North Carolina Fall Festival Guide: Food, Music, Arts, and Culture

By Beth Mack

September 28, 2023

Photo: Carolina Renaissance Festival

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, the Carolinas come alive with festivals and events to cherish the fall season. Beyond Oktoberfest and pumpkin patches, North Carolina offers a plethora of events that celebrate everything from art, film, music, and agriculture to food, wine, and cultural heritage. Immerse yourself in all that North Carolina has to offer with some of the state’s best fall festivals. 

Charlotte International Arts Festival 

September 17 – October 1

Charlotte International Arts Festival (CIAF) presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, is a 15-day festival that offers a full roster of over 200 events and experiences including live performances, art installations, and live music. From scavenger hunts to LED installations to illuminating bubbles, there’s an assortment of visually and mentally stimulating art and activities taking place in Uptown and Ballantyne’s Backyard. To be as inclusive as possible, many of CIAF’s events are free and open to the public, however, some live performances require tickets to be purchased to attend. For a full list of event, visit their official website.  

Tweetsie Railroad

September 22 – October 28

Each Friday and Saturday evening from September 22 through October 28, the popular Wild West-themed park Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock, North Carolina is taken over by ghouls and goblins. With decorations and eerie music, the park transforms into a creepy carnival to host dance parties, trick-or-treat stations, spooky photo opportunities, and shows for all ages. For the braver crowd looking for a thrill, you can take a stroll through the Freaky Forest, explore the Haunted House, or hop aboard the Ghost Train for a frightening three-mile ride if you dare. 

Charlotte Film Festival 

September 27 – October 1

The Charlotte Film Festival has been a staple for independent film enthusiasts celebrating independent cinema since 2006. This year’s five-day festival features over 100 local, regional, national, and international films ranging in genre from animated shorts, documentaries, and narrative features. Charlotte’s Independent Picture House serves as the home of the festival, headlined by Black Barbie: A Documentary, directed by Lagueria Davis. There will also be several free roundtable panel discussions from Friday through Sunday. Tickets are sold individually, or you can purchase packs of five ($45) or 10 ($70) tickets.

IBMA Bluegrass Live! 

September 29-30

If bluegrass is your jam, IBMA Bluegrass Live! is your personal paradise. The largest urban bluegrass festival in the world, it’s been hosted in Raleigh, North Carolina since 2013. As in previous years, the festival takes over the Raleigh Convention Center, the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts, Red Hat Amphitheater, and seven street stages in downtown Raleigh, so there will be music everywhere you turn. Boasting an extensive lineup of artists that features a mix of legends and up-and-coming artists, there is no shortage of talent. Headlining this year’s festival will be The Del McCoury Band, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, The Kruger Brothers, and Mighty Poplar. 

Carolina Jubilee

September 29-30

Inspired by Woodstock, Carolina Farm Trust set out to further its mission of strengthening the local food system in the Carolinas by creating a music festival. In its 9th year, the Carolina Jubilee has grown into a two-day festival hosted with both local and national acts ranging in genres from Americana and folk, to blues and funk. Hosted at Van Hoy Farms in Harmony, North Carolina, the festival embodies its mission by featuring food from local or regional farm-to-table restaurants and beverages from North Carolina breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Guests can bring their own gear to camp out on the farm or rent a glamping tent. Admission to the festival starts at $35 per day.  


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Carolina Classic Fair 

September 29 – October 8

There just isn’t anything quite like a trip to the fair in the fall. For those in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad area, the 10-day Carolina Classic Fair has you covered with over 40 carnival rides, games, entertainment, a beer garden, and a marketplace– all located in Winston-Salem. This year’s new festival food highlights include freeze-dried gummy bears, Korean corn dogs, deep-fried cannoli on a stick, and cajun alfredo stuffed turkey legs. Entertainment includes magic shows, an exotic petting zoo, acrobats, pig races, and more. Be sure to swing by the grandstand for your chance to watch a rodeo, demolition derby, stock car racing, or a concert. Each day concludes with nightly fireworks beginning at 9:45 p.m. Daily general admission tickets start at $10 for adults (ages 12-64), $5 for children (ages 6-11), and free for children under five and adults over 65 years old. 

Charlotte VegFest 

September 30

What started as a small event with a handful of vendors occupying a block of Plaza Midwood’s Commonwealth Avenue in 2012 has grown to feature over 200 vendors at Camp North End drawing over 4,000 people. The festival seeks to support the vegan community by highlighting vegan and vegan-friendly businesses in the Charlotte area. Guests can expect to sample and purchase some of the best vegan food in the region from local restaurants, food trucks, and vegan food companies. To expand your knowledge, catch one of their vegan cooking demonstrations or listen to a talk from a nutritional expert. General admission tickets are free or you can opt for VIP access that includes access to the festival one hour early with a swag bag chock full of vegan goodies

Concord International Festival 

September 30

In its third year, Concord International Festival has grown to include even more cultural performances, arts and crafts, food, and activities for kids. Explore different cultures by trying out authentic cuisine from 12 different countries or catch one of the live performances that range from a Mexican mariachi band and Brazilian samba to indigenous dances of Africa, China, India, and Palestine. Peruse the international craft vendors or take a jaunt down the cultural corridor for the educational culture stands. 

