TOP 20

OUTDOOR FESTIVALS

MERLEFEST

APRIL TBD, 2009 H WILKESBORO, N.C.

MERLEFEST.ORG

THE BEST: Place to see blue hairs and long hairs harmoniously interacting in Americana paradise.

THE BETA: Known to many as the greatest acoustic music festival in the world, Merlefest finds over 80,000 people annually flocking to the North Carolina High Country foothills to commemorate the life of guitarist Merle Watson, the son of bluegrass legend Doc Watson who was killed in a tractor accident in 1985. One of the country’s most famous acoustic music festivals features 13 stages big and small, rowdy dance tents, and front-porch style workshops.

THE BANDS: Artists this past year included Doc Watson, Levon Helm, Sam Bush, Avett Brothers, Bela Fleck, Old Crow Medicine Show, Donna the Buffalo, and Ricky Skaggs with Bruce Hornsby.

FRENCH BROAD RIVER FESTIVAL

MAY 2-4 H HOT SPRINGS, N.C.

FRENCHBROADRIVERFESTIVAL.COM

THE BEST: Festival to experience the perfect meeting of outdoors sports, homegrown music, and an idyllic mountain setting.

THE BETA: A paddler party that rides on the wild side, French Broad takes over the small trail town of Hot Springs. Attendees rage riverside with a fill of roots music, moonshine, and some playtime in the water. Boasting the best music line-up of any other paddle fest, the bash at the Hot Springs Spa and Campground attracts a party crowd to go along with three days of comps including the Kayak Rolling Rodeo, a mountain biking race, and the French Broad River Raft Race.

THE BANDS: The music line-up this year includes rare reunions by North Carolina favorites Acoustic Syndicate and Snake Oil Medicine Show, as well as Larry Keel and Natural Bridge and Blueground Undergrass.

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CHEAT RIVER FESTIVAL

MAY 3 H ALBRIGHT, W.VA.

CHEAT.ORG

THE BEST: Mellow gathering in West Virginia’s most scenic landscape with a mind for conservation.

THE BETA: This low-key event helps protect one of the Mountain State’s favorite rivers. In addition to some soul-cleansing Allegheny hang time, festie goers can learn firsthand about the issues facing the Cheat. Proceeds will benefit the efforts of the festival host, the Friends of the Cheat, a non-profit organization that works to preserve and improve the water quality of the river. Paddlers feeling competitive can arrive a day early and enter the Cheat Festival Downriver Race for 12 miles of head-to-head competition on class IV-V whitewater. Saturday also features the Cheat Fest 5K.

THE BANDS: The backdrop of Cheat is live music from local Appalachian songwriters and string pickers, including the Curmudgeonly Old Hickory Winded Frothy Slosh Band and The Hillbilly Gypsies.

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LAKE EDEN ARTS FESTIVAL

MAY 9-11 H BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C.

THELEAF.COM

THE BEST: Global representation of arts and music to collide in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

THE BETA: While certainly packing a stacked eclectic musical line-up, the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) has one of the most diverse arrays of artistic offerings of any festival in the region, including 40 Healing Arts Workshops like yoga & tai chi, a Folk Art Show, a National Poetry SLAM, all night long West African Drum Circles up in the mountains, wacky games in the Kids Village, and culinary treasures from all over the world. Over 50 different cultures and genres will be represented at Camp Rockmont. Best part of this fest: they do it twice a year (second installment October 17-19).

THE BANDS: Arrested Development, Corey Harris & The 5×5 Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Habib Koite’ & Bamada Rich, and David Wilcox.

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NEW RIVER RENDEZVOUS

MAY 16-18 H FAVETTEVILLE, W.VA.

NEWRIVERRENDEZVOUS.COM

THE BEST: Fest to see climbers in action on the rock and the dance floor.

THE BETA: For climbers, by climbers—the Rendezvous is a friendly, down-home three-day celebration of rock stars and their beloved New River Gorge. Crag hounds flock to Fayetteville for comps, clinics, camping, dinners, and late-night shenanigans like boulder pad sumo wrestling.

