Celebrate Spring with Seven Travel-Worthy Southern Music Festivals

Welcome the season with sets from Black Pumas, Molly Tuttle, Jon Batiste, and more in some of the South’s most popular destinations

An aerial shot of High Water Music Festival located at Charleston's Riverfront Park.

Photo: Grant Hodgeon

Boaters enjoy the High Water Music Festival.

There’s no season like spring in the South. Once we finally really put the frost behind us, it’s time to plant our summer vegetables, break out the refreshing cocktails, and of course, move as many activities outside as we possibly can. Music festivals, which tend to get all the attention during the sweltering summer, are perfect pastimes for these temperate days—and boy, are there plenty to choose from. Whether you want to dance in the New Orleans streets with the Rolling Stones or jam in the mountains with American Aquarium, consider these seven Southern fests for your own spring lineup.

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High Water Festival

April 20–21, North Charleston, South Carolina

photo: Nathan Zucker

The band Shovels & Rope plays host every year to this Lowcountry affair, a two-day stunner held on the water at Riverfront Park. This year’s headliners are Noah Kahan and Hozier, but as always, the smartest music fans will arrive early for can’t-miss sets from Leyla McCalla, the Linda Lindas, the Dip, and Houndmouth. Come hungry too: The food truck and culinary lineup is always top-notch.


April 25–58, Wilkesboro, North Carolina

photo: Monty Combs
Wayne Henderson performs at MerleFest.

Merlefest welcomes just about everyone, from little kids scoping their first shows from atop dad’s shoulders to bluegrass vets picking in the parking lot for what feels like their millionth fest. That’s kind of the beauty of it: Founded by Doc Watson in memory of his son, Eddy Merle, this “traditional plus” music event has always felt like a family affair. Collaborations are commonplace, and artists return year after year. This year, catch folks like Molly Tuttle, Turnpike Troubadours, the Sensational Barnes Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show. 

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

April 25–May 5, New Orleans, Louisiana

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Since 1970, Jazz Fest has lured legendary musicians and discerning fans to New Orleans each spring for what is now an eleven-day marathon of music, crafts, food, and culture. This year’s lineup lives up to the fest’s sky-high standard, with the Rolling Stones, Chris Stapleton, Neil Young, and Jon Batiste, plus appearances from trailblazers like Rhiannon Giddens and hometown heroes like Kermit Ruffins. Make a trip of it: It’s a festival any music-loving Southerner should add to their bucket list—and a city with plenty of bucket-list meals to match.

Shaky Knees Music Festival

May 3–5, Atlanta, Georgia

photo: Roger Ho

This Georgia-bred party boasts an impressive throng of die-hard fans—or it sure seems that way based on the number of Shaky Knees tattoos you’ll see around town. For the first six years after the fest’s inaugural 2013 event, patrons who registered their Shaky Knees tattoo were guaranteed free weekend admission for life, and looking at the way the event and its eclectic lineups have only strengthened over time, it’s not a bad tradeoff. This year will boast sets from Foo Fighters, Waxahatchee, the Revivalists, and more across three days of programming at Atlanta’s Central Park. 

Bear Shadow 

May 11–12, Highlands, North Carolina

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The Western North Carolina mountains are basically heaven, especially as the rest of the South heats up. Bear Shadow—a relative newcomer to the festival scene—capitalizes on the cool weather and beautiful scenery of Highlands with music to match. Catch Black Pumas, Futurebirds, Grace Bowers, and more at this year’s must-visit event. You’ll be dancing for a good cause: The festival donates a portion of its proceeds to various organizations dedicated to environmental conservation and preservation around the Highlands Plateau. 

Hangout Music Festival

May 17–19, Gulf Shores, Alabama

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This oceanfront rager is as much a beach vacation as it is a music marathon—just the combination to ease your way into summer, if you ask us. Since its inception in 2010, Hangout Fest has established itself as a stalwart on the Southern festival scene with its eclectic lineups and laid-back vibes. This year, we’re especially excited about headliner Zach Bryan and rising country star Jaime Wyatt.

Railbird Music Festival

June 1–2, Lexington, Kentucky

photo: Cora Wagoner
The Limestone stage at the Railbird Music Festival.

This June fest squeezes into the spring lineup just before the season officially ends—and it’s a doozy. Held in Lexington at the Infield at Red Mile, it blends music with two other incredible Kentucky traditions—horses and bourbon—for a weekend at the racetrack you’ll never forget. This year, catch performances from Marcus King, Brittney Spencer, Wynonna Judd, Dwight Yoakam, Allison Russell, and many other G&G favorites. In between sets, sample a few pours from the Bluegrass State’s top distilleries.