 2012 (April 13-22): Two dozen local arts organizations are partnering to launch the new arts festival: History Art Technology Culture Happenings.
Events that highlight local artists and arts organizations will spread through urban Chattanooga from St. Elmo to the North Shore. Already announced are 4 Bridges Arts Festival, a Chattanooga Symphony & Opera performance, Chattanooga Theatre Centre Festival of New Plays and the Midsouth Sculpture Alliance Conference. Most of the events will be free, others ticketed.
Nightfall (May 11-Sept. 7): Over 23 years, these free Friday night concerts have drawn thousands of folks into downtown Chattanooga to hear national and international artists perform in Miller Plaza. Local talent always opens at 7 p.m. for the headlining act at 8 o'clock.
Party by the Peaks (April 28): The Tennessee Aquarium will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an event on the Aquarium Plaza in conjunction with Chattanooga Market, featuring Ogya and a laser graffiti display.
A special after-hours party inside the aquarium will begin at 9 p.m. The ticketed event will support the aquarium's conservation and education programs. Guests will have the chance to go behind the scenes of the new River Giants exhibit with National Geographic explorer Dr. Zeb Hogan and Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
Riverbend Festival (June 8-16): Chattanooga's pre-eminent music festival offers a bargain that's hard to beat: hear more than 100 bands for just the purchase of a $32 pin. Pins go on sale May 1 at Kangaroo Express locations and will be available there until June 7.
All music genres are represented during the nine-day festival. Nightly headliners will include Foreigner, Eric Church, The Band Perry, Chris Tomlin and the Happy Together Tour, featuring several acts from the 1960s-'70s. Closing out the festival will be hometown girl and "American Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina.
RiverRocks (Oct. 5-14): Highlighting the area's scenic beauty as well as outdoor opportunities afforded by Chattanooga's topography, this festival offers 90 events at venues on the lake, river and surrounding mountains. The family fun is bolstered with live music and hot-air balloon glows in Coolidge Park. The majority of RiverRocks' events are free.
Tennessee Strawberry Festival (April 28-May 13): This long-standing tradition sponsored by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce gets under way April 28 with the crowning of the new Strawberry Festival queen.
Over the remaining days, Rhea County's spring celebration includes a fishing derby, cooking competitions, arts and crafts show, musical entertainment, carnival, parade and numerous civic club events. It's a celebration of small-town life that annually attracts thousands of visitors.
Three Sisters Music Festival (Oct. 5-6): The music festival founded by local businessman and Dismembered Tennessean fiddle player Fletcher Bright marks its fifth anniversary this year. This free event at Ross's Landing offers two days of bluegrass music featuring local, regional and national music legends.
Wine Over Water (Oct. 6): Sample vintages from more than 100 wineries around the world while enjoying panoramic views from the Walnut Street Bridge at this fundraiser. All proceeds benefit the historic preservation efforts of Cornerstones.