Word of [South], a festival of literature and music, is a unique blend of writers and musicians and an exploration of the relationship between the two disciplines. Beginning with our first festival in 2015, the festival showcases authors who write about music, musicians who also are authors, authors and musicians trading places, and everything in between. We’re especially proud of our “mu-aushups”: authors and musicians appearing together (some of whom have never met), as well as our cookbook authors, kids programming and musical performances of every genre--we’ve got gospel and HipHop, pop and bluegrass, jazz and country, Americana and R&B. Bring the whole family, and come see what’s down South!
Widely regarded as one of the major music influencers of our generation, Ben Folds has created an enormous body of genre-bending music that includes pop albums, multiple solo albums and numerous collaborative records. His last album was a blend of pop songs and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that soared to #1 on both the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts. For over a decade he’s performed with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, and serves as the first ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Folds joins the fiercely talented Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra for a night to remember to kick off this year’s Word of South.
Allison Russell is an artist, activist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of extraordinary power, talent and grace. A founding member of the acclaimed groups Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah), and Birds of Chicago (with her husband/musical partner JT Nero), the Montreal native has begun to emerge as a potent force among creative circles worldwide.
On her debut solo album (Fantasy Records, Spring 2021), Allison shares the harrowing story of her abusive childhood in a deeply moving, unforgettable song-cycle of courage, empathy, hope and love. With its vivid detail, brilliant songwriting and fearless soul, Russell’s album is both a triumphant artistic statement and life affirming achievement. Allison has been nominated for three GRAMMY awards, multiple Americana UK and US awards including Best International Artist, 4 Canadian Folk Music Awards and her new album appeared on the long list of the prestigious Polaris Prize in 2021. Outside Child topped the “Best Of 2021” lists for a number of outlets including New York Times, NPR Music, The Atlantic, Variety, Stereogum, Barack Obama’s list, and more.
Presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham is one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals. With a depth of knowledge about politics, history, religion, and current affairs, Meacham has the unique ability to bring historical context to the issues and events impacting our daily lives.
The author of several #1 New York Times bestsellers, Meacham has written acclaimed books about Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George H.W. Bush, and civil-rights icon John Lewis. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the Society of American Historians, Meacham is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, where he holds the Rogers Chair in the American Presidency. His latest book, And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle, was published in the fall of 2022 and immediately hit the bestseller list. He’ll be appearing at Word of South first with the musician Yasmin Williams, and then in a Q&A session hosted by Dr. Timothy Chapin of the FSU Institute of Politics.
The Rounder Records debut from Amythyst Kiah, Wary + Strange marks the glorious collision of two vastly different worlds: the iconoclastic alt-rock that first sparked her musical passion, and the roots/old-time-music scene where she’s found breakout success in recent years, including recognition from Rolling Stone as “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets.” Along with tapping into the vibrant musicality she honed in part through her studies in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, Country Music program, the Chattanooga-bred singer/songwriter expands on the uncompromising artistry she’s displayed as a member of Our Native Daughters—an all-women-of-color supergroup whose Kiah-penned standout “Black Myself” earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best American Roots Song and won Song of the Year at the Folk Alliance International Awards.
Produced by Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Amos Lee, Andrew Bird) and made with esteemed musicians like Blake Mills, Wary + Strange arrives as a deeply immersive body of work, endlessly redefining the limits of roots music in its inventive rhythms and textures. With an unforgettable voice that’s both unfettered and exquisitely controlled, Kiah gracefully interlaces political commentary and personal revelation, ultimately offering a raw yet nuanced examination of grief, alienation, and the hard-won triumph of total self-acceptance.