Cover Story: The Bests of the Fests 2006
From Alabama to Virginia, music festivals abound
Birmingham's big bash occurs June 16-18 this year and features the following: Marty Stuart, Hank Williams Jr., Yellowcard, John Hiatt and the Allman Brothers Band, plus about 120-something other acts. It's quite worth the money, too ($28-$40), considering that most of these acts would charge you the same (if not more) individually. www.citystages.org.
W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL
The father of the blues may be long gone, but his legacy remains. W.C. Handy, born in Florence, Ala., (of the musically historic Muscle Shoals area), is honored every year with the W.C. Handy Music Festival — known as "Handy Fest" to some. The fest takes place July 23-29 and features performers such as this year's headliner, Ellis Marsalis Jr. Ticket prices vary. www.wchandymusicfestival.org.
This early-March festival attracted some class-A talent for the 2006 edition, with headliners like the Flaming Lips and Wilco. The hangovers are still slowly going away, so who knows what's planned for next year over in Sunrise? There doubtless will be a ton of bands vying for a spot in the sun. www.langerado.com.
WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE
This hipper-than-hip dance/electronica get-together goes down every March in Miami — where else? There are countless panels and performances for what is maybe the most important American confluence of cutting-edge electronic talent. Hell, even the hotel lobby has DJs scheduled for the entire time. You've got plenty of time to start working out now for 2007: A lot of this shit happens pool-side. www.wmcon.com.
This late-March festival in Live Oak spotlights the best of the best in the rural arts. Genres range from country to folk to bluegrass. This past year, highlights were Béla Fleck & the Flecktones and crunchy country-rock dudes Daddy. Just keep your Birkenstocks handy for 2007. www.magmusic.com.
May 20 is the date. The Cuban Club in Ybor City's the venue. This gathering, brought to us by the good folks at WMNF-FM (88.5), has an immense list of national and local artists of all styles. Included in the rundown? Summerbirds in the Cellar, a band so good we had to pick them as one of our Bands to Watch. See if they make your list. www.tropicalheatwave.org.
CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY
The lineup to this year's festival in Coachman Park is under airtight security until August, meaning we can only speculate about what jazzbos might be in town. The event goes down Oct. 19-22 and is — no shit — free to the public. Hit up the website come August and start planning your fall. www.clearwaterjazz.com.
FLORIDA FOLK FESTIVAL
This yearly event brings in an astounding amount of Floridian and national folk talent for a weekend of campin' 'n' pickin'. Everything goes down May 27-28 for this year's — the 54th — installment. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is the host, in a beautiful spot out in the middle of nowhere. Tickets will run you $15-$20 for a day and $35-$40 for the weekend. www.floridastateparks.org/folkfest.
FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL
Downtown Orlando gets rocked by a (hopefully metaphorical) hurricane May 17-20 with this industry-heavy showcase spread over 15 local venues. Artist applications are still being sifted through, meaning even the promoters don't know who's going to show up yet. If a reason to visit Orlando exists, this might be it. www.floridamusicfestival.com.
JVC JAZZ FESTIVAL
Miami Beach gets a taste of this festival, which actually makes a handful of stops around the country. Everything goes down June 1-5. The lineup includes mostly crowd-pleasing types. The nice thing about it? Instead of paying one large all-week fee, you can pick and choose which shows to check out. www.festivalproductions.net.
THE ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL
For 31 days in May, eclectic jazz artists take over a variety of venues around town. The festival wraps up with an outdoor concert series and competition held Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29) in Piedmont Park. Most shows are 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 13th year, on May 20, the town of Thomson celebrates the legacy of Blind Willie McTell, the great blues guitarist born there in 1901. This year's lineup includes Georgia native and Allmans/Rolling Stone pianist Chuck Leavell, the Randall Bramblett Band, Sean Costello and more. Tickets will cost $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. www.blindwillie.com.
