The hills are alive with the sound of music. It’s festival season in the South. Our eighth annual Festival Guide highlights 50 of our favorite Blue Ridge bashes, along with outlandish festival awards like Best Euphoric Test of Endurance, Best in Bluegrass, and Best River Rager. We also feature the most exciting new bands on the Southern Appalachian festival circuit and essential festival gear. In addition, our 2012 Festival Guide provides humorous people-watching perspectives and insight into the region’s wildest and wettest adventure fests. Kick off your shoes, grab a beverage, and get ready to rock.

Tap into the Blue Ridge festival circuit. From spring through fall, the scene is bustling with events for every interest. Whether you’re into beer, BBQ, banjos, or boats, let this be your guide to the region’s best fests.

French Broad River Festival

Get ready to bring it on the banks of the French Broad. This riverside hoedown in the tiny mountain town of Hot Springs blends a long weekend of outdoor action and the region’s best roots music. Mountain playtime includes a raft race, a 25-mile mountain biking race, and a chance to paddle with pro kayakers. Bands this year include Lukas Nelson (that’s Willie’s son) and the Promise of the Real, the Gourds, and Balsam Range.  frenchbroadriverfestival.com

Cheat River Festival

Enter the Downriver Race, or just relax in the West Virginia sun at this low-key fest with some paddling fun and local string bands that helps protect one of the Mountain State’s favorite rivers.  cheat.org

BrewRidge Music Festival

If an abundance of local craft beer makes you feel like a kid in a candy store, head to the scenic property of Mountain Lake, an Appalachian hidden gem just outside of Blacksburg. mtnlakeconservancy.org

Lake Eden Arts Festival

Twice a year the idyllic Camp Rockmont explodes with culture. Basking the shadow of the Black Mountains, the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) features one of the most diverse arrays of artistic festival offerings, including healing arts workshops, a folk art show, a poetry slam, and dancing. This spring the music will celebrate the blues—representing styles from the clubs of Chicago to the hill country of the deep South to roots from times past. Performers on the bill include Taj Mahal, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. LEAF takes place again October 18-21. theleaf.org

Aiken Bluegrass Festival

This well-established two-day fest in Aiken features progressive picking from Larry Keel, the Steeldrivers, and Ironhorse. Carrying forward new tradition, New Belgium Brewing will once again kick off the festival with a bicycle parade downtown. aikenbluegrassfestival.org

Trail Days

Hikers gone wild. It’s happening at this mother of all trail fests that wakes up the sleepy mountain town of Damascus for a long weekend of Appalachian Trail celebration. Thru-hikers reunite to trade trail stories, march in a parade, get goofy in a talent show, soak each other with water guns, check out a variety of gear booths, and sip a little moonshine. It’s also an excuse to explore the amazing network of trails that branch our from Damascus into the Mountain Rogers National recreation Area, including the A.T., the Iron Mountain Trail, and the family-friendly Virginia Creeper. traildays.us

Dominion Riverrock

This adventure games blowout takes place on the banks of the James River in downtown Richmond, featuring a full slate of outdoor sports and a full line-up of live music. The first day includes a dirty 5K mud run, as well as a freestyle bike showdown, and the opening rounds of the weekend-long bouldering comp. The second day focuses more on racing with the longstanding James River Scramble 10K trail run and the Urban Assault Mountain Bike Race, along with a kayak boatercross and a stand-up paddleboard race. Pin on a race bib and challenge the competition or just chill out on Brown’s Island browsing gear booths from the outdoor industry’s best. The soundtrack to the epic action will include live tunes from Keller Williams, J.J. Grey and Mofro, and Galactic. dominionriverrock.com

Hangout Festival

Check out a full line-up of national heavyweights with white sand in between your toes. At Hangout, the stages sit waterside, right on ‘Bama’s gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches. Soak up the sun, while you take in the sounds of Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, and Wilco. hangoutmusicfest.com

Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

Delbert McClinton headlines this annual festival that commemorates Georgia blues legend Blind Willie McTell. blindwillie.com

Mountain Sports Festival

Every year Asheville becomes an outdoor 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 regional musicians.mountainsportsfestival.com

Dr. Ralph Stanley’s Annual Memorial Weekend Bluegrass Festival

Stanley turned 85 this year, and he’s still touring like a spry youngster. He also hosts this traditional bash at his old home place. This year features help from Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Blue Highway, and more. drralphstanley.com