Carolina Renaissance Fest

September 30 – November 19

Travel back in time as a 25-acre field in Huntersville transforms into the village of Fairhaven and history comes alive with castles, cottages, kitchens, and pubs to recreate a 16th-century European marketplace. With daily shows featuring jousting knights, falconers, and sea fairy mermaids, the festival is truly one of a kind with 14 stages of continuous live comedy, music, and dance. If that isn’t enough, the festival employs 300 costumed villagers who walk around the village and interact with guests. Visitors can shop at the vibrant open-air artisan market bustling with over 140 vendors featuring jewelry, art, face painting, hats, astrological readings, and much more. No trip to the Renaissance Festival is complete without a turkey leg, and guests can also feast on many other delicacies while sipping on a craft beer or mead. Celebrating its 30th year, the Carolina Renaissance Festival is one of the largest festivals in the Charlotte area. Tickets for the festival are $32 for adults (ages 13+) and $20 for children (ages 5-12)

Farm to Fork Picnic in The Garden 

October 1

Belmont’s Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden serves as the picturesque backdrop once again for Piedmont Culinary Guild’s Farm to Fork Picnic in The Garden. The event celebrates local food, farms, and drinks in collaboration with North Carolina’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). This year’s event boasts over 25 different tasting stations, where local chefs and local farmers are paired together to craft a dish to highlight the bounty of the Piedmont. In addition to the food, you can enjoy locally produced beer, wine, and craft cocktails made by some of Charlotte’s best mixologists Bob Peters, Amanda Britton, Kel Minton, and Henry Schmulling. 

Bayhaven Food & Wine Festival 

October 4-8

One of Carolina’s premier food festivals celebrating Black foodways, BayHaven returns for its third year with its theme of “Wild & Free 2023.” The festival is one of the many initiatives of three-time James Beard-nominated chef Gregory Collier and wife/business partner Subrina Collier. This year’s event features 11 events led by some of the best Black chefs in the country featuring the likes of Ricky Moore, Jerome Grant, Joshua Lee, Lamar Moore, Keith Rhodes, Adrian Lipscombe, Cleophus Hethington, and Ederique Goudia. For a full list of events and to purchase tickets, check out their official website and Instagram

Hola Charlotte Festival 

October 7

Embrace the vibrant culture at Charlotte’s largest Hispanic heritage celebration at this year’s Hola Charlotte Festival. The 11th edition of the festival highlights Latin American culture through nationally recognized music, dance, and food featuring the countries of Colombia, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Peru. The festival will bring the flavor of Latin America to Uptown as it takes over a portion of Tryon Street to feature authentic fare, unique vendors, and cultural dance performances like salsa, cha-cha, merengue, tango, and samba.  

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival 

October 5-8

Dubbed a music lover’s paradise, this year’s Shakori Hills GrassRoots festival features over 60 artists and bands from internationally-acclaimed acts to up-and-coming regional talent, spread across four stages. The four-day music festival is hosted at Pittsboro’s Shakori Hills Community Arts Center and also features regional art, food, dance workshops, and poetry slams. This year’s headliners include legendary gospel/soul singer Mavis Staples, Grammy award-winning reggae artist Kabaka Pyramid, and host band, Donna the Buffalo. Single-day tickets start at $47 and vary by day, or you can make a long weekend out of it with a four-day pass for $180 for adults (ages 16+) and $85 for youth (ages 12-15). The festival also offers tent, vehicle, and RV camping on site for an additional fee.

NC Seafood Festival 

October 6-8

Thousands migrate to the Crystal Coast on the first weekend of October each year for one of North Carolina’s largest food festivals. Hosted in Morehead City, the two-day event has been celebrating the state’s seafood industry since 1987 through delicious local seafood, live entertainment, education, and activities. The festival boasts a lineup of attractions ranging from cooking demos, an 8k race, a beer tasting event featuring North Carolina coastal breweries, the famous flounder fling, oyster shucking contests, and more. It’s a festival staple for seafood lovers.

NC State Fair 

October 12-22

Fall is not complete without a visit to the fair, and the 10-day North Carolina State Fair is the biggest of them all. There will of course be turkey legs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, and all the fried foods one can think of, but there is also a growing number of international foods being offered this year including Korean and Jamaican offerings. The lights and sounds of the carnival rides and games will counter the sights and noises from various livestock on the fairgrounds, and the grandstand will fill up with attendees taking in the tractor pull, monster truck racing, and demolition derby. The NC Public House will showcase local breweries, wineries, cideries, and craft soda makers from across the state, and each day will also be packed with a lineup of regional artists performing live at the fair’s Homegrown Music Fest. To keep things fresh, this year’s fair will feature four new amusement rides, two new grounds entertainers, and over 30 new food items. Cap off your day at the fair with nightly fireworks starting at 9:45 p.m. Tickets start at $13 for adults, $7 for youth (ages- 6-12), $5 for seniors (ages 65+), and free for children under the age of five.