W.C. HANDY BLUES AND BARBECUE FESTIVAL
Also celebrating the great bluesman W.C. Handy, the town of Henderson hosts a weeklong blues cookout and concert from June 10-17. Peppering the lineup are acts such as Bettye LaVette, Joe Bonamassa, Wayne Baker Brooks, Ian Siegel Band, the Tommy Castro Band and more. Admission is free. www.handyblues.org.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL
Not even one of the biggest natural disasters in America's history can stop the Crescent City's best-known music shindig. Count on another eclectic world-class lineup at this year's two-weekend installment (April 28-30 and May 5-7). Advertised performers thus far include: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen (fronting the Seeger Sessions Band), Dave Matthews Band, Etta James, Herbie Hancock, Keith Urban, Juvenile and a host of others. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the gate for each weekend. www.nojazzfest.com.
VOODOO MUSIC EXPERIENCE
This more modern, rock-heavy fest was forced to split its two days between New Orleans and Memphis in 2005, its seventh year. That even half of the annual Halloween-weekend blowout went down in its hometown qualifies as an unmitigated triumph, however. Voodoo '05 happened just two months after Hurricane Katrina rendered much of the Big Easy uninhabitable, and still boasted the combination of big names (Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, the Bravery, Digable Planets, etc.) and beloved local talent for which it has become known. Details for this year's festival haven't yet been posted, but event producer Stephen Rehage has reportedly said it's a go for '06; check the website for emerging details. www.voodoomusicfest.com.
Jackson welcomes all kinds of local and regional artists to the downtown stage June 17-18. There's definitely a focus on grimy, down-home tunes, but some college rock is in the mix as well. This is the festival's 19th edition and the list of past performers is a veritable who's who. North Mississippi Allstars, appropriately enough, is the anchor this year. www.mississippi.gov.
John Lee Hooker Jr. headlines this combination of arts and crafts and music April 21-22. Vicksburg is situated on the lovely banks of the Mississippi River, making it a perfect spot for some outdoor grub and dancing. www.mississippi.gov.
BELE CHERE FESTIVAL
Thrown amid the amiably earthy freak show that is Asheville, Bele Chere bills itself as "the Southeast's largest free street festival." Translation: They've got all the incense. In addition to the usual arts, crafts, goods and services, Bele Chere also boasts an impressive musical lineup. While the bill for this year's festival — scheduled for July 28-30 — has yet to be announced, the 2005 party featured more than 60 acts on a jam-heavy schedule that included the Marshall Tucker Band, the Codetalkers, Drive-By Truckers, Susan Tedeschi and John Hiatt & the North Mississippi Allstars, to name but a few. www.belecherefestival.com.
This weekend-long (June 2-4) jam and progressive-roots fest is on its 12th year, and continues to offer the sort of lineup that college heads, Americana/Appalachia fans and musical omnivores alike can't ignore. This time around, the Yonder Mountain String Band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keller Williams and Larry Keel are among the top attractions. www.smilefest.com.
EASTERN MUSIC FESTIVAL
Last year's program for this month-plus-long (June 24
July 30 this year), pan-stylistic schedule of more than 70 concerts included such disparate artists as Branford Marsalis, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bela Fleck, the Iguanas, Los Straitjackets and Christopher O'Riley, as well as more than 300 others from classical to pop to world beat. They might be cheating a bit when they call this Greensboro to-do a festival it's more of a series — but it does bring the goods. All. Month. Long. This year's schedule has yet to be posted, so hit the website toward the end of April. www.easternmusicfestival.com.
Named after legendary country/roots musician Merle Watson, MerleFest offers a generation- and genre-crossing mix of traditional and contemporary roots music, bringing together the very best of bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, Celtic, blues, folk, old-time, Cajun, jazz, and singer/songwriter music, along with traditional dance and crafts. This year's installment, held at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, takes place April 27-30. www.merlefest.org.
