9 best annual festivals in Gainesville
By Joe Kukura
Gainesville, Florida, is such a fun town that the locals have nicknamed it Gainesvegas. Any time of year is great to visit sunny Gainesville, but certain times are particularly special. The city plays home to an eclectic batch of big annual festivals, drawing a variety of entertainment fans, niche hobbyists or just folks looking for a good time.
Whether you want to see big-name nationally known performers, get costumed up with some fellow hobbyists or attend one of those fun Americana festivals that celebrate a certain type of critter or food, Gainesville has something for everybody. Let’s break out the calendar and look at the best fests happening every year in Gainesville.
Downtown Festival and Art Show, November
The granddaddy of all the Gainesville festivals is the Downtown Festival and Art Show, drawing more than 100,000 people every year for one of the largest outdoor art shows in the country. Several hundred artists from around the world display paintings, sculpture and photography in a two-day outdoor art festival peppered with food, live music and kids’ activities.
Now one of the biggest punk rock music festivals in the US, Fest brings more than 300 bands of yesteryear and today for a slamming celebration of live punk, metal and ska music. Whether you’re a young punk or an old-schooler, you won’t want to miss October’s Fest.
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, January
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire is in the noble class of the Renaissance festival circuit, lasting two consecutive weekends and attracting more than 50,000 of ye olde time revelers. All will come decked out in their medieval finery, and kids can enjoy rides on elephants and camels and human-powered push rides. The lord and lady of the house will be most pleased with the eight stages of entertainment, or watching jousting matches, knife throwing, combat games and various other feudal feuds.
Newberry Watermelon Festival, May
The Newberry Watermelon Festival is a true slice of America. A celebration of anything and everything watermelon, the festival features a watermelon parade, a watermelon-eating contest, a watermelon seed-spitting contest and, naturally, a largest watermelon competition for growers. Just 15 miles east of Gainesville in Newberry, it is among America’s longest-running annual local festivals.
Florida Bat Festival, October
Every year around Halloween, the Florida Bat Festival unites fans of the little winged rodents that frighten so many of us, but delight a few of us. Nearly a dozen species of bats rarely seen by the general public are features at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, including some of the largest bats in the world. Fruit and toys get the bats to come out and play, while plenty of bat-related activities for kids and adults make the Florida Bat Festival a great place to hang.
Gainesville Craft Beer Week, April
Artisan craft beers are the trendy alternative to the canned six-packs of days past, and craft brewers from around the nation will congregate in Gainesville. Local microbreweries and pubs like Gainesville House of Beer, Swamp Head Brewery and Hogtown Brewers present a weeklong craft beer festival featuring classes, workshops, pub crawls and hundreds upon hundreds of hand-crafted beers.
Spring Garden Festival, March
A flower lover’s dream, the Spring Garden Festival at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens kicks off the spring season in splendid and stunning style! While the botanical garden itself is kicking into full spring bloom, more than 175 exhibitors, floral experts and landscapers set up shop for a sprawling and unforgettable weekend of flower power. Live performances, good food and kids’ activities ensure something for everyone.
Fifth Avenue Arts Festival, April
More than 20,000 people will descend on the Fifth Avenue/Seminary Lane area for the community’s annual Fifth Avenue Arts Festival. The sounds of live gospel, reggae and jazz mix with outdoor art exhibits and vendors for a distinctive festival that is now in its fourth decade.
Santa Fe Spring Arts Festival, April
North central Florida’s longest-running arts festival, the Santa Fe Spring Arts Festival, has been called “a celebration of the arts with 100,000 of your closest friends”. Yes, this major outdoor art exhibit draws roughly that many attendees for two days of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, live jazz and more in Gainesville’s historic downtown district.
Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival, February
A one-of-a-kind film festival, Cinema Verde is devoted to films that raise awareness of environmental issues and promote sustainability. Director interviews, panel discussions and live music enhance the program of feature films, documentaries and shorts.
Gainesville goes aflutter each September for ButterflyFest, an annual, family-friendly “Woodstock for butterfly lovers.” In addition to viewing opportunities with hundreds of live butterflies, there are also workshops and lectures covering butterfly photography and gardening tips to attract butterflies.
Jest Fest, April
The April fools arrive in Gainesville for Jest Fest, a celebration of clowns, jesters, acrobats, stilt walkers, ventriloquists and various other circus performers. Entertainers from around the globe descend on Gainesville to perform at this emerging, top-notch circus event that’s kid-friendly and free of charge.
These are the big annual festivals in Gainesville, but there’s plenty going on during any given week or weekend. Keep an eye on the Gainesville event calendar for a full list of the festivals, street walks, shows and other happenings in Gainesville.