Pack your gear, load the iPod with summer anthems, and don’t forget the tickets.
It’s time to head for the region’s best fests—and top outdoor adventure spots along the way.
May 27-30, Cumberland, Md.
It’s become the East Coast’s answer to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and despite last year’s massive storm that sent tents swirling through the air, DelFest is returning with its strongest lineup to date. Tucked away in a small mountain nook in Western Maryland’s stretch of the Alleghenies, DelFest features the Avett Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, David Grisman, Uncle Earl, and of course, legendary bluegrass singer Del McCoury.
Bands not to miss: Dave Rawlings Machine—Rawlings takes the lead and his longtime partner Gillian Welch switches to the supporting role. The amazing roots combo is augmented by three members of the Old Crow Medicine Show to create the perfect meeting of smoking strings and amazing songwriting.
Recreational Diversion: Before you get your bluegrass fix, get the adrenaline pumping with a whitewater rafting trip on the Upper Youghiogheny. This 11-mile jaunt on the rugged river has the longest continuous stretch of class V whitewater in the east. Keep your wits about you and get ready to feel the pit of your stomach in your throat as you maneuver this technical stint of river that has a world-class drop of over 115 feet per mile. wmdadventures.com
Beer Run: Mingle with locals over pints at downtown Cumberland’s Niner’s Canal Pub, one of the area’s favorite old-school watering holes. ninerscanalpub.com
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
June 10-13, Manchester, Tenn.
When it comes to Bonnaroo, you should believe the hype. It’s hot, crowded, and impossible to catch everything on the stacked bill. But if you’re a fan of live music, this is a festival that has to be experienced at least once. Every year the massive gala with 80,000 strong seems to one-up itself and bring an even bigger lineup of heavyweights to the dusty farm fields of middle Tennessee. This year the festival is being anchored by Dave Matthews Band, Jay-Z, Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder, and Weezer. The festival not only offers more than a dozen stages of music; it actually transforms the rolling farm land into a city village with art exhibits, a movie theatre, an Internet café, a silent disco, and an arcade.
Bands not to miss: Local Natives—say you saw this more exciting version of the Fleet Foxes before all your friends are flocking to their shows next year. Don’t forget about the comedy stage, which will feature a huge appearance by Conan O’Brien and his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour.
Recreational Diversion: When the scene peaks, and it’s time to come down, peace and quiet awaits 60 miles east at Fall Creek Falls State Park. This 20,000-acre park is spread across the rugged Cumberland Plateau with an abundance of gorges, waterfalls, and lush hardwood forests. Pitch the tent for a few days and take advantage of 30 miles of hiking trails and a 15-mile network of singletrack. state.tn.us/environment/parks/FallCreekFalls/
Beer Run: If you’d rather escape to the city, head 60 miles in the other direction to downtown Nashville and grab a handcrafted Sly Rye Porter at Yazoo Brewing Company’s taproom (yazoobrew.com). Then head over to the Station Inn (stationinn.com) and mingle with locals over some cheap nachos and world-class picking.
All Good Music Festival
July 8-11, Masontown, W.Va.
Disgruntled jamband fans who think Bonnaroo sold out for mass appeal head to Marvin’s Mountaintop in West Virginia’s northwest corner for their extended fix of heady improv rock. In recent years All Good has become the East’s premiere jam gathering—this year boasting an appearance by Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead’s new project, Furthur, as well as Widespread Panic, Yonder Mountain String Band, Umphrey’s McGee, and Railroad Earth.
Bands not to miss: Son of late Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti and his rhythmic crew Positive Force will make you dance until it hurts. When you’ve heard too many long guitar solos, check out the set from retro rockers Dr. Dog.
Recreational Diversion: Take the long way to Masontown through the windy roads of the Monongahela National Forest. Bring your mountain bike or rent one at Blackwater Bikes (blackwaterbikes.com) in Davis and then experience some of the most rugged singletrack riding in the Canaan Valley area on the Plantation Trail. If you pass through on a Thursday, join the Blackwater group ride and enjoy the fat tire mecca’s sweet singletrack.
Beer Run: After your bike ride, roll through the tiny town of Thomas and grab a pint of the easy-drinking American Blonde Cold Trail Ale at Mountain State Brewing Company.
July 9-11, Louisville, Ky.
Music, art, and activism mingle at this annual event that draws a stout crowd of 25,000 to the scenic downtown riverfront of Louisville. It’s a fun mix of progressive culture in this storied Southern city that combines the hip and the traditional. You’ll be surrounded by art installations, a sustainable living village, and more than 75 bands that include everyone from national headliners to underground DJs.
Bands not to miss: Southern jam king Widespread Panic returns to headline the festival once again, freshly revitalized with the recent release of their best album in years, Dirty Side Down.
Recreational Diversion: After the fest, drive 90 miles southwest and find solace from the summer heat below ground in the vast expanse of caves at Mammoth Cave National Park. A variety of tours are available among the park’s 365-mile cave system, which makes it the longest in the world. The park also has 70 miles of surface hiking trails.
Beer Run: While you’re in town don’t miss a visit to the Bluegrass Brewing Co. and drink a summertime essential light-bodied American Wheat.
July 22-25, Floyd, Va.
