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Sea Island fest offers food, drink and music… June 16-18, 2017

At the 2016 Southern Grown festival, visitors could opt for a lunch featuring recipes from Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook.

Even when it’s quiet, Sea Island is lovely. But on this June evening, as the sun sets on the impossibly green grass surrounding The Lodge, the island property famous for its world-class golf, butler service and capacious men’s locker room, the tingle in the air feels more exciting than usual.

Alabama singersongwriter Jason Isbell (right) jams outside The Lodge at Sea Island.

As the Atlantic Ocean laps the lawn, Alabama singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and his band start to play under a banner that reads: “Southern Grown.” Meanwhile, VIP guests wander in and out of an exclusive tent where some of the South’s finest chefs—Atlanta’s Linton Hopkins, Charleston’s Mike Lata and Oxford, Mississippi’s John Currence, James Beard Award winners all—are dishing up delicious things to eat.

Considering that my day started with Lata’s class on extraordinary oysters and progressed to a barbecue competition between two of Georgia’s best smokehouses, the weekend hasn’t exactly been a bust.

Southern Grown, you see, is posh Sea Island’s idea of a food, drink and music festival. By comparison to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, the scale is manageable and almost chill. Seems like it’s always cocktail hour, and the pickings are hard to beat, from a lunch featuring recipes from media sponsor Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook to a meat-and-three dinner outside The Cloister cooked by regional chefs including Atlantans Kevin Gillespie and Joey Ward.

Organizers say this year’s fest won’t feature names as big as Isbell and Tedeschi Trucks Band; they hope the event will evolve into something more exclusive and intimate. Yet no matter the scale, you can be sure Southern Grown will be a memorable experience.

Charleston chef Mike Lata teaches an early morning class on oysters at The Cloister.

Over the course of the 2016 affair, festival-goers could chat up chefs, pit masters, distillers, cheese makers and storytellers. And the quality of talent was remarkable. While Richland Rum’s Erik Vonk revealed the secrets of distilling and Sweet Grass Dairy’s Jeremy and Jessica Little talked “Curds and Whey” in a hands-on cheese-making class, Birmingham chef Chris Hastings (another Beard winner) held forth on cooking with fire out at Broadfield Plantation. Classes were held on etiquette, table setting, gardening, marksmanship and birddog training. You could learn how to bake a layer cake, paint a wildlife scene, make pasta and brew beer. Yee-haw.

A New Orleans-style market was installed on Rainbow Island, and the so-called Southern ’cue class was little more than a chance to sit back and watch the champs from St. Simons’ Southern Soul and Macon’s Fresh Air Bar-B-Que blow smoke, then fill up on brisket tacos, ribs plus sides and maybe a beer or two. (The homeboys of Southern Soul won the event, by decree of audience vote.) After the al fresco concert at the Lodge, night owls were invited to an after-hours throw down in the men’s locker room. Bad-boy chefs Hastings and Matt Bolus of Nashville faced off on stoves with portable propane burners, and the party ran on till 2 a.m.

For a place known as a haven of peace and tranquility, it seemed almost hardcore: Southern Grown for grow-ups. But for one weekend of the year, it’s fun to think the “wild life” of Sea Island is not limited to the birds and fish. Hands down, it was one fine fest.

Southern Grown

Ticket prices: To be announced.

Rooms rates start at $395 for The Lodge and The Cloister; $275 for The Inn at Sea Island.

STORY: Wendell Brock

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