The winner of this year’s Trad Comp gets a sponsorship deal from La Sportiva. Not too shabby. Another cool addition is the event’s No-Waste Initiative. Organizers were bummed about the amount of trash at last year’s event, so they are asking attendees to “step up or stay home.” This requires a few simple things like bringing one beer cup that you can mark and use all weekend and pack light with plans to pack out whatever you bring in.

THE BANDS: Amnity Front will be jamming to provide the live music and a chance for climbers prove that they can dance too.

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TRAIL DAYS

MAY 16-18 H DAMASCUS, VA.

TRAILDAYS.INFO

THE BEST: Chance to see hikers gone wild.

THE BETA: The celebration is a well-known Appalachian Trail thru-hikers reunion and ultimate party for more than 20,000 hiking enthusiasts. Lodging is full all the way to Abingdon, while most just camp among the madness of Tent City, just a quarter-mile from town,

providing easy access to a variety of gear booths, lectures from footpath pioneers, live bands, a famed parade, Moon Pie easting contest, and other random shenanigans. Imbibing moonshine is optional but recommended.

THE BANDS: Catch High Country Southern rockers Possum Jenkins, as well as Cody Norris and Gary Hensly.

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ASHEVILLE MUSIC JAMBOREE

MAY 23-25 H ASHEVILLE, N.C.

AMJAM.NET

THE BEST: Pristine setting with a small lake for swimming that separates two stages of diverse, nationally acclaimed homegrown music.

THE BETA: Continuing the popular tradition of a fallen precursor, the Jamboree mixes together an eclectic line-up of jam, jazz, and bluegrass at the idyllic Deerfields, about 20 miles outside of Asheville. Surrounded by the gorgeous South Mills River area, this festival is kept relatively intimate with a capped attendance of 2,500, providing a laid back atmosphere with comfortable camping and a tasty food vendor village.

THE BANDS: Acts on the bill include Gov’t Mule, Keller Williams with the Keels, reggae legend Burning Spear and the New Orleans grooves of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, as well as local favorites like Shannon Whitworth and the Barrel House Mamas.

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DELFEST

MAY 23-25 H CUMBERLAND, MD.

DELFEST.COM

THE BEST: New acoustic music gala with a high-profile line-up to honor bluegrass legend Del McCoury.

THE BETA: The creators of the popular High Sierra Music Festival in Northern California have brought their success to the mountains of Western Maryland for an Americana event that mixes country, bluegrass, and hippie string bands into a celebration for longstanding great Del McCoury at the Allegheny County Fairgrounds.

THE BANDS: Besides a hefty amount of appearances by the man himself and his Del McCoury Band, the event includes country heavyweights Vince Gill and Dierks Bentley, bluegrass legends David Grisman and his new Bluegrass Experience, Sam Bush, and Bela Fleck with Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet, along with young guns like the Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Railroad Earth, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Great American Taxi featuring Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, and Phish drummer Jon Fishman.

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GRAVES MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL OF MUSIC

MAY 29-31 H SYRIA, VA.

GRAVESMOUNTAIN.COM

THE BEST: onvergence of bluegrass and scenic camping in the shadow of the Shenandoah Blue Ridge.

THE BETA: Graves Mountain Lodge sits on the edge of Shenandoah National Park, providing the perfect outdoor ambiance for the cornucopia of traditional string sounds.

THE BANDS: This traditionally vibed gala gets down to it with the best in bluegrass. This year features Ralph Stanley, Peter Rowan, Seldom Scene, Randy Kohrs, and Rhonda Vincent.

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MOUNTAIN SPORTS FESTIVAL

MAY 30 – JUNE 1 H ASHEVILLE, N.C.

MOUNTAINSPORTSFESTIVAL.COM

THE BEST: Mix of mountain sports games and street festivities.

THE BETA: Asheville gets a full-blown weekend of action, adrenaline, and entertainment with big competitions, including the Rock-2-Rock Trail Run, Black Dome Adventure Race, the Sunset Stampede 10-mile road run, the Wondergirl 5K, and the Metric and ∏ Metric Century Rides. There is also some fringe fun with a disc golf tournament, mountain uni-cycling race, and a dodge ball brawl. Gear heads can get the goods on new products with vendor booths and demos at Festival Village.