3 RIVERS MUSIC FESTIVAL
This three-day (April 21-23) downtown Columbia affair is put on by a nonprofit organization, and run by volunteers — proceeds go back into the festival's budget every year in the hope of creating a self-perpetuating event. It's also one of the most eclectic and populist gigs on this list, featuring everything from hard rock (Shinedown) to singer/songwriter fare (Delbert McClinton) to country (Shooter Jennings, Nickel Creek) to classic rock (Styx). www.3riversmusicfestival.org.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE
If you're looking for good bluegrass, it really doesn't matter which Carolina you hit up — it seems many recognizable names make the scene at nearly every 'grass fest in both of 'em. Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition, Marty Raybon and Cherryholmes are among this event's headliners. As a bonus, it's held late in the year (Nov. 23-25), in case you just hate it when it's sticky. www.aandabluegrass.com.
BONNAROO MUSIC FESTIVAL
As a gem in the crown of our nation's stupidly named music fests (see Coachella, Langerado, Lollapalooza), Bonnaroo has become one of the safest bets for those who wonder: Is paying $184.50 for tickets, plus the $15 service fee, plus the dangers of contracting hepatitis from the portable toilets really worth it? To answer your question, ponder how much you love Radiohead, Tom Petty, Beck, Elvis Costello, Bright Eyes, Oysterhead and too many other top-shelf bands to list, and let your conscience be your guide. The three-day fest (June 16-18), as always, takes place in tiny Manchester, Tenn., and camping is included in the ticket price. www.bonnaroo.com.
RITES OF SPRING
Vanderbilt University produces some top-notch grads. Apparently, it's now producing some top-notch music fests as well. April 21-22, on the Alumni Lawn of the Nashville university's campus, hear Ben Folds, Secret Machines, My Morning Jacket and — for reasons we can't understand — mid-1990s chart-topping rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Maybe concert organizers don't want Rites of Spring to be just another rock-centric affair? Who knows. Tickets cost $25-$50. www.ritesofspring.com.
BEALE STREET MUSIC FESTIVAL
Memphis is, like Nashville, a town whose name is synonymous with good music. Elvis aside, R&B made Memphis (Booker T. Jones, Aretha Franklin and, um, Justin Timberlake all hail from there). This year's Beale Street Music Festival is a bit more diverse, offering tasty tuneage from pop-star-in-the-making Jason Mraz, plus usual suspects like Memphis native sons Big Star and the Bar-Kays. Canadian export Bryan Adams is also on the bill. Tickets cost $49.50 and the fest runs May 5-7. www.memphisinmay.org.
VERIZON WIRELESS AMERICAN
The Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau website touts this yearly four-day, 10-stage beachside party as "the premiere musical event on the East Coast!" We don't know about all that — past performers include Hootie & the Blowfish, LeAnn Rimes, Goo Goo Dolls and Kansas — but this will be the 11th time Verizon has put a ton of mainstream-friendly national and local rock, pop, country and blues acts on the sand. For more information on this year's installment, check www.vbfun.com.
HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL
This annual series of shows is a bit pricey at $50 per performance, but the Hampton Jazz Festival has a reputation for putting big names on stage. This year, for instance, features headliners Maze, B.B. King and Toni Braxton from June 23-25. www.hamptoncoliseum.org/jazz.
ELLA FITZGERALD MUSIC FESTIVAL
Now settled into its new home at Christopher Newport University's Ferguson Center in Newport News, Va., this annual to-do serves as both entertainment and education for jazz fans. For 2006, the event features appearances by Branford Marsalis, Patti Austin & the Count Basie Orchestra, CNU Jazz Ensembles and more, and runs April 5-8. Ticket prices vary; for more information, go to www.cnu.edu/fergusoncenter.
THE REST OF THE BEST
· BAYFEST. Oct. 6-8. Blues, rock, pop. Downtown Mobile. www.bayfest.com.
· PENSACOLA JAZZFEST. Early April. Jazz. Seville Square, Pensacola. Free. www.jazzpensacola.com.