DelFest

Set in a scenic valley along the North Branch of the Potomac River, DelFest honors living legend Del McCoury with an outdoor party that bridges the generation gaps of acoustic music. String sounds ring out through the mountains from traditional heroes like Larry Stephenson, as well as genre-bending pickers like Yonder Mountain String Band and Leftover Salmon. This year, funny man Steve Martin will show off his banjo skills as a top headliner. There are also stamina-testing late night shows in an indoor meeting hall that start at midnight. delfest.com

Virginia Mountain Bike Festival

A festival for the fat tire freaks among us, this event brings together mountain bikers for a long weekend of hang time at the Stokesville Campground in the George Washington National Forest. By day there is plenty of epic riding for all levels, including stints on the legendary Southern Traverse and Reddish Knob. At night, rest your legs and enjoy hot meals and cold beers by the campfire. mtntouring.com

Rooster Walk

This growing grassroots fest at the idyllic Blue Mountain Festival Grounds remembers two fallen friends with a big weekend of regional roots music including Pimps of Joytime.roosterwalk.com

White Squirrel Festival

Brevard pays tribute to its favorite neighbor with a street festival that includes White Squirrel walking tours, a box derby, and a solid line-up of live music. whitesquirrelfestival.com

Appalachian Uprising

This grassy throwdown takes place in the Appalachians of Ohio, this year featuring the Infamous Stringdusters and Ricky Skaggs. appalachianuprising.net

Graves Mountain Festival of Music

If your idea of festival is relaxing in a lawn chair and watching world-class bluegrass 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 Gibson Brothers, Balsam Range, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. 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. gravesmountain.com

Wakarusa

This huge jam gathering in the Ozarks will feature Pretty Lights, The Avett Brothers, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and many more. wakarusa.com

Blue Plum Festival

Join 80,000 people gathering over seven city blocks in downtown Johnson City for three days of Americana tunes, great food, and regional art. blueplum.org

Tour de Fat

New Belgium Brewing’s traveling celebration of bike cultural will make its way through the South and Mid-Atlantic with additional stops in Washington, D.C. (June 16), Durham, N.C. (June 23), and Atlanta (June 30). The events kick off with a bike parade and then move into the long Afternoon Ballyhoo, which features a bike circus and rodeo, cycling games, live music, and the expected mass quantities of amazing microbrews. newbelgium.com

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival

If vino is your thing, have your fill and then some at this fest that features 60 wineries at Bull Run Park. Music line-up includes Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Soul Rebels Brass Band.vintagevirginia.com

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Surviving Bonnaroo requires some serious stamina. The festival grounds are dusty, the heat is oppressive, and the only thing thicker than the humidity is the crowd. But it’s also an event that every festivarian needs to experience. Once you muster the mettle to brave the elements, the festival offers a musical line-up that’s unrivaled—from huge national acts to the most promising upstarts ready for a shot on the big stage. In recent years, the festival has also evolved into a full-on carnival with plenty of side shows to keep you entertained—like the Silent Disco, Big Ass Water Slide, a cinema tent, and a comedy theatre with notable performers. The top of the bill this year features Phish, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Iver, and the Avett Brothers, but be sure not to miss sets in some of the smaller tents by blues wiz Gary Clark, Jr. or Minnesota punk-grass rippers Trampled by Turtles. bonnaroo.com

Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival

If you can’t resist good ‘cue, this is your party. The main event of the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival is the cook-off, as teams from around the country compete for big prize money. Other than that it’s all about sampling the region’s best BBQ, listening to great music, and checking out local crafts. Acoustic Syndicate headlines. blueridgebbqfestival.com

Seedtime on the Cumberland

This annual down home celebration of the arts in Appalachia brings together storytellers, musicians, artisans, and writers in the tiny, culturally rich town of Whitesburg. appalshop.org/seedtime

Virginia Blues & Jazz Festival

Acts scheduled to appear this year include modern blues legend Robert Cray and Latin funk outfit Grupo Fantasma. vabluesfest.org

Riverbend Festival

The annual summer street festival along two miles of Tennessee River shoreline packs more musical bang for the buck than any festival in the South with a nine-day pass going for $40. Bands include the Beach Boys, Miranda Lambert, North Mississippi Allstars, and many more.riverbendfestival.com