THE BANDS: Local and regional acts on the bill include Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance, Purple Schoolbus, Laura Reed, and Stephanie’s Id.

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RIVERBEND FESTIVAL

JUNE 6-14 H CHATTANOOGA, TENN.

RIVERBENDFESTIVAL.COM

THE BEST: Place to see some of the biggest bands in the country for an average price of $4 a day.

THE BETA: Chattanooga gets a lot of tunes for a little cost with this annual weeklong blowout. The annual summer street festival along two miles of Tennessee River shoreline packs more musical bang for the buck than any festival in the South with a nine-day pass going for only $37. Take advantage of the festival’s free bike valet service that encourages attendees to ride to the festivities.

THE BANDS: Acts on six stages this year will include the Black Crowes, ZZ Top, Rodney Adkins, Railroad Earth, Toubab Krewe, and The Ohio Players.

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BONNAROO MUSIC FESTIVAL

JUNE 12-15 H MANCHESTER, TENN.

BONNAROO.COM

THE BEST: Experience getting overloaded by modern times Woodstock-style mayhem.

THE BETA: If you build it, will they come? In the summer of 2002 a sleepy town in the middle of Tennessee was turned into this century’s first attempt at rock ‘n’ roll nirvana. Approaching its seventh year, it’s safe to say the experiment was a success. The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival brings an annual 80,000 people to a 700-acre farm in Manchester, 60 miles south of Nashville, for 60-plus acts from various styles and genres. It’s also fun to spend some time in the Centeroo Village, which features art exhibits, yoga classes, batting cages, cafes, and a beer festival.

THE BANDS: Respect Bonnaroo for its diversity, but this year eclecticism might turn into full-blown culture clash, as headliners this year jump from Metallica to Pearl Jam to Kanye West to Jack Johnson. Oh yeah, and Chris Rock will also be doing a main stage comedy set.

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ALL GOOD MUSIC FESTIVAL

JULY 11-13 H MASONTOWN, W.VA.

ALLGOODFESTIVAL.COM

THE BEST: High-profile hippie hoe down in the hills of West Virginia.

THE BETA: Located just 20 minutes east of Morgantown, this festival located on a scenic private spread with panoramic views of the Alleghenies has continued to step up its national appeal and raised its crowd to nearly 20,000 people.

THE BANDS: This year’s line-up is the festival’s most ambitious to date, anchored by the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, along with Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Derek Trucks.

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POTOMAC WHITEWATER FESTIVAL

JULY 11-13 H GREAT FALLS, VA.

POTOMACFEST.COM

THE BEST: Chance to celebrate the D.C.-area’s mighty river and its high-intensity paddling options.

THE BETA: Primarily known for big water comps, Potomac Fest has lately become a bit friendlier to beginning kayakers. Events will include clinics for both beginner whitewater paddlers and touring kayakers. Events for experienced paddlers will include the popular squirt boating and freestyle comps, boatercross races, as well as and the epic spectator-favorite, Great Falls Race on Saturday morning. Costumed paddlers will also participate in the Community Downriver Paddle.

THE BANDS: No tunes here, just the rhythm of the river.

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BELE CHERE

JULY 25-27 H ASHEVILLE, N.C.

BELECHEREFESTIVAL.COM

THE BEST: Chance to see Asheville overloaded with more than 300,000 people as the Southeast’s largest free street festival roars through downtown.

THE BETA: Over three days the small city is packed with six stages, 80 bands, and more than 160 booths of handmade arts and crafts from around the Appalachians. Get up early on Saturday and run one of the city’s most popular races, the Bele Chere 5K. If you’re feeling like Hank Aaron bust out the old Easton and head over to the Home Run Derby at Martin Luther King Park.

THE BANDS: Acts this year include Travis Tritt, the Wailers, Cowboy Mouth, and Edwin McCain.

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FLOYDFEST

JULY 24-27 H FLOYD, VA.

