Cover Story: The best of the fests 2004

Top 25 music festivals in the Southeast

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Photo credit: CL Photo Archives

People move to the Southeast for all kinds of reasons, one of the most popular being the temperate climate. Sure, it may get a little steamy in the summer, but not enough to keep us indoors if there's something worthwhile going on outside. And, judging from the music festivals that take place across the region, there almost always is. With bluegrass jamborees in the mountains, beachfront symphonies on the coast and rock fests in the cities, there's no shortage of events within a day's drive of wherever you happen to be. Here's a list of 25 of the best music festivals the South has to offer, plus a list of other music events that take place every year across the region.


CITY STAGES The prototype for city music festivals throughout the Southeast, City Stages in Birmingham, Ala., celebrates its 16th year June 18-20. Streets are closed and multiple stages are erected throughout the city, where the top acts in a myriad of musical styles perform for three glorious days and nights. This year's lineup includes Ruben Studdard, Al Green, Keb Mo, Ralph Stanley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fuel, Live and Fountains of Wayne. www.citystages.org.

W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL Named for the man called "the father of the blues," this festival (July 25-31) celebrates the origins and advancements of two seminal American music forms: jazz and blues. Artists as diverse as Bobby Blue Bland, Dizzy Gillespie and the North Mississippi All-Stars have celebrated their heritage in clubs, restaurants, parks and other venues throughout Florence, the city where Handy was born in 1873. Ticket prices vary. www.wchandymusicfestival.org.


CITYLINK MUSIC FEST The Broward/Palm Beach alt-weekly CityLink sponsors this annual 12-hour festival. From 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. in late December, an unbelievable 75 or so bands (mostly unsigned locals) perform on 10 stages in Hollywood. Ticket prices vary with the venue. Check out www.citylinkmagazine.com when the weather starts to cool.

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY This 25-year-old Pinellas County tradition, which occurs Oct. 14-17, strives to balance its smooth jazz offerings with more adventurous and/or classic styles. Case in point: Herbie Hancock was headliner last year. Best of all, every night of this shindig — held at Clearwater's Coachman Park — is free. www.clearwaterjazz.com.

FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL Spearheaded largely by Orlando culture-and-nightlife tabloid Axis, the April 15-17 festival has quickly grown from a showcase event for unsigned artists to a three-day party featuring several national alternative, indie, modern-rock and DJ acts. This week, River City High, Less Than Jake and The Early November will join more than 150 yet-to-be-discovered artists for a networking free-for-all. Fourteen venues charge individual covers, or FMF offers an all-access wristband. For prices and schedules, go to www.floridamusicfestival.com.

SUWANNEE SPRINGFEST The largest jam-band festival in the state is held the last weekend of March. It leans heavily on bluegrass/newgrass styles, but rarely fails to fill out the bill with other eclectic fare. Medeski Martin & Wood and Charlie Hunter are past headliners, and George Clinton's P-Funk All-Stars are regulars. (There's also a fall version called MagnoliaFest that runs Oct. 21-24.) The show is held in the amphitheatre and surrounding areas of Live Oak's Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, between Gainesville and the Georgia state line. Tickets are $115 in advance, $130 at the gate. Sat.-Sun. only tickets are $105. (Multiday passes include camping.) Or pick up daily tickets at $30-$50 apiece. www.magmusic.com.

TROPICAL HEATWAVE WMNF-FM's (88.5) event only lasts one afternoon and evening (May 1), but the Tampa community-funded radio station's wildly eclectic playlists ensure that its six Ybor City stages are packed with quality talent from every genre. This year includes rising roots-punks Against Me! And hip jazzbos Sex Mob. Thirty artists appear in all. Tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door. www.tropicalheatwave.org.

VERIZON MUSIC FESTIVAL Now in its fourth year, the May 19-22 festival generally caters to older, semi-schooled fans of jazz, blues and jazzy, bluesy pop. It still provides an eclectic mix, however. This year features Missy Elliott, Jewel and k.d. lang, for starters. The festival doesn't take place at a single location, but rather at quality venues all over the Tampa Bay area. www22.verizon.com.


ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL Throughout May, the city's cultural calendar is devoted to the smooth sounds of sax, skittering drums and blaring trumpets beckoning from a variety of venues. After a steady buildup of shows throughout the month, the action culminates Memorial Day weekend in Piedmont Park with a slate of can't-miss shows. Performing May 27-31 are Arturo Sandoval, Yusef Lateef, Shirley Horn, Randy Weston & African Rhythms, Regina Carter and more. Most of the festival is free, but tickets for shows at Chastain Park and Spivey Hall must be purchased at the venue's box offices or websites. www.atlantafestivals.com.

BLIND WILLIE MCTELL BLUES FESTIVAL For the 11th year, the town of Thomson, Ga., celebrates the legacy of Blind Willie McTell, the influential blues guitarist and lyrical storyteller born here in 1901. Performing this year are Marcia Ball, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin and Jimmy Thackery. $15 in advance, $20 at the gate. www.blindwillie.com.

MUSIC MIDTOWN In its 11th year wreaking havoc on the traffic patterns of Midtown in Atlanta, this event holds court the first weekend of May (April 30, May 1-2) annually. This year's performances will feature local hip-hop heroes Big Boi of OutKast, Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz and Cee-Lo mingling with radio rockers the Strokes, Foo Fighters, Fountains of Wayne, the Offspring and Jessica Simpson. Three-day passes are $45, single day passes are $40 at Ticketmaster. www.musicmidtown.com.


W.C. HANDY BLUES AND BARBEQUE FESTIVAL Celebrating the great bluesman W.C. Handy, this festival spices up the town of Handerson each summer. This year, the event runs from June 12-20 and features a different flavor of blues each night. Performing this year are Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Stomp Band, Carl Weathersby and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Admission is free. www.handyblues.org.


NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL This event, April 23-May 2, is the kingpin of Southeastern shindigs, having earned a reputation over the last 35 years for both an astonishing array of quality music and an unequaled opportunity to party. In addition to marvelous artists (Bonnie Raitt, Lenny Kravitz, Branford Marsalis, Beausoleil, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Wyclef Jean are among the hundreds of performers this year), this NoLa fest traditionally stages once-in-a-lifetime one-off collaborations. $20 per day in advance, $25 at the gate. Special evening engagements cost extra. www.nojazzfest.com.

VOODOO MUSIC EXPERIENCE A relatively new festival in a city known for them, this event (Oct. 29-31) updates New Orleans' tradition of jazz fests with a contemporary roster of modern rock, pop and electronic/DJ artists. Last year's installment featured the White Stripes, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson and 50 Cent along with a host of others. Few details have been released thus far about the coming event (the sixth), but keep checking www.voodoomusicfest.com.


JUBILEE JAM Held in Jackson May 16-18, this is Mississippi's largest annual music and arts festival. In its 15th year, the event features a varied lineup and some big names. Bob Dylan headlines, along with Cassandra Wilson and nu-metal doofs Saliva. What's more, it's cheap. Two-day passes go for $30, while nightly ticket prices range from $15 to $25. www.jubileejam.com.


FLATROCK MUSIC FESTIVAL This event takes place high amid Appalachian vistas at Camp Ton-A-Wandah from April 23-25. Equal parts music show and camping trip, the eighth annual festival features acoustic-only musicians. This year's performers include Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Snake Oil Medicine Show and Larry Keel, among dozens of others. Tickets are $15-$70 (for a weekend pass). 828-692-2005. www.flatrockmusicfestival.com.

LAKE EDEN ARTS FESTIVAL For a real multicultural music show, the 18th annual Lake Eden event takes place at Black Mountain May 7-9. This year's lineup includes Los Amigos Invisible from Venezuela, Black Rebels from Senegal, and New Yorker (by way of Celtic fiddle) Eileen Ivers, among others. Tickets range from $18 day passes to $100 for weekend camping. 828-686-8742. www.theleaf.com.

MERLEFEST This four-day event (April 29-May 1) in Wilkesboro, N.C., is one of the premier venues nationwide for Americana music, drawing 78,000 participants last year. Vince Gill, the Indigo Girls, Doc Watson, Gillian Welch and Bela Fleck are a few of the 100-plus performers scheduled to play this year. Tickets range from $35 (single day) to $200 (four-day pass with assigned seating). Camping is available. 800-343-7857. www.merlefest.org.


SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA This 17-day extravaganza is one of the premier high arts music festivals in the United States. From May 28-June 13, this year's event features artists from around the world, including Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova, flutist Paula Robison and Canadian pianist Louis Lortie. Symphonies from Beethoven (7th) and Mahler (9th), opera from Richard Strauss and Bellini, chamber music, contemporary classical and jazz are among the highlights at venues all over scenic Charleston. 843-579-3100. www.spoletousa.org/.


BONNAROO MUSIC FESTIVAL Originally a hippies-only party, the 3-year-old festival has morphed into an annual Woodstock of sorts in Manchester, Tenn. The dates this year are June 11-13. Traditional jam-band deities the Dead and Trey Anastasio will share the same field with hipster rock royalty Wilco, Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. My Morning Jacket and Robert Randolph and the Family Band return this year. And Dave Matthews is bringing "friends" this year instead of his "band." $164.50 for three days (includes camping). www.bonnaroo.com.

BEALE STREET MUSIC FESTIVAL Set for April 30-May 2, this Memphis event is another jam-packed congregation of talent from all over the musical spectrum, ranging this year from Chaka Khan to Collective Soul, Three 6 Mafia to Journey. If the sheer number of tour busses isn't enough to render the street impassable, the throng of people definitely will. Before April 23, three-day passes are $45; after April 23, they're $58.50. $19.50 single-day passes in advance, $22.50 at the gate. www.memphisinmay.org.

CMA MUSIC FESTIVAL/FANFAIR Country music fans know where to go to get their fill: That's Nashville, for you regular rockers out there. From June 9-13, The Coliseum in Music City, U.S.A., will be packed with the best that country has to offer. Performers scheduled this year include Keith Urban, Wynona, Billy Ray Cyrus, Trace Adkins, Clint Black and Vince Gill. There will also be a host of lesser-knowns who probably sell more albums than most of the bands you listen to. Tickets are $145-$250, so make sure you like country before you take the plunge. www.cmafest.com.


ELLA FITZGERALD MUSIC FESTIVAL Now in its seventh year, this jazz spectacular takes place over three days (April 29-May 1) in the birthplace of its namesake, Newport News. This year's lineup includes bassist Dave Holland, tenor Michael Brecker and vocalist Peter Cincotti. Tickets are $35. 757-594-8752. www.cnu.edu/ella2004/.

HAYMAKER MUSICAL FESTIVAL Just a short hop from Richmond, the third annual event will take place May 7-8 on the historic, 250-acre Oakley Farm in Spotsylvania. This year's lineup features 26 bands, including Little Feat, Del McCoury, the Drive-By Truckers and Leftover Salmon. Tickets are $45 for a two-day pass. Camping is available. www.haymaker.net.

VERIZON WIRELESS AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL The 10th annual festival will take place Sept. 3-6 with over 40 bands rockin' the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Isaac Hayes, the Commodores, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Little River Band performed at last year's event. Watch for further information at www.vbfun.com.

The rest of the best ?ALABAMA

BayFest First weekend of October. Rock, country, gospel, roots, R&B, electronica. Downtown Mobile. $30 three-day pass (advance); $20 per day at gates. www.bayfest.com.

Big Spring Jam Sept. 26-28. Rock, pop, urban, folk, R&B, country. Big Spring Park, Huntsville. $30 three-day pass (advance), $35 three-day pass (at the gate), $20 per day. www.bigspringjam.org.

Blackwater Bluegrass Festival May 14-15. Bluegrass. Blackwater Park, Jasper. $30 two-day pass (advance), $35 two-day pass (at gate); single tickets, $16 advance, $20 at the gate. www.blackwaterbluegrass.com.

Jubilee CityFest Memorial Day weekend. Rock, country, urban. Downtown Montgomery. $32 weekend pass. www.jubileecityfest.org.

MOVA Arts Festival Sept. 17-19. Folk singer/songwriter. Lake Guntersville. mova.mountainvalleyartscouncil.org.

