Artists and Makers, Festivals and Discoveries: Slow Travel in Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina

Chairs with Quilts at Little Red Barn | Thoroughbred Country

Travel Media Press Room

THOROUGHBRED COUNTRY, SOUTH CAROLINA-MAY 2024 - In the mood to meander for art treasures, fine crafters, music makers and the pleasures of slow travel? To take it easy and take in photogenic small towns there’s no better place than the South, specifically Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, located just east of Augusta, Georgia and west of Columbia. Bordered by Interstates 20, 26 and 95, this four-county region is known for thoroughbred horse training and all things equine, yet that’s only part of the story. Visitors are surprised and delighted by the arts and agriculture that flourish here: Tiny farming towns where architecture and foodways are preserved and cherished. Mennonite communities that love to share their cuisine and crafts in unique restaurants and shops. Thriving arts communities in off-the-beaten path locations. Farmers markets full of heirloom produce and festivals that are lively yet low-key.

One of the best ways to experience Thoroughbred Country is through the farmers markets, festivals and music events that celebrate the artists and makers of this region, from quilters and crafters to family farmers and musicians. More than two dozen events are happening from May through the summer and beyond.

The South Carolina Ag + Art Tour is a free, self-guided tour of farms and markets featuring local artisans. At each stop, visitors can see the journey of their food from farm to table, watch artists in action and purchase their works, enjoy the melodies of local musicians, and learn more about rural life. For example, Bamberg County’s event is May 18-19, when you can visit a butterfly conservatory, a vineyard, see goats and plenty of gardens and farms. June 1 brings Allendale County’s showcase of family farms, followed by Barnwell County on June 8-9, where lavender, peaches, pottery and more are on the itinerary.

Open year round on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the Aiken County Farmers Market is the oldest county farmers market in continuous service in the same location in the state. On Thursdays in June from 6-8 p.m., have a different kind of happy hour at The Market in the Alley in Aiken. Enjoy live music from Amp The Alley while perusing farm-fresh produce, baked goods, jewelry and artisan goods. Downtown restaurants offer food for purchase. Meet the farmers, food makers and artisans at the Barnwell Farmers Market. Open May through October, check the calendar for days and times.

The Blackville Music and Art Festival, May 17-18, 2024, includes a parade, food and of course, art and music. The King George Lavender Festival, June 1, 2024 is an immersion in lush fields of u-pick lavender, kids’ activities, live music, food and wine slushies, while the July 13 Cold Creek Peach Festival is a sweet taste of peach-infused culinary delights.

Music fills the air in Aiken at the Aiken Music Fest, a monthly series from June 1 through October 4 featuring a top local talent followed by a headliner band currently touring the Southeast, along with a makers and creators market, all for only $15 per ticket. June 20 brings Joye In Aiken: Jazz Explosion Faculty Concert, an opportunity to hear five stellar Juilliard-trained faculty members in concert, a kickoff and fundraiser for the Joye in Aiken Outreach Program and Summer Jazz Camp. Amp the Alley is a chance to hear live music from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. every Thursday, spring through October 31. Enjoy live music, art and local restaurants and stroll The Alley in Aiken, tucked between Newberry and Laurens Streets. In North Augusta, Music in the Park is held at 7 p.m. every Thursday through June 27 in Maude Edenfield Park–bring a chair or blanket to spread out and enjoy. Hopelands Gardens Concert Series in Aiken is held at 7 p.m. every Monday through June at one of the most beautiful gardens in the Southeast, a 14-acre former estate park featuring wetlands, an arboretum trail and a labyrinth. Bring a picnic and chair.

Juneteenth is the celebration of freedom for enslaved African Americans. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of slavery, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a time to reflect on the struggles of African Americans for freedom and equality and celebrate their resilience and achievements. Area celebrations include the City of Aiken and AllendaleUMOJA Village is having drumming, dancing and festivities at the Eudora Farms Wildlife Safari Park in Salley, near Aiken.

In between the one-and two-day events, take in the music and the art at locations throughout the area. Ideas are covered below, but be sure to check the calendar before your visit for even more, where you can search by date, event types and keywords.

  • Jim Harrison Gallery in Denmark, South Carolina. The late artist was one of the premier chroniclers of earlier twentieth century rural life, capturing the heart of America’s agrarian society through his acclaimed landscapes and iconic Coca-Cola paintings. The gallery features bronzes, etchings and reproductions from Harrison’s 35 plus-year artistic career.
  • While taking in the charm of Denmark, step into The Caroline Collection, one of the largest privately owned antique stores in the Southeast. Peruse three floors of eclectic, ever-changing inventory in vignette settings. Porcelain, pottery and paintings cover every corner.
  • About 45 minutes southeast of Aiken in Barnwell is the Little Red Barn Pottery and Art Gallery, home to the exquisite works of Master Potter Liz Ringus as well as the showcased works of 35 South Carolina artists and artisans. Explore Ringus’ traditional South Carolina face jugs and Paw Print Pottery. Also find local honey, jams, antiques and gorgeous hand-stitched quilts made by area Mennonite women. (12080 Hwy 278, Barnwell, South Carolina, 29812; 803-541-7900)
  • The Mennonites are a division of the Christian church known for peace, simplicity, community and mutual aid. A large population of Mennonite people reside in nearby Blackville. To get a taste of the community, stop in at Miller’s Bread Basket and fuel up with mouth-watering Mennonite cuisine, delicious desserts and delectable fresh-baked breads. Take some home, along with home décor and gifts. (483 Main Street, Blackville, South Carolina 29817; 803.284.3117) Bring a jug and refresh at God’s Acre Healing Springs. Indigenous people believed in the springs’ natural healing powers and brought wounded Revolutionary War soldiers here. Locals still believe in the springs’ powers and drink the waters.  Stop at Healing Springs Country Store for handmade gifts and sandwiches.
  • More art can be found at the North Augusta Arts & Heritage Center and the Aiken Center for the Arts.