3 Chambers Fest 

October 13-14

In its inaugural year, 3 Chambers Fest blends hip-hop, martial arts, and anime to create live musical performances, immersive art, and innovative film experiences in Wilmington, North Carolina. The festival, organized by Wilmington on Fire director Chris Everett, kicks off with live performances by hip-hop artists Solemn Brigham (Marlowe) and Skyzoo at Waterline Brewing Company. The festival continues Saturday with Tai Chi in the Sokoto Garden with martial science professor Shihan White Owl, and wraps up with Can I Kick It?, a film screening series by Shaolin Jazz that will feature cult classic, The Crow, paired with hip-hop music. Tickets start at $20 for each event.

Confluence Festival 

October 18-19

Seeking to inspire, connect, and celebrate the North Carolina music scene, Confluence returns for its second year. The festival consists of a music industry conference during the day and a music festival at night. The two-day conference hosted at the AvidXchange Music Factory features an assortment of speakers led by professionals in the music industry. The music festival will feature over 40 acts from across the Carolinas spread across nine independent music venues. You can snag an all-access pass that includes both the music and the conference for $75, or a music-only pass for $35.

South End Wine & Hops Festival 

October 21

Located in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood, Lenny Boy Brewing will host the annual Fall South End Wine & Hops Festival. Guests will enjoy unlimited samples from nine Charlotte area craft breweries or savor some of the 39 different wines encompassing a range of varieties from Italian, French, and Spanish to California, Oregon, and Virginia. This year’s festival will feature live music from the Joseph Gallo Band and host multiple local food trucks for guests to enjoy. General admission tickets start at $38 and include a souvenir tasting glass with all of the beer and wine your heart desires

Carolina BalloonFest 

October 20-22

In its 48th year, Statesville is home of the second oldest hot air balloon festival in the country. Whether you are looking to take a ride in a hot air balloon or just take in the sights, the festival has something for everyone. You can find live music across two stages, a kids’ zone, an artisan village and marketplace, a North Carolina wine and craft beer garden, aerialist circus performances, and even skydiving expeditions. Be sure to plan your visit around one of the three planned mass ascensions of hot air balloons as they color the Carolina blue sky. Tickets to the three-day festival start at $15 and vary in price for each day

NC Oyster Festival 

October 21-22

Oyster aficionados gather every fall to celebrate the delicious sea crustaceans as the NC Oyster Festival takes over Ocean Isle Beach’s Town Center Park. The 42nd annual festival kicks off on Friday, October 21 with a community night featuring a free concert with North Carolina beach music group, Band Of Oz. The event continues Saturday with a series of competitions including the signature oyster shucking and eating contests. Of course, there will be oysters prepared in every way you can imagine, but there will also be a variety of foods in addition to crafts and live music to round out the experience. Admission to the festival is $5 for ages 12 and up (cash only) and free for those under 12

NC Oyster Festival 

Lexington Barbecue Festival 

October 28

Every October, Western-style barbecue fans descend upon the self-proclaimed barbecue capital of the world, Lexington, North Carolina, to pig out at the state’s premier barbecue festival. In its 39th year, the event draws thousands of visitors to Uptown Lexington to peruse its lineup of over 300 vendors. Slated for this year’s festival is an antique car cruise-in, dinosaur show, Corvette display, and a 50-ton pig-themed sand sculpture to accompany the famed barbecue competition that draws in contestants from across the country. 

Highlands Food & Wine 

November 9-12

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains just north of the Georgia state line, you’ll find the small town of Highlands, North Carolina. Since 2016, Highlands has hosted a food and wine festival that celebrates fabulous offerings crafted by chefs from the Cashier-Highlands plateau and across the southeast. Exquisite wines from around the world, craft cocktails, and beer complement the music lineup headlined by Grace Potter and The War and Treaty. The four-day festival kicks off on Thursday, November 9 with their Grand Tasting event featuring small plates from local and regional chefs and culminates in a Sunday brunch on November 12. Across the five signature festival events, culinary talents include April Robinson from Hamilton Cornerstore, Tyler Montgomery from Urban Wren, and Sam Hart from Counter. 

Cucalorus Film Festival 

November 15-19

What started in 1994 as a one-day film festival at Wilmington’s Water Street restaurant screening 16 independent films, has grown into a five-day event taking over historic downtown Wilmington. The 29th edition of the Cucalorus Film Festival will feature 90 independent films from all over the world with a focus on social justice, dance on camera, emerging voices, southern stories, horror, and the best indie films of the year. Individual event tickets are available for purchase, or you can buy a Pegasorus Pass starting at $300 including all film screenings, performances, conversations, and parties. 

Light The Knights Festival 

November 22 – January 1

Truist Field in Charlotte will be transformed into a winter wonderland for its third year. Walk through the concourse to take in the various light displays and artificial snow, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, peruse the Christmas village vendors, or grab a cup of cheer from the concession stands. The outfield will boast a regulation-size ice skating rink and a snow tubing track complete with hot chocolate and seating on the field to take in the sights and sounds of the holiday season.


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