Every fall for the past 11 years, chefs, vintners, breweries and food lovers have gathered in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, for a festival called Music to Your Mouth, a celebration of lowcountry food and music.
The festival started small, with only three events and a handful of featured chefs in its first year. By 2017, it had expanded to 17 events spread over four days. Featured chefs now have to be recommended by previous participants, and 31 chefs from across the South were invited to attend.
Following a Thursday evening kickoff event featuring a variety of food trucks (David Carrier of Certified Burgers & Beverage was a crowd-favorite with his housemade chorizo sliders), the first event included in the aptly named “Whole Hog Weekend” pass was a dock party on Friday afternoon. As an '80s cover band entertained the crowd on a patio overlooking the May River, Rodney Scott of Charleston’s Rodney Scott’s BBQ served up the classic South Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue for which he’s known.
Later that evening, a Southern Supper Club featured a family-style feast of Southern favorites prepared by five of the festival’s featured chefs. A personal favorite was Rob McDaniel, Executive Chef of Alexander City, Alabama’s SpringHouse who served up a delightfully funky fermented relish combining hot and sweet peppers to provide a perfect accompaniment to his braised oxtails, turnip greens, and carolina gold rice.
The Saturday Culinary Festival is the largest event of the weekend. A four-hour celebration of the region’s cuisine featured the work of 22 chefs as well as winemakers, local breweries and artisans.
Katie Button, Owner and Executive Chef of Curate in Asheville, North Carolina, served up roasted turnips with a buttermilk fenugreek sauce, a deceptively simple dish that delivered complex flavors and provided a welcome vegetarian-friendly respite from an otherwise meat-heavy weekend.
Other standouts included Mashama Bailey, of Savannah’s The Grey, serving up Harissa Coated Squid and Atlanta’s Linton Hopkins whose roti short rib served with chow chow and clabbered crema fresca on a fresh tortilla was a beautiful melding of flavors, elegantly presented.
Throughout the weekend, Palmetto Bluff’s pastry chef David Sampson also distinguished himself, covering a truck with a variety of delicious donuts on Thursday night and serving up a variety of bundt cakes and campfire s’mores on Friday evening, including a single giant s’more that had to be seen (and tasted) to believe.
Winemakers have also been part of the festival since the beginning and this year was no exception. The festival featured 29 vintners and brewers, and while beverage options had more to offer for wine drinkers, local breweries like Savannah’s veteran-owned Service Brewing were also well-represented.
The festival is intentionally kept small, and with attendance limited to a couple hundred people, even the larger events didn’t feel crowded. The smaller size also meant less waiting in lines and more opportunities to talk with the chefs, winemakers and other artisans who were featured.
For those who prefer even more intimate settings, there were also a number of individually ticketed smaller events, including two culinary salons and book discussions hosted by the Southern Foodways Alliance and a speakeasy themed whiskey tasting with Julian Van Winkle III, president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery.
Musical acts ranged from bluegrass to yacht rock (provided by Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Review) culminating with an annual surprise headline act the evening oyster roast on the festival’s closing night (this year, O.A.R.).
For those who wanted a little help burning off the calories from the night before, festival passes included a crossfit workout on Friday and a 5K on Saturday. The later start times of the midday events also allowed plenty of time to explore the 20,000 acre Palmetto Bluff property by foot or bike (bikes are available for rent). Miles of trails wind through live oak forests and provide beautiful views of the May River and coastal wetlands.
Music to Your Mouth 2018 will be held November 15-18, and tickets go on sale in August. Pricing is not set yet but the all-inclusive package (without accommodations) was $1,350 in 2017, and à la carte events ranged from $75 to $400. Ticket packages and the rest of the programming will be announced closer to the on-sale date, and ore information is available at on the festival website where you can also sign up for updates.
Palmetto Bluff is about 45 minutes driving from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), 30 minutes from downtown Savannah and about two hours from Charleston. Accomodations range from rooms and suites at the Montage Palmetto Bluff to vacation homes and cottages.