Sugarlands Launches Music Festival in the Smokies

Inaugural lineup to include who’s who of Americana talent

If Sugarlands Distilling Co. did nothing more than offer up their superb blends of moonshine, it would certainly be enough. The fact that they also are opting to produce a first-class music festival suggests that they’re willing to go above and beyond when it comes to keeping our senses satisfied. It is, after all, hard to imagine a better combination than music and moonshine. And the fact that it’s being held in its home base of Gatlinburg, a place renowned for entertainment and attractions, makes the allure all that more powerful.

Sugarlands MountainFest will take place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 in downtown Gatlinburg on three acres of land adjacent to the parkway, with an adjoining stage at the distillery itself. Although this is the festival’s inaugural year, the organizers have gathered an impressive roster of performers, most of whom are nationally recognized names. Acts scheduled to perform include Hard Working Americans, Mandolin Orange, Elephant Revival, Sam Outlaw, Ha Ha Tonka, Yarn, The Honeycutters, Dead Horses, Bonnie Bishop, JP Harris, The Royal Hounds, Guy Marshall, Ian Thomas and the Band of Drifters. Special treats will include Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin Band performing as The Grateful Ball and The New Familiars presenting a superjam in tribute to Levon Helm.

Suffice it to say, we’re impressed.

BLANK recently spoke with Jess Hale, Sugarland’s talent buyer and events manager. We asked her to provide us with some details, and she was more than happy to oblige.

BLANK: For starters, please give us some background on the festival, specifically what was the impetus to initiate it to begin with?

Jess Hale: Sugarlands MountainFest started as an idea that we would put on a music festival showcasing Gatlinburg and Sugarlands Distilling Co. over a year-and-a-half ago. In the time that passed, the idea quickly turned into fruition around December of 2016. After the forest fires that devastated much of the Gatlinburg area, we thought this would be a great time to put on a festival to not only bring folks back to the Smokies, but also to show people that Gatlinburg is still going strong and open for business. The festival would incorporate not only the rich musical heritage of the Smoky Mountains and also help showcase the outdoors aspect in the most popular National Park in America.

Who are the headliners?

Friday Headliners are the Jeff Austin Band and the Travelin’ McCourys. They’ll join forces to form The Grateful Ball, playing bluegrass-infused Grateful Dead songs. Saturday’s headliner is the band Hard Working Americans.

How do you see the connection between your brand and the music? Is it a natural fit?

Music has always been an integral part of our distillery, as music and moonshine have gone hand in hand for centuries. We have had over 800 touring bands play at our distillery’s Sugarlands Spirit Stage since we opened a little over three years ago.

What do you think distinguishes this festival in particular?

This is the first and only full weekend music festival that is taking place in Gatlinburg. I think the overall experience, incorporating two full days of music, a Tennessee whiskey experience [where folks can sample whiskey and spirits from over 20 different Tennessee distilleries], plus a number of outdoor events hosted by local non-profits that have five different running races, two mountain bike races and a fly fishing tournament, gives attendees many options to choose from while enjoying the festival.

What would you say to anyone who is considering attending but simply not sure?

Sugarlands MountainFest will be a spirited celebration of the great outdoors. For four days this fall, outdoor enthusiasts will gather to enjoy over 30 live musical performances, running, biking and fishing competitions, craft cocktails, award-winning spirits and brews – all in the breathtaking mountains of East Tennessee. Festivalgoers will experience the world class attractions and shopping of downtown Gatlinburg, all while enjoying the natural splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains. So take in the fresh air, climb the peaks and swim in our creeks this fall. At Sugarlands Distilling Co., our backyard is your natural playground.

Sounds like a great advertisement! What other activities will be offered?

The distillery experience includes sampling and tours and an opportunity to meet our legends [the shiners included in the brand’s Legend Series] and get autographs from the show Moonshiners at our distillery on Saturday.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We are still looking for volunteers to help out during the festival. They can sign up on our website,

The Sugarlands MountainFest Music & Outdoor Festival takes place Thursday, September 28 – Sunday, October 1 at 756 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Times vary by day. Early bird prices: $50 for a weekend pass, $150 for a VIP weekend pass, $30 for a one-day pass, $40 for the Tennessee Whiskey Experience and $15 for the Sunday All-Star Jam and Square Dance. Go to for further information.


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