A ten day long series of primarily music events occurring in and around the Shoals which honors William Christopher “W.C.” Handy and the musical legacy of the “Hit Recording Capital of the World”. The talented musicians of the Muscle Shoals are among the very best. Come and experience the sound for yourself.
Florence, Alabama native William Christopher Handy (1873-1958), was an internationally recognized composer of sacred and secular music (including “St. Louis Blues”). He is known as the “Father of the Blues”. He was the the first to codify Blues music, translating it to written form. The Handy Home and Museum currently stands on College Street in Florence, Alabama. His company, Handy Brothers Music in New York, continues today to be operated by his family members and celebrated its centennial during the year 2018.
The first festival was held in 1982.
Live bands performing at area restaurants, clubs, parks, churches, retail stores, and any other place that can house live music at Handy lunches, dinners, and late nights, or anytime in between. It also features events during which an appreciation of music is taught, such as ABC’s of Jazz, Blues, and Beyond and activities held in local libraries and museums. It highlights the rich musical heritage of the Shoals area.
Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Manhattan Transfer, Freddie Cole, Take 6, Roy Ayers, Ellis Marsalis, Harlem Blues & Jazz Band, Carrie Smith, Roberta Flack, Dr. Billy Taylor, Booker T. Jones, Diane Schuur, Bobby Blue Bland, Diane Reeves, (actor) John Amos, Clarence Carter, Candi Staton, Percy Sledge, Freddie Cole, Little Milton, Mac McAnally, The Blind Boys of Alabama, the Swampers, the Drive By Truckers, and more!
Many of the musical performers are Handy Festival favorites who have developed a following and who are requested to return year after year. Other performers who may be new to the Festival are invited to vie for an opportunity to be featured during the Handy Festival. Most of our partner restaurants and event coordinator book their own bands, and they always have final approval, so it is best to develop relationships with those actual decision makers. Sometimes Handy Festival organizers will hear news of a particularly popular band and – if there is an appropriate venue – that band is suggested by us to our partners. Most of our artists are local or regional, while others come from as far away as the Netherlands! All are very talented, well-respected, and truly appreciated artists.
The Handy Festival was originally designed to promote area businesses and improve local and regional economy. By placing bands in stores, restaurants, and other businesses, we hope to drive traffic into those venues, creating an opportunity for increased sales for those businesses. For example: if Festival attendees follow their favorite band into a store, it’s most likely they will purchase something while they’re there. And maybe they’ll come back and provide repeat business for that store or restaurant.
The Festival is presented by the Music Preservation Society, Inc. whose purpose is to preserve, promote, and present the musical heritage of the Shoals in Northwest Alabama. The W.C. Handy Steering Committee handles overall logistics, and oversees the Festival sub-committees that handle booking the performers, travel, housing, vendors, etc. See our contact ys page for a current list of board members, committee members, staff and authorized personnel.
The Handy Festival takes place during the summer months so that families with children can attend together and enjoy Festival events when children are not in school. There are many events designed specifically with children in mind, such as ABC’s of Blues, Jazz & Beyond; Kidz Jamm; GeoBlues; End of Summer Reading Program; Blues-N-Bread Pudding; Musical Jazz Spelling Bee; events at the Children’s Museum and libraries; and the Youth Conference. Since many of those who attend the Festival are not local, it would be difficult to find a time during fall, winter, or spring when children from different school systems are out of school at the same time. Dates are also chosen to respect other annual events such as the Film Festival in March, Arts Alive in May, Helen Keller Festival in June, Renaissance Faire in October, the Independence Day Celebration on the 4th of July, as well as the Trail of Tears, Bass Tournaments, Watermelon Festival, Rabbit Festival, and others. With our Festival is scheduled for the last full week in July, our overall goal is to provide something fun and contribute to the number of tourist attractions held in the Shoals all year long.
Anyone can contribute to the Handy Festival by becoming a general sponsor, which helps to provide funding to offset the costs of presenting the Handy Festival. Businesses, organizations, and individuals are also invited to sponsor or co-sponsor either existing Handy Events or organize their own event. Non profits often use the Festival as a vehicle to promote their philanthropies by hosting events. Individuals may also participate by becoming sponsors or “Friends of the Festival”. The Music Preservation Society Inc., which sponsors the W. C. Handy Music Festival every year, is a 501 c(3) non-Profit organization. We are heavily reliant on gifts, donations and grants to organize and present the Festival annually. As a Friend of the Festival you can help ensure that this event continues un-interrupted for years to come. Donate through Square by using the link below. All donations are 100% tax deductible. We are also always in need of volunteers. For more information, please contact us.
T he W.C. Handy Music Festival has been selected a Top Ten Event in Alabama by Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, a Top Twenty Event in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society since 1986, as one of fifty “Must-See” festivals in Alabama during the year of music, was a three-time Cultural Olympiad Event (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games), and was selected as the Event of the Year by Alabama Tourism. The Handy Festival is a featured Site on the National Geographic/Appalachian Regional Commission GeoTourism Map, and was selected as a ‘Local Secret! Big Find!’ by Travelocity.com. The Handy Festival has won numerous Addy awards for the Festival campaign (Shoals Advertising Federation) and has been listed in several national publications including USA Today, US News and World Report, Southern Living, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Going Places (Triple A’s Travel Magazine), and Garden & Gun. The Festival has also been touted as a boon to local economy by local Tourism and has been positively recognized by Shoals officials.
We are a non-profit organization, so your contributions are tax deductible. Checks can be made payable to the Music Preservation Society and mailed to P.O. Box 1827, Florence, AL 35630. Also, the Handy Festival Committee has commemorative items available for purchase. Items are available while supplies last and can be purchased during the Festival at the Kennedy-Douglass Arts Center Annex, 217 E. Tuscaloosa St., Florence. Also see the FAQ “How can one become involved in the Handy Festival” for making an online donation.