City Guides

Best of the Spring Fests

As the days heat up, so does the music-festival circuit. These Southern gatherings bring a fresh crop of spring sounds

Photo: Courtesy of Beale Street Music Festival

Beale Street Music Festival.

When it comes to enjoying outdoor music, spring is the season—at least in the South. The scenery is in bloom, the sun isn’t scorching, and the mosquitoes are still (somewhat) at bay. Now in its forty-ninth year, the ten-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 27–May 6) might be the granddaddy of the South’s spring music fests, with twelve stages and hundreds of artists. But these days, there are more places than ever to catch some of the South’s best acts before the heat waves roll in. From a blues blowout in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to waterside banjo picking on the Potomac, here are seven more standout spots to spread your blanket this spring.

Juke Joint Festival
Clarksdale, Mississippi
April 14

Nobody rolls together food, music, history, and community quite like the folks in the Delta. Between digging in to fried catfish and browsing for art in Clarksdale, catch one of the hundred blues acts scattered across thirteen daytime stages, carrying over to venerated clubs at night.

Wilkesboro, North Carolina
April 26–29

Founded by the late, great Doc Watson in memory of his son, Eddy Merle Watson, this Blue Ridge gathering showcases the best of “traditional plus” music, which Watson defined as Appalachian music—plus whatever else he felt like adding. This year, Rhiannon Giddens and Robert Earl Keen lend their stellar voices to the mix.

Photo: Mickey Leapley, Courtesy of Merlefest

A crowd relaxes on the hillside for a set at Merlefest 2017.

Shorty Fest
New Orleans, Louisiana
May 3

Trombone Shorty books gigs all over the world, but he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Each year during Jazz Fest, his foundation throws a benefit concert to support area musicians and music education. This year, Tank and the Bangas, the Soul Rebels, and others join Shorty onstage.

Shaky Knees Festival
Atlanta, Georgia
May 4-6

Set in Central Park—no, not that Central Park, but the shady greenspace in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward—Shaky Knees has already become pretty much an institution since it began five years ago. This year, Nashville-based Jack White anchors the lineup, and appearances from the likes of Waxahatchee, Nathaniel Rateliff, and the Wild Reeds round out the weekend of top-notch tunes.

Photo: Courtesy of aLIVE Coverage

An evening set at Shaky Knees 2017.

Beale Street Music Festival
Memphis, Tennessee
May 4-6

A weekend at Beale Street Music Festival—now entering its forty-second year—is nothing if not eclectic. Visitors can rap along to Ludacris, jam to Gov’t Mule, and groove to Valerie June. But year over year, blues is the constant—look out for artists like R.L. Boyce, Delbert McClinton, and Robert Randolph to get the full BSMF experience.

Trondossa Music & Arts Festival
Charleston, South Carolina
May 5-6

This first-year fest revolves around Georgia favorites Widespread Panic, who, along with Sturgill Simpson, perform both nights at this waterfront gathering in Charleston. Come early for sets each day by Margo Price, Moon Taxi, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Big Something.

Cumberland, Maryland
May 24–27

Nestled on the Potomac River, DelFest honors the Del McCoury Band’s string-heavy legacy. Hear the festival’s namesake playing alongside Ricky Skaggs and Old Crow Medicine Show as well as a onetime collaboration of elite pickers dubbed the Bluegrass Congress.

Photo: Courtesy of DelFest

Del McCoury plays a set at his namesake festival.