Word of South Sparks Conversations

In The Round

(page 1 of 2)


Courtesy The Windish Agency

Ben Sollee, Kentucky-born cellist and composer, will bring sweet music to the hills of Cascades Park.

The last time David Kirby was at the Word of South festival, he was riding around Cascades Park on his bike, listening to the array of musicians and speakers who were mesmerizing the crowds.

But when the festival takes over Cascades again this spring, the Tallahassee poet will be on the stage, working his own magic: literary magic. 

“I’m looking forward to being part of the show this time,” says Kirby, poet, author, book critic and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. “It’s Tallahassee at its very best.”

The third annual Word of South event will take place over three days, from April 7–9, and will feature more than 40 acts, including readings, concerts, children’s events and something event founder Mark Mustian calls, “muashups.” 

“We throw together authors and musicians,” Mustian says. “We’ve done it eight or ten times, and it’s been outstanding.”

During the upcoming festival, Kirby, for instance, will be paired with a musician while he reads his poetry — what Kirby sees as an ideal collaboration.

“I always feel as though when you read a poem you should read it aloud,” says Kirby, the author of 34 books. “After all, poetry and song were one thing in the earliest days of human history, and then they became compartmentalized. That’s why Word of South means so much to me. It’s Mark Mustian’s way of bringing writing and singing together again.”

When author Joshilyn Jackson of Decatur, Georgia. was asked to do a muashup at the 2017 Word of South, she suggested Mustian invite her best friend, author-musician Lydia Netzer, who is in a Norfolk, Virginia. band called The Virginia Janes.

“We went to graduate school together and had a band,” says Jackson, whose latest book is entitled, “The Opposite of Everyone.” The two combined talents more recently, when Jackson recorded the audio book for Netzer’s novel, “Shine Shine Shine,” with songs from The Virginia Janes on the audio.

“I hope the festival will keep that conversation going between art and music,” says Jackson.

That’s been the intent of Mustian, a lawyer, author and former city commissioner, who was looking to provide Tallahassee with a “cultural draw” when he began formulating the idea for the festival, which debuted at Cascades in 2015.  

In its first two years, Word of South has presented impressive lineups, including author Ann Patchett, the band Dawes, singer Jason Isbell, actor Tony Hale, singer Rita Coolidge and columnist Leonard Pitts. 

All events are free except for the top-ticketed concerts. The festival is still ironing out its spring schedule and headliners, Mustian says, but attendees can expect to hear from musicians The Currys and The Bones of JR Jones, “The Voice” artist Sarah Potenza and singer-songwriter Matthew Hendrickson of Garden & Gun magazine. Food writer John Shelton Reed, one of the authors of “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” will also perform. There will be a pig roast Saturday night, and, in a different sort of pairing, Reed will be doing a reading during a pork-and-champagne brunch Sunday morning.

“It reflects the eclecticism of the American South,” says Mandy Stringer, the festival’s managing director. 

The event will also feature food trucks and book tents from Thomasville’s Bookshelf and Tallahassee’s newest bookstore, Midtown Reader. 

According to Stringer, Word of South will work with Leon County Schools to offer a read-in with a couple of children’s authors who will be at the festival. The children’s programming will include activities, musicians and storytellers.

Tallahassee Community College will be the presenting sponsor of the public-private event, which receives financial contributions and grants from city and county sources, foundations, businesses and individuals. 

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