Your Guide to Summer Music Fests

Nine Southern festivals well worth adding to the calendar

Photo: The Darnell Boys at Wildwood Revival outside Athens, Georgia. By Kristin Karch

Summer’s lazy days and warm nights bring one more reason to break out the picnic blankets: music festival season. And while everyone knows the South’s power players—last weekend’s Bonnaroo, for example, in Manchester, Tennessee—several upcoming fests have been steadily climbing the ranks, delivering stellar lineups in a range of Southern settings. Whether it’s a backyard get-together in Alabama, a waterfront affair in downtown Louisville, or a sprawling Tennessee farm party, these gatherings, through Labor Day and beyond, offer all the reason you need for a weekend road trip.

June 21–24
Owensboro, Kentucky

Hosted by the International Bluegrass Music Museum, this four-day festival celebrates pioneers of bluegrass and country (Peter Rowan, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) alongside contemporary folk and Americana standouts (Rhiannon Giddens, Kelsey Waldon). ROMP Fest attendees are also encouraged to join in. Bring your own instruments to take part in artist-led workshops—or any of the impromptu jams between sets.

Don’t Miss: Kelsey Waldon, Punch Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Photo: Bryan Leazenby

From left: Gabe Witcher and Chris Thile of Punch Brothers perform at Romp Fest.

North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic
June 23–24
Waterford, Mississippi

This no-frills, campground festival has been an annual fixture since 2006, immersing attendees in a rollicking celebration of North Mississippi’s Hill Country blues tradition, which has given birth to such greats as Mississippi Fred McDowell, R. L. Burnside, and Otha Turner. Descendants of area legends grace the lineup each year.

Don’t Miss: Kenny Brown Band, Duwayne Burnside Band

Courtesy of North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic

Sloss Music & Arts Festival
July 15–16
Birmingham, Alabama

Held on the grounds of the nineteenth-century Sloss Furnaces in downtown Birmingham, the three-year-old Sloss Fest plays up the former foundry’s past (check out the iron-pouring demonstrations) while its schedule highlights the city’s blossoming present. Headliners Alabama Shakes and hometown acts such as Holy Youth and Riverbend keep area talent in the spotlight, while on-site bites from local restaurants ensure that the city’s burgeoning food scene gets its due, too.

Don’t Miss: Alabama Shakes, Sturgill Simpson, Ruston Kelly, Hiss Golden Messenger, John Moreland

Photo: Sully Sullivan

Birmingham natives St. Paul & the Broken Bones perform at the inaugural Sloss Festival in 2015.

Forecastle Festival
July 14–16
Louisville, Kentucky

Waterfront views, a bourbon tasting lounge, and Grammy-winning headliners are reason enough to grab a ticket. But repeat attendees know not to overlook the afternoon sets, which have featured artists such as Chris Stapleton, the Lone Bellow, and Parker Millsap just as their careers were heating up. This year, arrive early and get up close for fast-rising acts including Joseph, Lucy Dacus, and Aaron Lee Tasjan.

Don’t Miss: LCD Soundsystem, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats, Adia Victoria, Judah & the Lion

Willie MacLean

Wildwood Revival
August 18–20
Athens, Georgia

Thanks to a small but mighty lineup and an impressive alcove of local art, craft beer, and food trucks, Wildwood Revival feels like a friendly neighborhood gathering. Wildwood is held on Cloverleaf Farm, an antebellum estate just outside of Athens, and at an event this intimate, your favorite new discovery on the stage just might back you up during Friday night’s live band karaoke or join the team for Sunday’s annual Wiffle ball game.

Don’t Miss: Shakey Graves, JD McPherson, The Wild Reeds, The Cactus Blossoms

Photo: Paige French

From left: David Rawlings and Gillian Welch perform at Wildwood Revival in 2016.

Lockn’ Festival
August 24–27
Arrington, Virginia

With so many artists in the same place at once, festivals are always liable to feature a few onstage collaborations. But at Virginia’s Lockn’, they’re the norm. Jam band legends such as Bob Weir and Phil Lesh pop up all over the schedule, performing with the likes of moe. and the Avett Brothers, while other returning headliners from year to year make the weekend feel like one enormous family reunion.

Don’t Miss: Avett Brothers, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Jim James

Joshua Timmermans

Hopscotch Festival
September 7­–10
Raleigh, North Carolina

Easily one of the South’s most eclectic music lineups, the Hopscotch roster brings together Americana, hip-hop, electronica, rock, and more. But the festival’s real headliner might be its hometown. Sets are scattered across twelve Raleigh venues, from Red Hat Amphitheater to Memorial Auditorium, so you can explore the city in between the hip-hop poetry of Run the Jewels and the electric twang of North Carolina’s own Mount Moriah.
Don’t Miss: Solange, Margo Price, Big Boi, Hurray for the Riff Raff

By Garrett Poulos Productions, Courtesy of visitRaleigh

Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
September 23–24
Franklin, Tennessee

Pilgrimage’s reach has grown exponentially since its debut in 2015, and if this year’s heavyweight lineup—including festival co-producer and Tennessee native Justin Timberlake—is any indication, it’s only getting bigger. But its setting on a farm minutes from the small-town charm of downtown Franklin lends a laid-back atmosphere, accentuated by white picket fences and rolling hills that form a natural amphitheater. There’s a range of activities beyond the music, too, including a barn showcasing Southern art and—since this is football season—a lively sports viewing tent.

Don’t Miss: Justin Timberlake, Mavis Staples, Gary Clark Jr., Ryan Adams, Trombone Shorty, Valerie June, Muddy Magnolias, Banditos

Jason Myers

Old 280 Boogie
September 23
Waverly, Alabama

Part music festival, part yard-party, this BYOB event draws fans twice a year to tiny Waverly. Also called the Waverly Boogie, its spring installment has been going strong for seventeen years, and organizer Scott Peek added the Fall Boogie in 2012. Music runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with as many as six bands. And though its proximity to Auburn makes hotels a scarcity (at least on football weekends), the Boogie is less than a two-hour drive from Atlanta and Birmingham, making it an ideal day-trip.

Don’t Miss: The lineup is yet to be announced, but the Boogie has built a strong track record, with previous performers including Jason Isbell and Alabama Shakes before they began selling out far bigger venues.

Photo: High 5 Productions

Revel in Dimes performs at the Spring 2017 installment of the Boogie.