Every year an unsuspecting piece of property just off the Blue Ridge Parkway turns into an eclectic multi-stage musical village in the Virginia mountains. FloydFest is a diverse melting pot of sounds, including the traditional strings of the Appalachians, African beats, eclectic underground indie bands, and national headliners. The beautiful site with rolling vistas all around has scenic comfortable camping and kid-friendly activities. This year’s lineup includes legendary The Band drummer Levon Helm, JJ Grey and Mofro, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Blue King Brown, Pimps of Joytime, Mountain Heart, and many more.
Bands not to miss: Singer-songwriter Joe Pug’s road-weary voice and thought-provoking vagabond wisdom will make you stop regretting you weren’t old enough to see Bob Dylan in 1965. Also make sure to catch the Thursday set from indie folk trio Low Anthem and regional up and comers Holy Ghost Tent Revival.
Recreational Diversion: If you want to get away for a little time in the woods, take a 10.8-mile hike on the Rock Castle Gorge Trail. Pick up the trail off the Parkway at mile 167.1. After making a quick ascent to the top of Rocky Knob (3,572 feet), you’ll stay on the ridge top for over three miles, also passing the summit of Grassy Knoll, before you drop into the woods. Then gradually dip into the thick forest that’s home to 200 species of wildflowers and eventually reach the cool shaded valley of Rock Castle Creek.
Beer Run: Stop by Harvest Moon Food Store (harvestmoonfoods.com) and grab a six-pack of the locally brewed Shooting Creek Brewery’s Buffalo Brown (shootingcreekbrewery.com). You can also grab a pint with your chimichanga at the funky dive Oddfella’s Cantina (oddfellascantina.com).
Music on the Mountaintop
August 27-28, Boone, N.C.
It started as a school project for Appalachian State University graduate Jimmy Hunt, and now Music on the Mountaintop has become the High Country’s most popular music festival. Now expanded to two days, the festival features a stacked lineup that intentionally mixes national acts and local faves. The fest also puts big emphasis on sustainability. In addition to hosting the music on a completely solar-powered stage, Hunt gives a huge chunk of his proceeds to local and regional environmental non-profits.
Bands not to miss: King of the mandolin, Sam Bush, returns to this fest for the third year in a row. It’s also a chance to dance to the West African grooves of Carolina favorites Toubab Krewe and catch an occasional reunion by Acoustic Syndicate.
Recreational Diversion: If you’re heading east on Highway 421, bring your mountain bike and ride the growing system of singletrack around the shores of W. Kerr Scott Reservoir near Wilkesboro. Climbers should take an extended set break and drive south from Boone on the Parkway to Shiprock (park at Rough Ridge) for an array of trad routes between 5.7 and 5.12.
Beer Run: Be sure to stop at the Boone Saloon, where you can grab some tasty bar food (get Jane’s Veggie Burger with the yogurt garlic sauce) and a pint of a variety of local Carolina beers. boonesaloon.com
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion
September 17-19, Bristol, Tenn. / Va.
Being on downtown Bristol’s State Street is pure old-time Southern comfort. You can feel the presence of country music’s true roots. The small city—known as the Birthplace of Country Music—is where the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made some of their first recordings, and it’s making a comeback with this high-profile annual street festival, which takes over downtown. Crowd size has been swelling into the tens of thousands at this festival, which bridges the past and present with a broad spectrum of Americana roots music. Bands play on a cool mix of 16 different stages—including outdoor main stages, a dance tent, small bars and restaurants, and the ornate Paramount Theatre. Headliners for this year’s 10th anniversary include Del McCoury Band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Infamous Stringdusters, Doyle Lawson, and Cadillac Sky.
Bands not to miss: State Street will never be the same after the Drive-By Truckers fire up their amps and torch the scene with the distorted anthems from their latest grungy Southern masterpiece The Big To-Do.
Recreational Diversion: This festival comes with its own 5K, so wake up early on Saturday morning and post your best 3.1-mile time on the downtown course. Or bring your boat and paddle the eight-mile, class III-IV stretch of the Nolichucky River from the Poplar Boat Launch near Poplar, N.C., to the Nolichucky Gorge Campground, which offers shuttle service.
Beer Run: Stop by the small batch outfit Depot Street Brewing in nearby Jonesborough, Tenn., and grab a growler of the tasty Freight Hopper IPA. depotstreetbrewing.com
October 9-10, Roseland, Va.
This new festival in the fields surrounding Devil’s Backbone Brewery in idyllic Nelson County looks to be the first to finally get the formula right when it comes to mixing roots music and outdoor sports. In addition to a top-notch lineup of roots music, all the suds you can handle from the four surrounding regional microbreweries, and crisp countryside camping in early fall, the festival will feature mountain bike and trail run races, clinics, and plenty of other chances to explore the surrounding central Virginia Blue Ridge.
Bands not to miss: Host band the Infamous Stringdusters will be playing some of the scorching string cuts from their recently released album Things That Fly. Additional headliners will be announced soon.
Recreational Diversion: Fall will be just starting to explode in the surrounding Blue Ridge. You can get lost in it at nearby Shenandoah National Park. Catch some sweeping views and early hues at the Park’s southern end from the summit of Blackrock, reached with a short hike from mile 84.8 of Skyline Drive.
Beer Run: Since local breweries will have this event covered, switch it up and make a pit stop at one of the area’s many vineyards. Try the classy Veritas Vineyard and Winery (veritaswines.com) in nearby Afton and grab a bottle of the popular Claret. •