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Cover Story: The Best of the Fests 2005

The top music festivals in the Southeast

Cover 22883
Photo credit: CL Photo Archives

It's undeniable. The Southeast has some pretty rockin', jazzin', bluegrassin', funkin', country-in', R&B-in', dancin' and blues-in' festivals. There's no shortage of great events that are probably within a day's road trip. Here's look at some of the best.

ALABAMA

CITY STAGES Occurring the third weekend in June, City Stages heats up the streets of Birmingham. Marking its 17th year, the festival offers a lineup of 100 acts on nine stages including Aretha Franklin, Loretta Lynn, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Alejandro Escovedo. Weekend passes for the three-day event range from $30 for early birds to $40 if you wait until June. www.citystages.org.

W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL Named in tribute to "the Father of the Blues," this festival is held annually in the Shoals area of Florence. The weeklong event (July 24-30) celebrates the evolution of jazz and blues. Ticket prices vary. www.wchandymusicfestival.org.

FLORIDA

CITYLINK MUSIC FEST A late-December event held annually in Hollywood, this is an intense 12-hour festival featuring mostly local unsigned artists. The 75-plus acts perform on 10 stages from 3 p.m.-3 a.m. Ticket prices vary with the venue. Check out www.citylinkmagazine.com when the weather starts to cool.

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY A 26-year-old musical tradition filled with four days and four nights of live jazz, this event is held on the waterfront of Coachman Park in Clearwater. The regional jazz event features many of today's most popular jazz artists. And the too-good-but-it's-true factor: Attendance is free! www.clearwaterjazz.com.

FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL Spearheaded largely by the Orlando culture-and-nightlife tabloid Axis, the May 18-24 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. The event gathers 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.

LANGERADO MUSIC FESTIVAL While a young festival, it is already being compared to some of the country's biggest. The tropical weather of South Florida makes the early March spectacle a late winter treat. Offering more than 25 bands on three stages, the event has featured such acts as the String Cheese Incident, Medeski Martin & Wood, Keller Williams, Toots and the Maytels and De La Soul. Two-day passes are generally less than $100. www.langerado.com.

SUWANNEE SPRINGFEST Held the last weekend of March, Springfest (there's also a fall version called MagnoliaFest) offers a grand slate of bluegrass/newgrass artists. The lineup has included the Béla Fleck Acoustic Trio, the Waybacks, and the Biscuit Burners. Rain or shine, the bands jam and keep on jamming in the amphitheater and surrounding areas of Live Oak's Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, between Gainesville and the Georgia state line. For more info, www.magmusic.com.

TROPICAL HEATWAVE The 24th annual festival, sponsored by WMNF-FM (88.5), offers an eclectic selection of bands ranging from Alejandro Escovedo, Reckless Kelly and Heritage O.P. This year's theme is "It's the End of the World as We Know It ... Let's Party!" It's a one-day-only affair (May 14) held in and around the Cuban Club in Ybor City. Tickets are $30 (advance), $35 (at gate). www.tropicalheatwave.org.

VERIZON MUSIC FESTIVAL Now in its fifth year, the event, held the fourth or fifth week in May, generally caters to an array of pop, jazz, blues and even hip-hop fans. Past artists have included Jewel, India Arie, Victor Manuelle, Better than Ezra, Evanescence, k.d. lang and Missy Elliott. Shows are held in high-profile venues around the Tampa Bay area. www.verizon.com.

WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE The five-day event redefines winter, as it is held in Miami usually beginning on the first or second Friday in March. Thousands of dance music professionals, fans and veterans representing more than 60 countries swoon to this haven for DJ/IDM/electronica networking. The conference offers seminars, workshops and panel discussions with live performances. Past headliners have included the Chemical Brothers, Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, Richie Hawtin and Sasha. Prices vary for each individual WMC event, but latecomers can expect to pay $400 for all-access registration. www.wmcon.com.

GEORGIA

THE ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL Throughout May, this event takes over the city, summoning eclectic jazz lovers to an array of venues around town. The city-sponsored festival showcases a plethora of jazz artists and with an outdoor concert series held Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30) in Piedmont Park. Most of the festival is free, but tickets for shows at Chastain Park and Spivey Hall must be purchased at the venues' box office or website. www.atlantafestivals.com.