Odyssey Music Festival April 16-17. Jam, roots, funk. Camp Hill Open Air Music Park, Camp Hill. $63 (advance), $80 (at gate). www.odysseymusicfestival.com.


98Rock Presents LiveStock April 23-24. Modern rock, metal. Zephyrhills Festival Park, Zephyrhills. $39.98, $50 to camp (must have ticket). www.98rock.com.

Cajun-Zydeco Crawfish Festival May 7-9. Cajun/zydeco. Ft. Lauderdale Festival Site, Ft. Lauderdale. $15 daily, $20 at gate; $23 two-day pass, $30 at gate; $28 three-day pass, $40 at gate. www.ci.ftlaud.fl.us/festivals.

The Fest Mid-October. Punk, hardcore, rock. Various venues, Gainesville. Ticket prices vary. Festival pass, $20 (advance), $30 at registration. www.thefestfl.com.

Jacksonville Jazz Festival April 29-May 2. Jazz. Various venues, Jacksonville. $13.50 per night. www.coj.net.

Kissimmee Festival of Rhythm & Blues Last weekend of February. Blues, soul, R&B. Lakefront Park, Kissimmee. www.kissimmeeparksandrec.com.

Kissimmee Jazz Festival April 25. Jazz. Lakefront Park, Kissimmee. www.kissimmeeparksandrec.com.

Miami International Piano Festival Masters Series: March 11-14. Eclectic/piano. Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Ft. Lauderdale. $160 package, single tickets vary. Discovery Series: May 12-16. Eclectic/piano. Lincoln Theater, Miami Beach. $180 package, single tickets vary. www.miamipianofest.com.

Palm Beach Jazz Festival Early April. Jazz. Various venues, Palm Beach. Ticket prices vary. www.palmbeachjazzfest.com.

Pensacola JazzFest First weekend of April. Jazz. Seville Square, Pensacola. Free. www.jazzpensacola.com.

Riverhawk Music Festival Nov. 12-14. Jam, roots, folk. Sertoma Ranch, Dade City. Fri., $20; Sat., $25; Sun., $15. www.lindentertainment.com.

Sarasota Blues Festival Nov. 6. Blues. Sarasota Fairgrounds, Sarasota. www.sarasotabluesfest.com.

Sarasota Jazz Festival March 21-27. Swing-era jazz. Various venues, Sarasota. Ticket prices vary. www.jazzclubsarasota.com.

Sarasota Music Festival May 31-June 19. Student orchestra, classical. Various venues. Ticket prices vary. www.fwcs.org/sarasota.

Sound Advice Tampa Bay Blues Festival First weekend in April. Blues. Vinoy Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg. Three-day pass, $50; $20-$25 per day. www.tampabaybluesfest.com.

Springing the Blues Festival April 2-4. Blues. Florida's Oceanfront SeaWalk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach. Free. www.springingtheblues.com.

SunFest April 28-May 2. Rock, classic rock, pop, urban. Downtown West Palm Beach. Five-day passes, $35 (advance), $40 (at gate). One-day tickets, $14 per day (advance), $17 (at gate). www.sunfest.com.

Suwannee River Jam April 22-25. Country. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $75 four-day pass (includes tent camping), $100 at gate; $20 (Thurs.); $40 (Fri.-Sun.); $50 (Sat.). www.suwanneeriverjam.com.

Suwannee River Jubilee Spring Jubliee is June 16-19. Fall Jubilee is Sept. 29-Oct. 2. Gospel. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $10 nightly; three-night pass, $25. www.stewartvarnado.com/suwannee.html.

Suwannee River Rock 'N' Wheels April 2-3. Southern Rock. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $30. www.eventsbyhogan.com.


AthFest June 17-20. Indie rock. Downtown Athens. www.athfest.com.

Atlanta Dogwood Festival April 2-4. Blues, jazz, rock, Americana, acoustic. Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Free. www.dogwood.org.

Bear on the Square Festival April 17-18, Dahlonega. www.dahlonega.org.

Blue Ridge Harvest Fest Sept. 17-19. Jam band, bluegrass. Cherokee Farms, Lafayette, Ga. $75 for three-day pass, $90 after April 19. www.harvestfest.com.