· RIVERHAWK MUSIC FESTIVAL. Nov. 9-12. Country, folk, blues. Sertoma Ranch, Brooksville. www.lindentertainment.com.
· SARASOTA BLUES FESTIVAL. Oct. 28. Sarasota Fairgrounds, Sarasota. $17-$22. www.sarasotabluesfest.com.
· SARASOTA JAZZ FESTIVAL. Early April. Jazz. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. $32-$50 (per show); $250 (festival pass). www.vanwezel.org.
· SUNFEST. May 4-7. Rock, pop, reggae, southern rock. Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach. $17-$20 (per day), $35-$40 (full passes). www.sunfest.com.
· SUWANNEE RIVER JAM. April 20-22. Country. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $125-$200. www.suwanneeriverjam.com.
· SUWANNEE RIVER JUBILEE. June 14-17. Gospel. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $10 (per night), $25 (pass). www.stweartvarnado.com/suwannee.html.
· TAMPA BAY BLUES FEST. May 5-7. Blues. Vinoy Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg. $50. www.tampabaybluesfest.com.
· THE FEST. Late fall. Punk, indie rock. Various venues, Gainesville. Lineup and tickets to be announced. www.thefestfl.com.
· BEAR ON THE SQUARE FESTIVAL. April 21-23. Bluegrass and old-time. Historic Public Square, Dahlonega. Free outdoor events. www.dahlonega.org.
· ATHENS HUMAN RIGHTS FESTIVAL. May 6-7. Political activists and musicians in a festival without corporate sponsorship. Downtown Athens. www.athenshumanrightsfest.org.
· ATHFEST. June 21-25. Indie rock. Downtown Athens. Free. www.athfest.com
· NATIONAL BLACK ARTS FESTIVAL. July 14-23. Jazz, world. Various Atlanta venues. www.nbaf.org.
· GEORGIA MUSIC HALL OF FAME 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY GALA. Sept. 21-23. Three days of Georgia musicians. Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon. Free. www.gamusichall.com.
· ATLANTIS MUSIC CONFERENCE. Oct. 4-7. Primarily rock showcase with industry conference. Various Atlanta venues. www.atlantismusic.com.
· PICKIN' FOR MEMORY. June 22-24. Bluegrass. Sparta. $10-$35. www.nkbma.com.
· POPPY MOUNTAIN BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. Sept. 12-16. Bluegrass/newgrass. Moorehead. $15-$90. www.poppymountainbluegrass.com.
· COUNTRY STAMPEDE. June 22-25. Country. Sparta. $45-$200. www.countrystampede.com.
· FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL. April 21-23. Jazz, Dixieland, Zydeco. French Quarter, New Orleans. $50-$60. www.frenchquarterfestival.com.
· MOFEST. April 28-30, May 5-6. Jazz, R&B, blues — all New Orleans artists. Woldenberg Park, New Orleans. Free. www.realneworleansmusic.com.
· BREAUX BRIDGE CRAWFISH FESTIVAL. First weekend of May. Cajun/Zydeco. Parc Hardy, Breaux Bridge. $5-$10 (daily), or $15 (three-day pass). www.bbcrawfest.com.
· MUDBUG MADNESS. Memorial Day weekend. Cajun, Zydeco. Festival Plaza, Shreveport. $3-$5. www.mudbugmadness.com.
· SATCHMO SUMMERFEST. Aug. 3-6. Jazz. Old U.S. Mint, French Quarter, New Orleans. Free. www.satchmosummerfestival.com.
· COLISEUM CRAWFISH FESTIVAL. April 20-23, April 27-30. Country. Mississippi Coast Coliseum, Biloxi. $10. www.mscoastcoliseum.com/crawfish_fest_06.htm.
· MISSISSIPPI DELTA BLUES & HERITAGE FESTIVAL. Sept. 15-17. Blues. Delta Blues Festival Park, Greenville. $15-$20. www.deltablues.org.