BLIND WILLIE MCTELL BLUES FESTIVAL For the 12th year, on May 20-21, the town of Thomson celebrates the legacy of Blind Willie McTell, the great blue guitarist born there in 1901. This year, the Southern recipe of roadhouse boogie and blues will offer up Marcia Ball, John Hammond Trio, Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Marie Muldaur. $25 (advance), $35 (at gate). www.blindwillie.com.

MUSIC MIDTOWN This 12-year-old shindig, held in the heart of Midtown, had changed its dates (June 10-12) and revved up its lineup. Scheduled this year are the White Stripes, Interpol, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Pixies, Ciara, Bloc Party, Alan Jackson, the Killers, Lou Reed, Keith Urban and Keane, among others. Three-day passes are $75 at Ticketmaster. www.musicmidtown.com.

KENTUCKY

W.C. HANDY BLUES AND BARBECUE FESTIVAL Celebrating the great bluesman W.C. Handy, this festival offers bibs, barbecue and blues. The town of Henderson will host this colossal blues cookout from June 11-19, with a menu that will feature bands like Delta Moon, the Holmes Brothers, Little Milton and Nora Jean Bruso. Admission is free. www.handyblues.org.

LOUISIANA

NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL This event, April 22-May 1, has earned a reputation over the last 36 years for offering an astonishing array of quality music and an unequaled opportunity to party. This year's performers include Dorothy Norwood, Nelly, B.B. King, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Better Than Ezra and Anthony Hamilton. $25 (advance), $30 (at gate). Special evening engagements cost extra. www.nojazzfest.com.

VOODOO MUSIC EXPERIENCE The seventh annual event, held in New Orleans' City Park from Oct. 22-23, brings something new to the city's jazz-dominated music festival scene. Last year's festival featured Green Day, Talib Kweli, De La Soul and Pleasure Club. www.voodoomusicfest.com.

MISSISSIPPI

JUBILEE JAM The annual two-day event is served warm in the sunny month of June. Held in Jackson, the Jam hosts a slew of musical talent, from honky-tonkers to soulful bellowers. Two-day passes go for $30, while nightly ticket prices range from $15 to $25. www.jubileejam.com.

NORTH CAROLINA

FLAT ROCK MUSIC FESTIVAL Mainly an acoustic showcase, the festival celebrates sincere singer/songwriters and bluegrass pickers. Scenic Flat Rock serves as the backdrop for this event, which takes place in four venues. Past performers of this musical affair include the Del McCoury Band, Filthy Rich, Cast Iron Filter and many others. Tickets are $15-$70 (for a weekend pass). www.flatrockmusicfestival.com.

LAKE EDEN ARTS FESTIVAL Relatively new, this event is held for three days on four stages at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain. It takes place twice a year - May 13-15 and Oct. 14-16 - and the lineup is wildly multicultural as it presents music from more than five different cultures and genres. This year's performers include Donald Harrison Jr., Samputu & Ingeli Troupe of Rwanda, and Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Tickets range from $18 day passes to $132 for weekend camping. www.theleaf.com.

MERLEFEST The Wilkes County Community College hosts the four-day Americana music festival from April 28-May 1. The 18th annual event celebrates the music of the late Merle Watson and his father Doc Watson. This knee-slapping and foot-tappin' affair offers a showcase for bluegrass acts. Featured performers include Donna the Buffalo, the John Jorgenson Quintet, King Wilkie and the Avett Brothers. Tickets range from $35 (single day) to $200 (four-day pass with assigned seating). Camping is available. www.merlefest.org.

SOUTH CAROLINA

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA This festival for the artsy at heart takes place in the classic city of Charleston. The 17-day event (May 27-June 12) is filled with opera, dance and theater productions. Expect symphonies, jazz and chamber music shared by artists from around the world. Event prices range from $10-$125. Ticket packages available. www.spoletousa.org.

TENNESSEE

BONNAROO MUSIC FESTIVAL This Woodstock flashback, now 4-years-old, is a self-proclaimed "entertainment experience featuring DJs, rock and jam bands for three intense days (June 10-12) in Manchester, Tenn. Performing this year are Kings of Leon, RJD2, DJ Krush, the Allman Bothers and the Dave Matthews Band. The high quality musical selection yields high-end prices. The only tickets left are $172.50 - the cheaper tickets are already sold out for this year. All tickets are three-day passes and include camping. www.bonnaroo.com.

