Culture / Travel

The South’s Best Food Festival Just May be in Palmetto Bluff: Top Chefs, Surprise Concerts and Partying on the River

BY // 12.17.18

PALMETTO BLUFF, South Carolina — Already recognized as a popular genteel destination along the May River in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, this elegant hamlet springs to broader acclaim each November with four days of food, drink and music that is aptly dubbed Music to Your Mouth.

This year some 60 noted chefs and vintners participated in 18 happenings that included such fabulously over-the-top experiences as boarding the charming 105-year-old yacht Grace for a bit of river boating during which caviar and champagne were generously served. And consider the quirky opening night event: A food truck extravaganza that tempted the taste buds with innovative twists on pizza, cuban sandwiches and even dessert tacos.

Saluting the “music to your mouth” concept the Yacht Rock Revue delivered sounds of the ’70s as backdrop to the food truck fray.

The focus of the festival is on southern food, an apt compliment to the verdant setting, replete with live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and to the ubiquitous plantation style architecture featuring beautiful broad verandas, white columns and dormer windows.

Among the notable award-winning chefs participating this year were Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery and Balise in New Orleans, the famed Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott BBQ of Charleston and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis. A number of James Beard semifinalists also stoked the stoves. Among the master sommeliers attending were Craig Collins, Andrew McNamara and Emily Pickral.

Visitors can sign on for one or more of the foodie/music fêtes, hosted by these culinary stars, or dive in for the “Whole Hog” ticket which opens the doors to every aspect of the long weekend.

While residents of the walkable Palmetto Bluff development have ready access to the party, travelers can make themselves at home at the elegant Montage Palmetto Bluff resort. More than just a luxe place to lay your head at night, the Montage offers access to an extensive nature preserve, walking trails, two vibrant villages, the marina, restaurants, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.  Whether you’re seeking the privacy of a cottage or village home or the built-in service of hotel guest rooms and suites, all the Montage accommodations pay homage to the region’s rich heritage.

The first full day of the festival offered a seated lunch in an open field to showcase the more than 20,000 acres of the Palmetto Bluff Conversancy, which is dedicated to protecting the lush maritime forests and winding tidal creeks that define the geography of the land that is home to Palmetto Bluff.

Walking along the picturesque streets of the property, even in the wee hours of the night, you can hear the celebrations coming out of the many Montage rooms and villas where the MTYM patrons are bunking. The giggling and chatting of guests, chefs and wine masters, who no doubt went from strangers to friends over a new glass of wine or bite of a southern delicacy earlier that day, ring throughout the weekend.

That is the epitome of the festival — creating community through food enjoyed in a stunning setting, accompanied by music.

Although powerful in numbers, Palmetto Bluff has a way of making the festival feel intimate and exclusive — this is not a festival with long lines for the food and beverages get poured aplenty. The best part? You’re able to get an up close and personal view of the chefs at work.

The first day events included a chardonnay tasting in the quaint all-wood chapel, a rosé and blues band happy hour on the canoe dock, and a traditional southern supper along the river banks featuring no shortage of falling-off-the-bone meats cooked over an open fire.  A southern speakeasy was set up that evening to keep the partying going (highly encouraged at this festival) where guests received a text message a few minutes prior with the password for entry.

Not time for sleeping in. For those well rounded foodies who prefer to detox before the retox, the following morning’s Hair of the Dog 5k run went off with out a hitch.

Concerts and Cooking

At the festival’s main event, talented chefs from Nashville to New Orleans cooking up their specialties and noteworthy winemakers offering tastings of their latest vintages impressed guests who mingled in a gargantuan tent along the property’s river bank. The perfect crisp sunny day made it easy to enjoy the culinary festival’s top sensory experience. While other events were smallish gatherings of 200 or so, this food fest topped ticket sales of 1,100 making for a truly festive day.

Palmetto Bluff Music to Your Mouth - John Reznik goo goo dolls
Surprise concert performer John Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls. (Photo by Bonjwing Lee)

The grand finale of Music to Your Mouth that evening took the weekend to the next level. One dined along the southern marshlands at Palmetto Bluff’s Moreland Landing where friendly oyster shuckers handed out oysters, both raw and others freshly roasted over an open fire. The resort takes its oysters seriously with custom built oyster tables and custom fire pits perfect for roasting to the optimal temperature.

Palmetto Bluff’s restaurant chefs and those of the Montage combined forces for an impressive feast. All the better to fuel up for the buzz-worthy surprise concert later that night. After much speculation and excitement, the surprise guest, John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls hopped on stage and belted out his hits to the intimate audience holding the crowd’s attention with just an acoustic guitar and his legendary charisma.

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