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.
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.