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Best of the Fests 2011

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.

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.

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