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.
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.