· SUNFLOWER RIVER BLUES AND GOSPEL FESTIVAL. Aug. 11-13. Blues, gospel. Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale. www.sunflowerfest.org.
· TUPELO ELVIS FESTIVAL. June 2-4. Rock. Tupelo Fairgrounds, Tupelo. www.tupeloelvisfestival.com.
· REDBUD BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. April 13-16. Bluegrass. Saxapahaw. www.redbudfestival.4t.com.
· SHAKORI HILLS GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL. April 20-23. Jam, roots, jazz. Shakori Hills, Silk Hope. $15-$30 (daily), $65 (four-day pass). www.shakorihills.org.
· MAYFEST. May 12-13. Roots, bluegrass, jam. Smith Mountain Acoustic Revival Theatre, Connelly Springs. $17-$20. www.charlottesmusic.com.
· LAKE EDEN ARTS FESTIVAL. May 12-14, Oct. 20-22. Roots, R&B, country, world beat. Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain. www.theleaf.com.
· NORTH CAROLINA STATE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. June 15-17. Bluegrass. Happy Holiday Campground, Cherokee. $30-$35 (daily), $75-$85 (three-day pass). www.aandabluegrass.com.
· CARNAVAL CAROLINA. June 18. Largest Hispanic festival on the East Coast. Metrolina Expo, Charlotte. www.carnavalcarolina.com.
· APPALACHIAN SUMMER FESTIVAL. July 1-29. Roots, jazz, bluegrass, classical. Appalachian State University, Boone. www.appsummer.org.
· MUSICFEST 'N SUGAR GROVE. July 14-15. Bluegrass, blues, old-time, Americana. Historic Cove Creek School Grounds, Boone. www.covecreek.net.
· CHEROKEE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. Aug. 17-19. Top-notch bluegrass including Ralph Stanley, the Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent. Happy Holiday Campground, Cherokee. $30-$35 (daily), $75-$85 (three-day pass). www.aandabluegrass.com.
· INTERNATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL. Sept. 24. Indigenous music from 30-plus countries. Downtown Fayetteville. Free. www.fayettevillenc.com.
· RHOLETTER'S BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. April 27-29. Bluegrass. Apple Valley Music Park, Long Creek. $8-$15 (daily), $30 (three-day pass). www.rholettersbluegrass.com.
· RIVERTOWN JAZZ & ARTS FESTIVAL. May 6. Jazz, blues. Downtown Conway. Free. www.conwaymainstreet.com.
· AIKEN BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. May 12-13. Bluegrass, roots. Downtown Aiken. www.aikenbluegrassfestival.org.
· ALBINO SKUNK BLUEGRASS. Oct. 6-7. Bluegrass, roots, jazz. Private property outside Greer. $16-$30 (daily), $40 (two-day pass). www.albinoskunk.com.
· DOWNTOWN BLUES & ART FESTIVAL. Oct. 5-7. Blues. Downtown Rock Hill. www.southfest.com/southcarolina.shtml.
· RIVERBEND FESTIVAL. June 9-17. Country, roots, R&B. Downtown Chattanooga. $27-$36 per concert. www.riverbendfestival.com.
· RALPH STANLEY FESTIVAL. May 25-27. Big bluegrass names. Hills of Home Park, Coeburn. www.drralphstanley.com/events/festival/index.shtml.
· VIRGINIA BLUES & JAZZ FESTIVAL. June 9-10. Carla Cook, Buckwheat Zydeco, Corey Harris. Garth Newel Music Center, Warm Springs. www.garthnewel.org.
· NORFOLK JAZZ FESTIVAL. July 14-15. Jazz. Two Point Park, Norfolk. www.festeventsva.org.
· BLUES AT THE BEACH. Sept. 15-17. Local, regional and national blues artists. Beachstreet Palladium, Virginia Beach. www.vbfun.com.