FLOYDFEST.COM

THE BEST: Festival to catch some of the best music that you’ve never heard of surrounded by breathtaking mountain views at a remote site off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

THE BETA: The event takes place on 80 acres of private land right off milepost 170 of the Parkway. Besides the scenic sight, the main attraction of the event is the globally inclusive hodge-podge of music that draws from bluegrass, folk, afrobeat, old-time, reggae, cajun, jam rock, and Americana—showcasing traditions of Appalachia and opening up to those beyond. Besides offering a chance to fill up on endless tunes in the remote mountain setting, the festival also offers a chance to taste authentic cuisine, sip microbrews, or get lost in a range of other activities from guitar and drum workshops to yoga classes.

THE BANDS: The line-up of acts that will perform on eight performance areas this year includes Donna the Buffalo, the Avett Brothers, Railroad Earth, Chatham County Line, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Crooked Still, and the David Grisman Quintet.

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OLD FIDDLER’S CONVENTION

AUGUST 4-9 H GALAX, VA.

OLDFIDDLERSCONVENTION.COM

THE BEST: Way to see the real string pickers of Appalachia show off their mountain grown chops.

THE BETA: An institution in the region since 1935, this is the oldest and largest fiddler’s convention in the world. You’ll get your fill of strings with a little time here, as the region’s best musicians—known and unknown—take to the stages for some heavy competition over a full week of picking in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

THE BANDS: This is where the real string heroes of Appalachia come out to shine. Most might not have record deals or their names on posters, but the mountain folk know where to find them.

GAULEY FEST

SEPTEMBER 19-21 H SUMMERSVILLE, W.VA.

AMERICANWHITEWATER.ORG

THE BEST: Summit of boating bad asses uniting for the biggest river party in the world and celebrating the wild beast that is the mighty Gauley River.

THE BETA: More than 5,000 paddlers from across the country and beyond head to the main grounds of Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park every year. The event was started in 1983 to celebrate the derailment of a hydroelectric project that would have disrupted whitewater flows on the Gauley River. At the event epic runs on the Upper Gauley mix with live music, a whitewater marketplace, beer, and a silent auction where paddlers can pick up new gear for bargain prices. Expect people to be howling at the moon until the wee hours of the morning and watch out for the unofficial late-night boxing matches. All proceeds benefit boater access’ number one advocate, American Whitewater.

THE BANDS: Still to be announced.

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BRISTOL RHYTHM & ROOTS REUNION

SEPTEMBER 19-21 H BRISTOL, TENN./VA.

BRISTOLRHYTHM.COM

THE BEST: Underrated expose of Americana expose in its many forms that takes over the streets of an underappreciated Southern city.

THE BETA: This three-day street bash on the state line in Bristol—known as the “Birthplace of Country Music”—is a celebration of the roots of Appalachian music and its many evolving interpretations. It takes over the downtown streets and floods outdoor stages, the ornate Paramount Theatre, bars, and coffee shops with some of eth best string band sin eth game.

THE BANDS: This year the festival again offers a wide range of musical styles, from the legendary bluegrass of Doc Watson and Ralph Stanley, the progressive interpretations of mandolin master Sam Bush, hippie country greats New Riders of the Purple Sage, and young guns like the Infamous Stringdusters, the Hackensaw Boys, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Chatham County Line.

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SHAKORI HILLS GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL OF MUSIC & DANCE

OCTOBER 9-12 H SILK HOPE, N.C.

SHAKORIHILLS.ORG

THE BEST: Grassroots eclectic hoe down in the Triangle with a major green commitment.

THE BETA: A four-day biannual fest on a 75-acre piedmont farm that blends some of North Carolina’s best roots musicians with touches of world music from abroad and an array of food, arts, and crafts. Not only does the event make recycling simple, but its food vendors only use compost-friendly utensils and paper products, and filtered water is available for free to cut down on plastic bottles. If you’re from the area, leave your car at home and catch the bio-diesel shuttle from Carrboro, Durham, or Chapel Hill.

THE BANDS: The fall lineup has not been finalized but the spring version included Donna the Buffalo, Arrested Development, and the Hackensaw Boys.