Summer music festivals get a lot of love, and for good reason. For those of us in the South, though, fall fests bring a new level of awesome, dialing down the sweat in favor of earlier sunsets, crisp breezes, and, in some cases, a backdrop of colorful changing leaves. Yes, you’ll have to schedule some of these events around college game days and the occasional outdoor wedding. But from multi-day music marathons to a culinary-themed gathering to a bourbon-meets-music bash, these eight upcoming fests offer plenty of reasons to make room on your fall docket.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival
Held on the border of Tennessee and Virginia—often touted as the “birthplace of country music”—Bristol Rhythm & Roots boasts a whopping hundred-plus bands across thirteen stages, with a little something for roots music fans of all stripes. This year’s lineup includes a particularly exciting slate of Southern women, with headliners such as Tanya Tucker and Rosanne Cash alongside fast-rising stars like Sierra Ferrell, Miko Marks, Katie Pruitt, and S.G. Goodman. Keep an eye out for Chatham Rabbits, Arlo McKinley, and J.R. Miller, too. And feel free to bring the kids: Children twelve and under are admitted at no cost.
Billing itself as the “world’s biggest bourbon and music festival,” Bourbon & Beyond kicked off its inaugural event in 2017 with 50,000 attendees, and it’s easy to see the Kentucky fest’s allure. Catch sets from Yola, Marcus King, Madison Cunningham, and Jason Isbell while sampling bourbons from distilleries across the state—including an impressive selection of rare and vintage pours in the on-site Silver Dollar Hunter’s Club. While tent or RV camping is offered on festival grounds, there’s always the option to headquarter at one of the fest’s many hotel partners and spend some time exploring downtown Louisville’s booming bourbon scene.
You don’t have to bring a blanket or pitch a tent to enjoy a marathon of live Southern tunes. Just ask patrons of Americana Music Festival, the multi-day, multi-venue showcase and conference that has taken over downtown Nashville for more than twenty years. The marquee event is the mid-week Americana Music Awards at the Ryman on Wednesday, September 14. Nominees this year include Billy Strings, Allison Russell, Big Thief, the War & Treaty, and many more notables. But with Americanafest’s hundreds of live performances throughout the week, some of the most memorable moments each year are the ones you can’t predict.
Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
Founded by three lifelong friends, Pilgrimage is a family-friendly festival complete with children’s programming, an art barn, a food truck village, and cultural conversations. And then there’s the music, which includes a mix of Americana, jazz, indie rock, and country. Previous years’ headliners have included Willie Nelson, Lionel Richie, Justin Timberlake (an early partner and producer of the festival), and Mavis Staples. This year brings sets from Brandi Carlile, Jon Batiste, Brittney Spencer, Molly Tuttle, and Chris Stapleton, among many other favorites. On Saturday, show up early to revel in tunes from the Black Opry Revue, a Nashville-based collective that centers around shedding light on the many contributions of Black musicians to country music.
September 30–October 2
Wildwood Revival describes itself as more of an “adult summer camp” than a big-box music festival, and the description rings true. The fest takes places on a sprawling farm just outside of Athens, and it’s not uncommon to see artists mingling in the crowd with attendees, swigging from reusable cups (Wildwood is proudly plastic-free) and dancing to the sounds of jazz, Americana, gospel, and blues. Under picturesque string lights, enjoy tunes from top-billed artists like John Moreland, Jenny Lewis, and Drive-By Truckers as well as rip-roaring rising talents like Zach Person, JP Harris, and Elizabeth Cook. For more fun on the farm, shop for handmade crafts at the artisan market, pose for an 1800s tintype photograph, or join the early risers for yoga on the lawn.
North Charleston, South Carolina
If you missed Charleston’s High Water Festival in the spring, you can still enjoy a torrent of great music at North Charleston’s Riverfront Park come October. Curated by hometown hero Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, the inaugural Riverfront Revival will bring together a variety of country and “country-adjacent” bands for a weekend immersion along the banks of the Cooper River. Performers include Rucker himself, Brothers Osborne, Jimmie Allen, Maggie Rose, Charley Crockett, and more. Here’s your chance to be among the first to enjoy what may well become a new Holy City fall tradition.
October 7–9 and 14–16
Founded in 2002, this music fan rite of passage has officially been too big for one weekend since 2012, when the city unanimously voted to allow the beloved three-day gathering to expand into two separately ticketed events. That means you’ve got two chances to find time for a fall weekend in the Lone Star State with the Chicks, Billy Strings, Big Boi, Kacey Musgraves, and more top Southern acts. At a fest this big, it may even be worth shelling out for a premium or VIP ticket for perks including special viewing areas, air-conditioned lounge access, or a golf cart shuttle around the grounds.
Highlands, North Carolina
Sure, Highlands Food & Wine doesn’t mention music in the title. And yes, it is best known as a culinary event. But don’t overlook the musical offerings, which have evolved and grown in recent years. This November, those who head to the North Carolina mountains for food and drink from top chefs in the Southeast and beyond will also enjoy sets from Old Crow Medicine Show (with guest Molly Tuttle), Leeda “Lyric” Jones, Durand Jones & the Indications, and more inimitable Southern talents.