Rock On: The 5 Best Southeast Music Festivals
Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival. Tom Tomkinson
A sure sign of spring and summer in the southeast U.S. are masses of music lovers in sandals and sunscreen staking out their territory on festival grounds. These long weekends—under a blazing sun or in relentless rain, hours spent in long lines for food and port-a-potties—are as exhausting as they are exhilarating. Most concert venues open the grounds up to camping and RVs, adding another element to the convivial atmosphere of round-the-clock partying in the great outdoors.
So grab your towels, cut-0ffs, and flasks: Here’s a look at what’s in store (and on stage) for five of the best music festivals you can still make it to in the Southeast this summer.
BONNAROO – MANCHESTER, TN
Bonnaroo Music Festival – AC Entertainment Adam Macchia
It’s no wonder that more than 90,000 people stream in to soak up the heat and tunes all day and well into the night for the four-day duration of the festival in early June. Since the first Bonnaroo in 2002, the massive music festival has brought many of the world’s biggest names in music (Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Mumford and Sons, and The Flaming Lips, just to name a few) and comedy ( Mike Birbiglia and Flight of the Conchords ) to the 700-acre Great Stage Park, also known as The Farm, in Manchester, TN.
In 2015, Bonaroo featured Kendrick Lamar, three-time guest Robert Plant, Tears for Fears, Kacey Musgraves, Gary Clark Jr., Sylvan Esso, Spoon, and Alabama Shakes. And in the cinema tent, drummer Antonio Sánchez played live his jazzy original score to Birdman while the Academy Award-winning film was screened.
The lineup for 2016 was especially solid, including the likes of Pearl Jam, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Ellie Goulding, Death Cab For Cutie, Lucius, and Ween.
CMA MUSIC FESTIVAL – NASHVILLE, TN
If country music is in your blood, then the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, TN on June 9-12 is not to be missed. Hosted by the Country Music Association, this three-day festival is one of the biggest celebrations of country music you’ll find this summer with more than 150 acts on five stages. Sing along with beloved stars and find new favorites as many bands make their debuts under the Nashville sun.
The lineup boasts a variety of singers including Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Keith Urban. If you want bands instead then check out the likes of the Charlie Daniels Band, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, and Rascal Flats to name just a few.
The festival started in 1972 with 5,000 fans in attendance. It has since grown to include sell-out crowds of 80,000 people each day and has won a place on prime-time TV with its three-hour special, CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock. The festival benefits music education.
FORECASTLE FESTIVAL – LOUISVILLE, KY
Just as old as Bonnaroo and attracting some 75,000 music fans, the Forecastle Festival, held in Louisville’s Waterfront Park in mid-July, is steeped in genres from rock to hip-hop, bluegrass to electronica. The likes of Jack White, Sam Smith, Outkast, Sleater-Kinney, Wilco, and Nico Case have played Forecastle. Slated to appear in 2016 were The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Femi Kuti, and Ben Harper.
But the beloved festival also revels in sustainable art and environmental recreational activism. A unique feature of Forecastle is to serve up samples of craft Kentucky bourbon to festival-goers: a perfect excuse to make a toast to the distillers and musicians sharing their art with the fans.
SLOSS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL – BIRMINGHAM, AL
The inaugural two-day Sloss Fest took place on three stages at Sloss Furnaces, a National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, in July 2015. Despite long lines for beverages and food, the first-year festival drew plenty of enthusiastic kudos.
Modest Mouse, Primus, Cage the Elephant, and Band of Horses all played the first year. For the festival’s sophomore showing, set for mid-July 2016, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, The Joy Formidable, The Flaming Lips, and Grouplove were among the 30-some acts booked. In addition, award-winning, Virginia-base craft brewery Starr Hill and the Piggly Wiggly Craftly Beer Garden (a worthy reason to raise a glass to one of the most beloved and longstanding brands in the South, if we’ve ever heard one) will both be on site serving thirsty festival-goers.
FLOYDFEST – FLOYD, VA
Floydfest. Daniel Lin
Not to be confused with the band Pink Floyd, the FloydFest world music and arts festival is a five-day event in Floyd, Virginia that runs from July 27 – 31. From humble roots in 2002, the festival has grown into one of the marquee summertime happenings. Each year has a theme that reflects the collection of musicians and styles that will be performing. 2016’s is Dreamweavin’ and it is a fitting description of the threads of rock, reggae, bluegrass, and other genres taking the stage. The Gregg Allman Band is the headlining act and there are plenty of other solid performers in the mix: Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, Leftover Salmon, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Railroad Earth, Keller Williams, and Shakey Graves are some of most accomplished. There are more than 50 bands performing over the course of FloydFest.
Beyond the music, FloydFest’s peace, love, and good-times spirit extends to yoga sessions, meditations, several workshops, expert panel discussions, and healing arts. The combination of foot stomping tunes and chilled-out ambiance make this one of the best places to lose yourself in the music.
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