Best of the Fests These 22 bashes in the Blue Ridge offer everything from acrobatic kayakers to Appalachian pickers. Best Urban Adventure Scene Dominion RiverRock May 13-14 — Richmond, Va. On the banks of the James River in downtown Richmond, live tunes combine with a grand spectacle of adventure games. Whether you want to get in on the action or hang back and watch the pros, this fest has something for everyone. The first day includes a dirty 5K mud run, as well as acrobatic kayak and freestyle bike competitions. The second day focuses more on the racing with the longstanding James River Scramble 10K trail run and the Urban Assault Mountain Bike Race, along with a kayak boatercross. New this year will be a bouldering competition and stand-up paddleboard races. Essential Tunes: Colorado’s jamgrass heroes Yonder Mountain String Band headline Saturday night on the Brown’s Island stage, while Friday features Perpetual Groove and Big Gigantic. Watch a video of this year's RiverRock bouldering competition on BRO TV. Kindred Spirit: Mountain Sports Festival (May 27-29, Asheville, N.C.) Every year Asheville becomes a mountain sports Olympics for a long weekend of competitions, including paddling, triathlon, cycling, running, disc golf, climbing, and more. Plus, a central area at Carrier Park has gear booths and tunes from Zach Deputy, Big Daddy Love, and Spiritual Rez. Best Beach Party Hangout Festival May 20-22 — Gulf Shores, Ala. This is the perfect opportunity to get down to the Gulf Coast and spend a few bucks. This new festival in just its second year features a full line-up of national heavyweights playing on stages that sit right on the Gulf’s white sand beaches with ocean views. Soak up the sun while you take in the sounds of Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket, and many more. Essential Tunes: Girl Talk will have you dancing until it hurts with high-energy mash-ups of popular hip-hop and pop songs. Kindred Spirit: Bayou Boogaloo (June 23-26, Norfolk, Va.) A taste of New Orleans comes to the Virginia coast with this celebration of spicy food and brass grooves at Town Point Park in Norfolk. Best Alternative to Telluride DelFest May 26-29 — Cumberland, Md. Any festivarian will tell you that the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is the mecca of all bluegrass bashes, but getting to the gorgeous confines of Southwestern Colorado’s box canyon isn’t always possible. Thankfully, this like-minded alternative has come to the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians. Set in a scenic valley along the North Branch of the Potomac River, DelFest was created around legend Del McCoury as an outdoor party that bridges the generation gap of acoustic music. String sounds ring out through the mountains from traditional heroes like Dailey and Vincent and Jesse McReynolds, as well as younger pickers like Yonder Mountain String Band and Old Crow Medicine Show. There are also epic, intimate late night shows in an indoor meeting hall that start at midnight. Essential Tunes: Don’t miss the Del McCoury Band’s collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as the two groups will be celebrating the release of their joint album, American Legacies. This year DelFest also embraces Southern rock with acoustic sets from Warren Haynes and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. Kindred Spirit: Aiken Bluegrass Festival (May 13-14, Aiken, S.C.) This two-day fest features progressive picking from Larry Keel, Hackensaw Boys, Town Mountain, and the Big Daddy Bluegrass Band. Plus, Saturday starts with a Tour de Fat bike ride with main sponsor New Belgium Brewing. Field Tested Favorites: The right gear for every festival Best Traditional Bluegrass Bash Graves Mountain Festival of Music June 2-4 — Syria, Va. If your idea of festival is parking yourself in a lawn chair and watching world-class picking until your heart’s content, this is the festival for you. Graves Mountain Lodge sits next to Shenandoah National Park, providing the perfect outdoor ambiance for the string sounds of the Seldom Scene and Rhonda Vincent. In between sets, you can hike Whiteoak Canyon, take a swim in a nearby river, or grab a delicious home-cooked meal in the lodge. Essential Tunes: Catch the creative blend of bluegrass, folk, jazz, and gospel from Appalachian mountain pickers Balsam Range. Kindred Spirit: Mineral Bluegrass Festival (July 14-16, Mineral, Va.) Mineral has become legend in the bluegrass world, as evidenced by its stellar line-up which includes Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, and Jesse McReynolds & The VA Boys. aandabluegrass.com Best Low Key Jam Smilefest Reunion June 3-5 — Pinnacle, N.C. Smilefest was a North Carolina tradition that started