BEALE STREET MUSIC FESTIVAL Overlooking the Mississippi River, this Memphis staple is held for three days (April 29-May 1) on three stages. Thirty-three-acres house this super party/concert, so it is no wonder music lovers from around the world flock to it. This year's performers include Jack Johnson, the Wallflowers, Seether, Mavis Staples, Sarah McLachlan, Billy Idol and the Roots. Three-day passes are $45 before April 29, and $58.50 afterward. $19.50 single-day passes (advance), $22.50 (at gate). www.memphisinmay.org.

CMA MUSIC FESTIVAL/FANFAIR For country music lovers only! This extravaganza takes over Music City U.S.A. from June 9-12. Presented by the country music association, this event allows fans to see their favorite acts perform and then get up close and personal during extended autograph sessions. Tickets range from $86-$145 for this 70-hour, nonstop concert. www.cmafest.com.

VIRGINIA

ELLA FITZGERALD MUSIC FESTIVAL Named in honor of one of the city's most famous daughters, Ella Fitzgerald, the festival showcases the brightest stars of jazz. The April 7-9 event has a new home at the Ferguson Center at Christopher Newport University. Three-day passes go for $100, and individual tickets for $45. www.cnu.edu/fergusoncenter.

HAYMAKER MUSICAL FESTIVAL For fusion funk, electro-rock and reggae vibrations all at the same time, the spot to be is the 250-acre Oakley Farm in Spotsylvania. For two days (May 20-21), the farm provides fans with music from the likes of Keller Williams, the Wailers, Drive-By Truckers, Robert Earl Keen and Victor Wooten Band. Two-day passes are $75 dollars in advance. Camping is available. www.haymaker.net.

VERIZON WIRELESS AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL The 10th annual festival takes place Sept. 3-6, with more than 40 bands rockin' the Virginia Beach oceanfront. For further information, see www.vbfun.com.

The rest of the best

ALABAMA

BayFest. October 7-9. Rock, country, gospel, roots, R&B, electronica. Bienville Square in downtown Mobile. $30 three-day pass (advance), $20 per day (at gate). 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 gate); $20 per day. www.bigspringjam.org.

Blackwater Bluegrass Festival. May 13-14. Bluegrass. Blackwater Park, Jasper. $30 two-day pass (advance), $35 two-day pass (at gate); single tickets, $16 (advance), $20 (at gate). www.blackwaterbluegrass.com.

Jubilee CityFest. Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29). Rock, country, urban. Downtown Montgomery. $32 weekend pass. www.jubileecityfest.org.

MOVA Arts Festival. Sept. 16-18. Folk singer/songwriters. 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.

FLORIDA

Quiet Waters Park Cajun & Zydeco Festival. May 13-15. Cajun, zydeco and blues. Quiet Waters Park, Ft. Lauderdale. $15 daily, $20 (at gate); $23 two-day pass, $30 (at gate); $28 three-day pass, $40 (at gate). www.floridastuff.com/events/ft-laud-crawfish.html

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 7-10. Jazz. Various venues, Jacksonville. Free. www.coj.net/Departments/Neighborhoods/Special+Events/Jazz+Festival/Default.htm.

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

Kissimmee Jazz Festival. April 24. Jazz. Lakefront Park, Kissimmee. 407-846-0699

Miami International Piano Festival. Masters Series: mid-March. Eclectic/piano. Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Ft. Lauderdale. $160 package, single tickets vary. Discovery Series: May 13-22. Eclectic/piano. Lincoln Theater, Miami Beach. $180 package, single tickets vary. www.miamipianofest.com.

Pensacola JazzFest. Early April. Jazz. Seville Square, Pensacola. Free. www.jazzpensacola.com.

Riverhawk Music Festival. Nov. 10-13. Americana, jam, newgrass, zydeco, Cajun, roots rock, bluegrass. Sertoma Ranch, Dade City. Depending on day, tickets range from $15-$25. www.lindentertainment.com.

Sarasota Blues Festival. Oct. 29. Blues. Sarasota Fairgrounds, Sarasota. Tickets are $16 (advance), $20 (at gate). 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 30-June 18. Student orchestra, classical. Various venues. Ticket prices vary. www.fwcs.org/sarasota.

Sound Advice Tampa Bay Blues Festival. March 18-20. Blues. Vinoy Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg. Three-day pass, $50; $20-$25 per day. www.tampabaybluesfest.com.

Springing the Blues Festival. April 1-3. Blues. Florida's Oceanfront SeaWalk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach. Free. www.springingtheblues.com.