Georgia Music Week Sept. 13-17. Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon. www.gamusichall.com.

National Black Arts Festival July 16-25. Jazz, world. Various venues in Atlanta. Ticket prices vary. www.nbaf.org.

Savannah Music Festival Jazz, classical, traditional and world music. March 21-April 4. Savannah. www.savannahmusicfestival.org.


Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival Sept. 14-18. Bluegrass/newgrass. Moorehead. $10-$85. www.poppymountainbluegrass.com.

Country Stampede June 3-6. Sparta. $45-$150. www.countrystampede.com.


Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival First weekend of May. Cajun/zydeco. Parc Hardy, Breaux Bridge. Three-day pass, $10; daily, $5. www.bbcrawfest.com.

French Quarter Festival April 16-18. Jazz, Dixieland, zydeco. French Quarter, New Orleans. Ticket prices vary. www.frenchquarterfestival.com.

International Arts Festival June 11-13. World beat, Caribbean. Marconi Meadows at City Park, New Orleans. Three-day pass, $85; two-day pass, $65; $35 per day. www.internationalartsfestival.com.

Mudbug Madness Memorial Day weekend. Cajun, zydeco. Festival Plaza, Shreveport. Per day, $3 for one, $5 for two. www.mudbugmadness.com.

Satchmo Summerfest Aug. 4-8. Jazz. Old U.S. Mint, French Quarter, New Orleans. Free. www.satchmosummerfestival.com.


Country Cajun Crawfish Festival April 15-19. Country, zydeco. Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, Biloxi. Free. www.mscoastcoliseum.com.

Highway 61 Blues Festival June 12. Blues. Downtown Leland. $12 per person, $15 at gate. www.highway61blues.com.

Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival Labor Day weekend. Blues. West Point Civic Center, West Point. www.wpnet.org/wolf_festival.htm.

Legends of Bluegrass & Country Music Festival March 11-13. Country, bluegrass. Columbia. Three-day pass, $60. www.bgfest.freeservers.com/columbia.html.

Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival Sept. 18. Roots, blues, folk blues. Hwy 1 South and Route 454, Greenville. www.deltablues.org.

Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Aug. 13-14. Blues, gospel. Railroad Depot, Clarksdale. Free. www.sunflowerfest.org.

Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival June 4-6. Blues, country/rock. Front and Main streets, Tupelo. Two-day pass, $20 (advance), $15 per day at gate. www.tupeloelvisfestival.com.


Bele Chere Festival July 23-25. Rock, country, bluegrass. Downtown Asheville. Billed as the largest free outdoor festival in the Southeast. www.belechere.com.

City Fest Live May 7-9. Rock, country, soul, hip-hop, blues. Downtown Charlotte. Three-day pass, $35-$50; single tickets, $25. www.cityfestlive.com.

The North Carolina Music Festival Oct. 2. Rock, country, bluegrass, blues, folk. Charlotte. Ticket prices vary. www.thenorthcarolinamusicfestival.com.

Piedmont Jazz & Blues Festival April 29-May 9. Jazz, blues. Greensboro. Headliners include W.C. Clark, Peter Cincotti, Dewey Redman and Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble, New York Voices. Ticket prices vary. www.piedmontjazzbluesfest.com.


Free-Times Music Crawl April 3. Local and regional rock, jam, soul. Six different venues. $5 per venue. www.free-times.com.

3 Rivers Festival April 16-18. Rock, hip-hop, soul, blues, country, bluegrass. Downtown Columbia. Three-day pass, $30; $25 per day. www.3riversmusicfestival.com.


Riverbend Festival June 11-19. Chattanooga. $24-$33. www.riverbendfestival.com.


Christopher Run Bluegrass Festival June 10-12. Bluegrass. $25-$65. www.christopherrunbluegrass.com.

Herndon Festival June 3-6. Jazz, rock, folk, blues. Ticket prices vary. www.town.herndon.va.us/festival.

Rites of Spring Festival April 22-24. Vanderbilt University, Nashville. www.ritesofspring.com.

-- Scott Harrell, John Schacht, Nikhil Swaminathan, Suzanne Van Atten, Tony Ware