back in 1995 and grew to become one of the premier roots rock festivals in the country. After jumping around the state, looking for friendly host grounds, organizers eventually called it quits a few years ago. To keep the spirit alive, a Smilefest Reunion now takes place at the historic Jomeokee Campground—once owned by bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. With the towering Pilot Mountain directly behind the stage, a stellar line-up of national acts now plays for an intimate crowd of just under 1,500 people. Smilefest is now technically an invite-only fest, but getting a chance to purchase tickets only requires sending an e-mail to the organizers. Essential Tunes: Headliners this year include psychedelic folk rockers Railroad Earth, swamp soul troubadour JJ Grey and his band Mofro, and sax ace Karl Denson. Also catch the New Mastersounds, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Pimps of Joytime, and Danny Barnes. Kindred Spirit: Camp Barefoot (August 18-20, Bartow, W.Va.) Tucked away at West Virginia’s Camp Hidden Meadows, this backwoods jam orgy will feature Kyle Hollingsworth of the String Cheese Incident, the New Deal, Perpetual Groove, Zach Deputy, and RAQ. Best Music Endurance Challenge Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival June 9-12 — Manchester, Tenn. Just looking at the music schedule at Bonnaroo will make your head spin. When you actually try to navigate between the dozen stages and catch all of your favorite bands, you’ll inevitably be overwhelmed. It takes time management, sacrifice, and proper hydration to consume the festival’s non-stop musical overload in the oppressive Tennessee heat. Dashing around the dusty 700-acre farm, you’ll have to leave the main stage rock show 15 minutes early to catch the indie folk band under the tent a half-mile away. But there’s no better chance to see so much great music in one place, as Bonnaroo spares no expense when it comes to its line-up. This year the festival features Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, The Black Keys, and a Buffalo Springfield reunion. Essential Tunes: Don’t miss British folk crew Mumford & Sons and one of the always-insane Bonnaroo sets from My Morning Jacket, who will be unveiling tunes from their new album Circuital. 101: How to Survive Bonnaroo Kindred Spirit: All Good Music Festival (July 14-17, Masontown, W.Va.) Disgruntled jamband fans who think Bonnaroo sold out head to Marvin’s Mountaintop in West Virginia’s northwest corner for their extended fix of improv rock. 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 latest band Furthur, as well as Primus, Pretty Lights, STS9, Keller Williams, and Galactic. Best Global Groove FloydFest July 28-31 — Floyd, Va. Every summer an unsuspecting 80-acre mountain plateau off the Blue Ridge Parkway turns into a four-day carnival of musical cultures near and far. FloydFest has spent the past decade bridging the gap between Appalachian traditions and the melting pot of independent roots music from the around the rest of the world. Crowds have started to swell in recent years, and this year should be the biggest yet, as the fest celebrates 10 years. To mark the occasion, organizers are bringing back their favorite bands that have stood on the Dreaming Creek Stage since the event’s inception. The line-up includes Old Crow Medicine Show, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Taj Mahal, David Grisman, Railroad Earth, North Mississippi Allstars, Toubab Krewe, and many more. Essential Tunes: One new addition you need to catch is Trampled by Turtles. They’ll strike you on the surface as Minnesota hillbillies impressively banging away on their acoustic instruments with a rowdy brand of thrash-grass. But then lead singer Dave Simonett quiets things down with a dusty Townes van Zandt-style ballad, and you realize there is much more depth to this Duluth-bred string band outfit. Kindred Spirit: Lake Eden Arts Festival (May 12-15, Black Mountain, N.C.) Taking place at the idyllic Camp Rockmont, the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) has one of the most diverse arrays of artistic offerings of any festival in the region, including healing arts workshops, a folk art show, a poetry slam, and dancing. Bands include Maceo Parker, Angelique Kidjo, Ricky Skaggs, and the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, a collaboration of New Orleans’ elite players including Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, Johnny Vidacovich, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Best Mountain Town Throwdown Music on the Mountaintop August 26-27 — Boone, N.C. What started as a school project for Appalachian State University student Jimmy Hunt has turned into the festival