SunFest. First weekend in May. Rock, classic rock, pop, urban. Downtown West Palm Beach. Four-day passes, $35 (advance), $40 (at gate); one-day tickets, $17 per day (advance), $20 (at gate). www.sunfest.com.

Suwannee River Jam. April 21-24. Country. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $75 four-day pass (includes tent camping), $85 at gate; $20 (Thurs.), $40 (Fri.-Sun.), $50 (Sat.). www.suwanneeriverjam.com.

Suwannee River Jubilee. Spring Jubliee is June 15-18. Fall Jubilee is Oct. 5-8. 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 1-2. Southern Rock. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $30. www.hoganentertainment.net.

GEORGIA

AthFest. June 23-26. Indie rock. Downtown Athens. Free. www.athfest.com.

Atlanta Dogwood Festival. April 8-10. Blues, jazz, rock, Americana, acoustic. Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Free. www.dogwood.org.

Bear on the Square Festival. April 15-17. Bluegrass and old-time. Historic Public Square, Dahlonega. www.dahlonega.org.

Blue Ridge Harvest Fest. Oct. 7-9. Jam band, bluegrass. Cherokee Farms, Lafayette. $75 for three-day pass, $90 after April 19. www.harvestfest.com.

Georgia Music Week. Sept. 12-16. Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon. Free. www.gamusichall.com.

National Black Arts Festival. July 15-24. Jazz, world. Various Atlanta venues. Ticket prices vary. www.nbaf.org.

Savannah Music Festival. Jazz, classical, traditional and world music. March 18-April 3. $20-$35. Savannah. www.savannahmusicfestival.org.

KENTUCKY

Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival. Sept. 13-17. Bluegrass/newgrass. Moorehead. $10-$85. www.poppymountainbluegrass.com.

Country Stampede. June 23-26. Country. Sparta. $45-$200. www.countrystampede.com.

LOUISIANA

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. First weekend of May. Cajun/zydeco. Parc Hardy, Breaux Bridge. Three-day pass, $15; daily, $5-$10. www.bbcrawfest.com.

French Quarter Festival. April 8-10. Jazz, Dixieland, zydeco. French Quarter, New Orleans. Tickets are $50 (advance), $60 (at gate). www.frenchquarterfestival.com.

International Arts Festival. June 8-12. World beat, Caribbean. Marconi Meadows at City Park, New Orleans. Three-day pass, $65; two-day pass, $35; $25 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. 4-7. Jazz. Old U.S. Mint, French Quarter, New Orleans. Free. www.satchmosummerfestival.com.

MISSISSIPPI

Country Cajun Crawfish Festival. April 14-17. Country, zydeco. Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, Biloxi. Free. www.mscoastcoliseum.com.

Highway 61 Blues Festival. June 4. Blues. Downtown Leland. $12 per person, $16 (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_2.htm.

Legends of Bluegrass & Country Music Festival. Second weekend of March and October. Country, bluegrass. Columbia Exhibition Center. Three-day pass, $60; daily passes, $25. www.bgfest.freeservers.com/columbia.html.

Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival. Sept. 17. Roots, blues, folk blues. Highway 1 South and Route 454, Greenville. $15 (advance), $20 (at gate). www.deltablues.org.

Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival. Aug. 12-13. Blues, gospel. Downtown Clarksdale. Free. www.sunflowerfest.org.

Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival. June 3-5. Blues, country/rock. Front and Main streets, Tupelo. Two-day pass, $20 (advance), $15 per day (at gate). www.tupeloelvisfestival.com.

NORTH CAROLINA

Bele Chere Festival. July 29-31. 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 26-May 7. Jazz, blues. Greensboro. Ticket prices vary. www.piedmontjazzbluesfest.com.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Free-Times Music Crawl. May 23-29. Local and regional rock, jam, soul. Six different venues. $5 per venue. www.free-times.com.

3 Rivers Festival April 22-24. Rock, hip-hop, soul, blues, country, bluegrass. Downtown Columbia. Three-day pass, $30; $25 per day. www.3riversmusicfestival.com.

TENNESSEE

Riverbend Festival. June 10-18. Various music genres. Chattanooga. $26 before June 9; $22-$35 (at gate). www.riverbendfestival.com.

VIRGINIA

Christopher Run Bluegrass Festival. June 9-11. Bluegrass. $25-$70. www.christopherrunbluegrass.com.

Herndon Festival. June 2-5. 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.