Photo |   Chad Edwards / MCE Photography

The Piney Woods Picnic is a four-day celebration of American music with camping options to raise awareness of the Pascagoula River Basin.

Band: Piney Woods Picnic
Date: Sept. 13-16
Venue: Elks Lake Music Park, 53 Lomas Road (Hattiesburg),
Tickets: $10-$35 for day passes (VIP and camping options available), available through festival website. Free for children 12 and under.

The nation’s music festival season is slowly winding down, except along the Gulf Coast. The region’s subtropical climate gives festivalgoers a few more weekends to enjoy live music in a natural setting. Those looking for a festival experience close to Mobile should look no farther than the Piney Woods Picnic in Hattiesburg.

For the past five years, this weekend music festival/campout has used an impressive regional lineup, a family atmosphere and a philanthropic mission to pull enthusiastic crowds. Ultimately, the Piney Woods Picnic is built upon a two-pillar foundation of music and the environment.

Grayson Capps will be traveling from the Mobile Bay area to perform for the Piney Woods crowd. The festival grounds will also echo with the Big Easy guitar talents of Mike Doussan. Hill Country legend Kenny Brown will charm the audience with his hypnotic work on the fretboard. Iconic Mississippi singer-songwriter Cary Hudson (featuring Katrina) is also scheduled to perform.

The lineup also includes performances from South Jones, Young Valley, Eulogy (featuring Mark Mann), PineBelt Pickers, Cloud Wars, Mississippi Shakedown, The Icemen, Ben Steadman & the Easy Getdowns, Wild Frames, Scott Chism & the Better Half, Thomas Jackson Orchestra, Royal Horses, Midnight Revel, Sugarmouth, Soundwagon, Ponch Bueller & the Loaded Bake Potatoes, Little Detroit, Wes Lee, Joe Johnson, Gator Fight, Jay Stevens, Katie & Doc Paterson, Phil Graves, Pianoman Jack and The Carbon Brothers.

The Piney Woods Picnic is a dream realized, shared by co-founders Tom White and Cary Hudson. White brought Hudson his vision for a music festival and Hudson, coincidentally, was having the same vision. Hudson had even been in search of a festival venue. After discussing their ideas, the two began working together to bring the Piney Woods Picnic to life.

“I made my suggestions and we were both on the same page, with the branding and everything,” said White. “So, it was a perfect fit.”

As far as the musical aspect of the festival, White and Hudson felt the musical history of Hattiesburg and the surrounding area was “a story that hadn’t been told.” The two found their muse in the form of writer/musicologist Robert Palmer.

In “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll,” Palmer credited the Mississippi Jook Band’s activity around Hattiesburg during the early 20th century as the spark that kindled the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

Before adding to the Texas rock scene in Austin, Omar Dykes (Omar & the Howlers) called Hattiesburg home. Trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone blew his brassy sounds around the town before becoming a member of The Blues Brothers Band. Singer-songwriter Webb Wilder also wandered the streets of Hattiesburg before relocating to Nashville. White says the Piney Woods Picnic is a chance to show South Mississippi is still rich with music while paying tribute to its vast sonic legacy.

“We want to point out that story and what’s happened since then with our music in this area,” White explained. “All of it has a rock ‘n’ roll/Americana feel to it.”

In addition to paying homage to the region’s music, White says the Piney Woods Picnic is a chance to showcase a unique ecological feature in the area. He hopes the festival will bring more attention to the features and benefits of the Bouie and Leaf rivers, which flow into the Pascagoula River.

As a part of the Pascagoula River Basin, the Bouie and Leaf rivers are included in the largest unobstructed waterway in the continental United States. The Piney Woods Picnic hopes to keep it that way by generating funds for philanthropic environmental group The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s gotten to the point where everything has been dammed or altered by man except for the Pascagoula,” said White. “We support that. We love kayaking and canoeing the Leaf and Bouie and its tributaries. We wanted to raise awareness of that fact and keep them the way they are and the benefits they offer with eco-tourism and the environment.”

Maintaining this annual event has not always been easy. White says the main challenge is spreading the word about the festival, especially its environmental aspect. Putting the festival together also comes with the usual complications a major event brings. As the festival draws closer, White says, headaches and anxiety can be expected but he finds relief in the communal bond established with repeat visitors to the festival and their continued enjoyment of the event.

“It’s like a family reunion each year with music, and there’s kids’ activities and arts and crafts,” says White. “We talk about joining the Piney Woods Picnic Family. It’s a great music festival. It’s modeled after Willie Nelson’s Family Picnic and the Hill Country Picnic.”

Those familiar with the Piney Woods Picnic will note the festival’s growth. This year, this festival has added a second stage that will feature regional and national acts, giving the festival its biggest lineup yet. The Piney Woods Picnic also has created new ways to raise money for The Nature Conservancy, including the addition of a dunking booth.

As far as advice for newcomers, White suggests they arrive on Thursday night and get the full Piney Woods Picnic experience. For those who can’t make the Thursday night lineup, White encourages festivalgoers to arrive on Friday and camp out through Sunday, which will feature gospel music and a breakfast/brunch. With children under 12 admitted free, he also encourages festivalgoers to make this a family event.

By the end of the weekend, White hopes festivalgoers will understand what he anticipates with each installment of the Piney Woods Picnic.

“I’m looking forward to seeing folks that I only see once a year,” said White. “I’m looking forward to getting the word out about the river and letting them know what we’re trying to do. We want to keep it pristine with no development. Also, we want to encourage people to utilize it and have fun on it and kayak and canoe and check it out.”