Boone’s crunchy populous was craving. Under sunny late summer mountain skies, the High Country carnival brings crowds to local fairgrounds for a stellar two days of roots music, including national headliners and underground local faves. In addition to hosting the music on a completely solar-powered stage, Hunt gives a huge chunk of his proceeds to mountain watchdog Appalachian Voices. Essential Tunes: King of the mandolin Sam Bush returns to this fest for the fourth year in a row, along with Railroad Earth. Kindred Spirit: Mountain Song Festival (September 9-10, Brevard, N.C.) The Steep Canyon Rangers bring a solid line-up of bluegrass heavyweights to Brevard every fall for a pickin’ party at the Brevard Music Center’s open-air auditorium with Pisgah in the backdrop. Best Beer Bust Brewgrass Festival September 17 — Asheville, N.C. This crisp and clear fall afternoon in the mountains of western North Carolina only gets clouded by the imbibing of 120 tasty craft beers served by 40 microbreweries from the around the country. If your buzz starts to take over, wander over to the stage and watch blazing solos from the full line-up of national and regional bluegrass bands. Be warned: This is one of Asheville’s most popular events, so buy tickets soon after they go on sale this month or get shut out. Essential Tunes: The line-up is still to be announced, but past years have included Cadillac Sky, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dry Branch Fire Squad, and J.D. Crowe. Kindred Spirit: Floyd Fandango Beer and Wine Festival (July 2-3, Floyd, Va.) If you’ve ever wanted to enjoy the FloydFest site under much smaller circumstances, this is your chance. At the Fandango, FloydFest organizers tone down the tunes and focus on delivering an Independence Day party full of regional microbrews and wines. Drink your fill and take in the sounds of JJ Grey and Mofro, Anders Osborne, and Acoustic Syndicate. Best Southern Street Scene Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion September 16-18 — Bristol, Tenn./Va. It makes sense that Bristol has its pulse on the current state of Americana. Despite what Nashville is selling you, the classic Southern city that straddles the border of Tennessee and Virginia is the real birthplace of country music. This is where the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made some of their first recordings, and the revitalized downtown is making a comeback with this high-profile annual street festival. A range of artists from national headliners to regional upstarts to down home Appalachian pickers play along the bustling main drag of State Street on 22 stages—outdoors, inside theaters and bars, and in the popular dance tent. Essential Tunes: Acts on the bill, which is still taking shape, include Marty Stuart, Tony Rice Unit, John Oates and 18 South, Elizabeth Cook, Red Molly, and Seldom Scene. Kindred Spirit: Carrboro Music Festival (September 25, Carrboro, N.C.) This one-day festival featuring 160 eclectic musical acts from genres across the spectrum takes place at 25 different venues around the progressive Triangle town. Best Music and Mountain Sports Mash The Festy Experience October 7-9 — Nelson County, Va. There’s always been an unspoken bond between outdoor festivals and adventure sports. Last year the Festy Experience boldly debuted with a mission to seamlessly blend the two. While many adventure games events like to attach a few bands to the post-party, and some music festivals align with a local 5K, the Festy has found the way to successfully intertwine a music throwdown with mountain playtime. A key factor is the setting on the scenic grounds adjacent to Devils Backbone Brewery in the Central Virginia Blue Ridge near Wintergreen Resort. Attendees can just as easily wander from the campground to the starting line of the 10K trail run or singletrack mountain bike challenge as they can to the main stage for a set of blazing bluegrass or the beer garden for a pint of local craft beer. It’s the mix we’ve been waiting for. Essential Tunes: Host band The Infamous Stringdusters put together a top-notch line-up of roots music. Look for it to be announced soon. Enter for your chance to win tickets to this year's Festy Experience! Kindred Spirit: French Broad River Festival (April 29-May 1, Hot Springs, N.C.) This riverside hoedown in the tiny mountain town of Hot Springs blends outdoor playtime with two days of some of the region’s best roots music. Fun competitions include the Raft Race, a 25-mile mountain biking race, and a chance to paddle with pros. Bands this year include Great American Taxi, the Bottle Rockets, and Snake Oil Medicine Show. See 50 more of our favorite festivals or our database with over 150 festivals large and small.