The settlement of San Agustín was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on September 8, 1565 and became the first permanently occupied European settlement in the New World. In the 450 years since, the city of St. Augustine has grown from around 1,500 colonists and soldiers into a city of more than 13,000 residents, has flown the flags of Spain, Britain and the United States and has seen its share of excitement and significant happenings. This time, however, there’s no need to man the cannons.
“We have lots to celebrate. We are celebrating the very site of the first America—the genesis of American culture,” says Dana Ste. Claire, director of the commemoration. “St. Augustine has played a critical role in the historical and cultural development of America. We want to put that on the world stage.”
On September 4-8, Celebrate 450!, a five-day event that honors the anniversary of the Oldest City’s founding, hits the streets (and shores) of St. Augustine. The Spanish celebrations continue September 18 as King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain are scheduled to visit the city as part of the U.S.-Spain Council. Below are some of the celebration’s not-to-be-missed events.
Friday, September 4
3-10 PM: A free music and street festival including historical and cultural performances will be held on multiple downtown stages with one on Hypolita Street, one on Aviles Street, the Colonial Quarter, the gazebo in the Plaza de la Constitución and a main stage on the bayfront at Ponce Circle.
3-7 PM: Each day of the festival, a KidZone will be set up in front of the Government House featuring face painting, history touch and archaeological dig boxes, beach chairs, giveaways and more.
Artists at the festival include:
• Mavis Staples, of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group The Staple Singers, performs on the main stage at 6:45 PM. She won a Grammy for her 2011 album You Are Not Alone. VH1 named her one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone listed her as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
• Grammy-winning singer Aaron Neville headlines the main stage at 8 PM. Neville has had four platinum albums and four Top 20 hits in the U.S., including three No. 1 songs on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and a 2015 Grammy Hall of Fame Recording inductee, “Tell It Like It Is,” which topped the R&B chart in 1967.
Saturday, September 5
11 AM-11 PM: The music and street festival continues. KidZone open until 7 PM.
Artists at the festival on Saturday include:
• Justin Townes Earle, the Nashville native singer-songwriter, will draw from his unique blend of Americana, folk, country, rockability and the blues featured on his seven albums, plays the main stage at 6:30 PM. Earle has two Americana Music Awards to his credit. The first he won in 2009 for New and Emerging Artist of the Year, and in 2011 his “Harlem River Blues” garnered the Song of the Year award. His most recent album, Absent Fathers, was released in January of this year.
• St. Augustine blues-funk band JJ Grey & Mofro takes its turn on the main stage at 7:45 PM, delivering its powerful combination of blues and soul, rock and funk. Well known on the music festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, Rothbury and Austin City Limits, the band is a regular favorite of St. Augustine’s own Rhythm & Ribs Festival.
• At 9:30 PM, 13-time Grammy winner and Billboard Century Award winner Emmylou Harris and Songwriters Hall of Famer (whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Norah Jones, Etta James and the Grateful Dead, among others) Rodney Crowell perform on the main stage. Harris has recorded more than 25 albums and has lent her talents to countless fellow artists’ recordings. In recognition of her remarkable career, Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
10:30 PM: A spectacular fireworks show over the Matanzas River.
Sunday, September 6
Noon-2 PM: The music and street festival concludes early and the party moves to the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
3 PM: Fiesta 450! begins at the Amphitheatre. Local performing arts organizations, historic re-enactors and more on the grounds. The Art Association will provide hands-on activities for families. Free.
6-7:30 PM: The VIP ticketed event will be held on the deck near the Amphitheatre stage. Ticket includes hors d’oeuvres, wine, preferred seating and parking. Attendees will be served by the 450th Youth Ambassadors. $100 per person.
7:30 PM: Ensemble Español will perform all styles of Spanish dance—Flamenco, classical Spanish dance, Estilizatión, folklore, 18th century dances, ballet and castanets. Tickets are $5 for students under 18, $19-$39 for adults.
Monday, September 7
2-3 PM: Official 450th Birthday Proclamation will be read and the 450th birthday cake will be cut by members of the Royal Family in the Gazebo in the Plaza de la Constitución; free birthday cake will be served from the Public Market.
Tuesday, September 8
9 AM: 450 years to the day of St. Augustine’s founding is an authentic, historical re-enactment of Pedro Menéndez’s landing at the Mission Nombre de Dios. Afterwards, a procession takes spectators to The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine for a Commemorative Mass.