Music in the Mountains Bluegrass Festival

Sweet string sounds ring through West Virginia cliff country. This hard-line traditional bluegrass festival takes place at the Summersville Music Park. Features: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Nothin’ Fancy, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Big Country Bluegrass, Dailey & Vincent, and many more. adamsandandersonbluegrass.com

ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival

The International Bluegrass Music Museum throws this high-profile pickin’ celebration. Catch The Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Greensky Bluegrass, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Carolina Chocolate Drops. rompfest.com

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

Don your best kilt for this Carolina-style Gaelic celebration that features Scottish games, music, and crafts at MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain near Linville. gmhg.org

Potomac Whitewater Festival

Potomac fest celebrates the D.C.-area’s mighty river and its high-intensity paddling options with comps, clinics, and rowdy fun. potomacfest.com

Forecastle Festival

Forecastle took a break last year to regroup, and decided to come back with the festival’s strongest line-up to date. This year’s fest on the banks of the Ohio in downtown Louisville is being curated by local heroes My Morning Jacket, who helped craft a stellar line-up of heavy hitters, including Wilco, Bassnectar, Neko Case, Girltalk, and Andrew Bird. In addition to the sounds of 75 bands, Waterfront Park will be packed with art installations and a sustainability village, bringing a full cultural overload to one of the coolest cities in the South.forecastlefest.com

Blue Ridge Blues and BBQ Festival

Grub on some of the region’s best barbeque, while you hear the hot licks of blues legend Johnny Winter at Roanoke’s Elmwood Park. blueridgeblues.org

Mineral Bluegrass Festival

Mineral has become legend in the bluegrass world. There’s no more proof than in the stellar line-up, which includes Ralph Stanley, II, Larry Stephenson, and Junior Sisk. mineralbluegrass.com

Artscape

With over 350,000 attendees, this is the largest free arts festival in the country. artscape.org

Bele Chere Festival

Every summer hundreds of thousands of people flock to downtown Asheville for this massive street festival. Family fun mingles with an impressive line-up of national acts.belecherefestival.com

FloydFest

The Blue Ridge’s favorite little festival is all grown up. Last year’s FloydFest line-up yielded a complete sell out, and there’s little reason to believe this year will be any different. Fortunately the organizers have managed the growth with grace and preserved the characteristics that made the festival special in the first place. Crowds migrate to an unsuspecting 80-acre mountain plateau off the Blue Ridge Parkway for a four-day carnival of musical cultures near and far. The festival bridges the gap between Appalachian traditions and the melting pot of independent roots music from the around the rest of the world, while maintaining an intimate atmosphere that’s comfortable for kids and adults, alike, to spread out and enjoy the scenery and the sounds. The line-up this year includes Alison Krauss and Union Station, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Jackson Browne, Leftover Salmon, Drive-By Truckers, Ricky Skaggs, Bruce Hornsby and many more. floydfest.com

Old Fiddler’s Convention

This is where the real mountain folk come to show off their chops. It promises to deliver the best banjo plucking, fiddle sawing, and mandolin pickin’ you’ve ever seen.oldfiddlersconvention.com

Microfestivus

Over 50 microbreweries from around the region will pour their best at Elmwood Park.microfestivus.squaresociety.org

North Carolina State Bluegrass Festival

The pickin’ and singin’ will be mighty fine at Rally Park with the likes of The Grascals and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver on stage. aandabluegrass.com

Camp Barefoot

Tucked away at West Virginia’s Camp Hidden Meadows, this backwoods jam orgy will feature Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Kyle Hollingsworth of the String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Zach Deputy, and Ghostland Observatory. campbarefoot.org

Music on the Mountaintop

Under sunny late summer mountain skies, the High Country carnival brings crowds to Grandfather Mountain Campground for a stellar two days of roots music, including national headliners and local faves. In addition to featuring the music on a solar powered stage, a chunk of festival proceeds goes to mountain watchdog Appalachian Voices. Railroad Earth will be the host band. musiconthemountaintop.com

Mountain Song Festival

North Carolina native sons and regular Steve Martin touring partners, 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. Acts this year include David Grisman and Del McCoury. mountainsongfestival.com

Gauley Fest

Run the Gauley by day, and rage all night. The biggest river festival in the world is all about throwing down to celebrate the annual dam releases of West Virginia’s mighty river. The festival was started in 1983 to celebrate the derailment of a dam project that would have disrupted Gauley flows. As a testament to how much the river means to paddlers, the gala continues nearly 30 years later. In addition to plenty of class V action, this is a rowdy party with crazy howlin’-at-the-moon fun that has included late night boxing and mud wrestling. Also, a who’s who of boat industry folks set up shop in the fest’s vendor marketplace—a great spot to score some sweet gear deals. americanwhitewater.org

