by Jessica Giles | April 11, 2022

Authors and Musical Artists Unite on the Flamingo Stage at the Word of South Festival

See the toe-tapping, thought-provoking lineup of talent at this year’s celebration of written word.

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

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

On this crisp Saturday morning in the state capital, fans of twisty thrillers were treated to a conversation with stellar suspense novelist Meg Gardiner in tandem with local legend Jeff Vandermeer. Gardiner has been heralded as one of the greatest thriller authors of our time, weaving together fast-paced, stupefying suspense stories that have kept even Stephen King hooked until the last page. The novelist talked shop with Vandermeer, a Tallahassee local whose mind-bending works of fiction have been transformed into major motion pictures, most notably his first novel, Annihilation. We settled onto a picnic bench in San Luis Mission Park with Vandermeer back in 2017 to find out where this “weird Thoreau” gets his inspiration, and Saturday festival-goers enjoyed an even bigger glimpse into the unorthodox minds of these two bestselling authors.

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

Attendees jumped to their feet from a more lighthearted thrill when The 502s, a rowdy indie-folk band from Orlando, took to the Flamingo stage on Saturday evening and rattled the oak trees with their infectiously cheerful performance. We caught up with the group on their rocket ship to stardom in 2021, just before the release of their sophomore album, Could It Get Better Than This. The guys swear they never intended to create an entirely new genre of music—what they call “happy folk”—but it’s undeniable that nearly every song on the album sparks a smile. Dressed in their signature pops of pastel, The 502s belted out fan favorites including “Just a Little While” and “Olivia,” the crowd eager to sing along.

Sunday brought warmer temps and more incredible mashups of singers, chefs and authors sharing the stage—not to mention the occasional slice of strawberry shortcake. The day’s festivities kicked off with a captivating conversation between Flamingo columnist Diane Roberts and award-winning environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett about the storied 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 Shell gas company and left audience members with actionable 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 Americana trio The Currys to deliver a performance that satiated the audience’s appetite for good music and good food. Between The Currys lilting harmonies and breezy tunes, Harris shared stories about the Sunshine State origins of the recipes found in her cookbook. Audience members were even treated to pimento cheese prepared by talented local chef Leon Brunson, using a recipe from Harris’ cookbook. The band bid the audience goodbye with an unconventional ode to The Florida Cracker Cookbook: a near seven-minute rendition of Harris’ strawberry shortcake recipe set to the enthusiastic strums of a banjo.

What The Currys didn’t know was that their rhythmic recipe was fortuitous foreshadowing for 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. While the band of buddies from the Big Bend strummed soulful roots music, Castle made everyone hungry with backstories from her latest release, The New Southern Garden Cookbook. Meanwhile chef Brunson prepped a strawberry shortcake that puts the traditional angel-food-cake version to shame. Marinated strawberries were ladled over a fluffy scone sitting in chocolate gravy, pulled together with a dollop of homemade whip cream.

We’ll be thinking about this weekend of books, bites and bands for a long time, but if you missed out, don’t worry. This festival will return to Cascades Park next year, with a whole new lineup of wordsmiths to enjoy.