Brewgrass Festival

As craft breweries continue to multiply like Gremlins, so do regional beer festivals. Brewgrass gets credit as one of the first, and it still remains insanely popular, selling out quickly after tickets go on sale. This crisp and clear fall afternoon in the mountains of western North Carolina will only get clouded by the imbibing of 120 tasty craft beers served by 40 microbreweries from the around the country. Whether you’re into hoppy IPAs or robust porters, they’ll both pair well with the blazing solos from the full line-up of national and regional bluegrass bands. brewgrassfestival.com

Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion

Before the hype of Nashville took hold, Bristol was the real birthplace of country music, touting early recordings of pioneers, including the Carter Family. Every fall, the spirit is revived at this annual street fest that touches on every avenue of Americana—from indie to traditional. It takes special chemistry for an event to successfully bill Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver next to the indie folk of City and Colour, but Bristol’s downtown has a vintage vibe that makes the generations and genres tastefully collide. 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. Additional acts on the bill this year include Robert Earl Keen, Sam Bush, Tift Merrit, Deep Dark Woods, and many more. bristolrhythm.com

Watermelon Park Fest

This best-kept-secret Americana festival takes place on a sweet riverside spot in the Shenandoah Valley. watermelonparkfest.com

Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance

For music fans in North Carolina, the trek to Shakori Hills in October is a ritual. It’s a four-day bi-annual fest that takes place in the spring and fall on a 75-acre piedmont farm that blends some of North Carolina’s best roots musicians with national headliners, touches of world music from abroad and an array of food, arts, and crafts. shakorihills.org

The Festy Experience

The Festy has found the way to successfully intertwine a high-profile music throwdown with mountain sports action. Approaching its third year on the scenic grounds of Devils Backbone Brewery in the Central Virginia Blue Ridge near Wintergreen Resort, the event combines an eclectic line-up of national acts, curated by host band the Infamous Stringdusters, with plenty of offerings to satisfy outdoor junkies: comfortable camping, a 10K trail run, and a mountain bike race. The event’s impressive workshop stage also covers everything from backpacking to yoga to local food. thefesty.com

Richmond Folk Festival

The Richmond Folk Festival draws nearly 200,000 people to downtown Richmond’s riverfront for music, dance, and eclectic arts. richmondfolkfestival.org

Bridge Day

One day per year, it’s legal to jump off the New River Gorge Bridge. Come out and watch BASE jumpers take flight from nearly 900 feet over the New River. officialbridgeday.com

North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival

It’s hard to top a 10-hour day enjoying a stacked line-up of roots music and the tasty offerings of over a dozen Carolina craft breweries. Drink suds from Highland and Duck Rabbit, while catching the fiery picking of Larry Keel and the Steep Canyon Rangers. ncbrewsmusic.com

Swamptown Getdown

An eclectic mix of roots music will be blaring through the Georgia pines at this new gala that mixes everything from indie rock sounds to jam band grooves to bluegrass picking. Line-up includes Col. Bruce Hampton and many more. stdgf.com

Campout East

David Lowery from Cracker hosts this roots music bash at Glen Maury Park. Look for a carefully crafted line-up of alt-country favorites. campouteast.com

Kingsport Oktoberfest

This freewheeling fall fest is all about breaking records. Last year’s inaugural event saw the Guinness World Record for the longest cornhole throw and the Tennessee state record for brat eating. If scarfing sausage isn’t your thing, you can enter the barrel race or the Black Forest Brew-Off, where home brewers can show off their skills. You can also catch tunes from 15 regional bands, including the Stratton Mountain Boys. kingsportoktoberfest.com

Go Outside Festival

Run, ride, paddle, or hike—you can do it all at this new fest making big noise on the outdoor scene. With main festival grounds located along the Roanoke River at River’s Edge Sports Complex, the event branches off to include some of the most adventurous terrain in the surrounding Valley. In addition to live tunes and local beer, there are guided hikes and bike rides, as well as running and cyclocross races, ultimate Frisbee and paddling at Roanoke River Gorge. With an evolving format, this one should only get better for mountain junkies. roanokegofest.com

 

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