Cover Photo: Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Photo by Sophie Harris.
Best of the Fests
The hills are alive with the sound of music. Every year the Blue Ridge region boasts a bustling schedule of top-notch festivals, featuring sounds ranging from traditional bluegrass to eclectic roots rock. These events are often in incredibly scenic locations that offer comfortable camping and plenty of adventure opportunities. Read on to learn about some of the best fests in our backyard.
Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance
This longstanding family-friendly fest takes place on a scenic 75-acre farm near the main cities of the North Carolina Research Triangle. Headliners include Donna the Buffalo, Sierra Hull, Marty Stuart, and Willie Watson. shakorihillsgrassroots.org
Cheat River Festival
For nearly three decades, this waterfront party has been a regional favorite, filled with arts, boating, bluegrass, food, and fun, all to support the Cheat River watershed. Paddle in the Downriver Race, run a 5K, and catch tunes by Larry Keel. cheatfest.org
North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival
A stellar line-up of roots-based bands will be jamming and more than 40 craft breweries will be pouring at this popular event on Huntersville’s historic Rural Hill. Catch sets by the Steep Canyon Rangers, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Lilly Hiatt, Susto, and 49 Winchester. ncbrewsmusic.com
Black Mountain, N.C.
A smaller spinoff of the longstanding LEAF festival, LEAF Retreat features an eclectic roster of roots music acts, as well as a variety of healing arts workshops. Acts performing include the Headhunters and Arise Roots. theleaf.org
Trail Days is the Appalachian Trail hiking community’s biggest party. Hosted since 1987, it turns the tiny but vibrant mountain town of Damascus into a festive family reunion for A.T. thru-hikers from different generations, who come together to trade boot-worn stories by bonfire, dress up in crazy costumes and march in a parade, check out a variety of gear and food vendor booths, and get rowdy at the campgrounds in the evenings. visitdamascus.org
Beaufort Music Festival
Grace Potter and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe lead the lineup at this two-day fest that takes place on Beaufort’s scenic waterfront at the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Gallants Channel. The laid-back, family friendly fest will also feature local art, good eats, and a kid’s area. beaufortmusicfestival.com
Showcasing the abundance of outdoor opportunities along the James River in downtown Richmond, Riverrock is a huge mountain sports and music festival featuring plenty of opportunities to play and groove. Run the James River Scramble 10K, ride the MTB time trial, go for a paddle, and catch sets by Neal Francis, 49 Winchester, and Sierra Hull. dominionriverrock.com
A picker’s paradise, this fest honors living legend Del McCoury—once a member of genre founder Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys—who turned 84 this year. Del and his band headline the festival in the scenic Potomac River Valley of western Maryland with help from a generation-spanning lineup of top-notch bluegrass all-stars, this year featuring Sam Bush, the Infamous Stringdusters, Trampled by Turtles, and Sierra Ferrell. delfest.com
Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival
Rooster Walk is going big in year 13, featuring sets from Greensky Bluegrass, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and the Marshall Tucker Band. The family friendly festival takes place at the scenic Pop’s Farm, a bucolic property located just outside of Martinsville that offers an ideal setting for four days of music on multiple lakeside stages, wooded camping, and plenty of kids’ activities. roosterwalk.com
U.S. National Whitewater Center Memorial Day Celebration Charlotte, N.C.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center—an outdoor recreation staple in Charlotte—hosts this annual celebration that features two full days of activities, including a Saturday morning trail race and SUP yoga sessions on the Catawba River. There will also be live music throughout the weekend. whitewater.org
Graves Mountain Music Festival
Bluegrass sounds better in the mountains. Set near Shenandoah National Park at the scenic Graves Mountain Campground, this festival offers a deep lineup of regional fast-picking favorites, including Valerie Smith, Rose River Ramblers, and Dark Hollow Bluegrass. The family friendly festival also features informal jams and workshops, as well as a big slate of outdoor programming, including road cycling rides, yoga, guided hikes and a fly fishing workshop. gravesmountain.com
Mountain Music Festival
Oak Hill, W.Va.
ACE Adventure Resort hosts this West Virginia rager that mixes music and adventure, pairing a deep roster of jam bands with access to world-class whitewater and a top-notch trail network in the scenic New River Gorge. Ride, paddle, and listen to sounds from a stacked lineup that includes Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and the Infamous Stringdusters. mountainmusicfestwv.com
NC Trail Days
The small town of Elkin in North Carolina’s Yadkin valley sits at the confluence of three trails: the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and the Yadkin River Paddle Trail. Accordingly, this four-day event celebrates the bounty of recreation opportunities in the area with live tunes, outdoor vendors, guided hikes, mountain bike clinics, and an adventure film festival. nctraildays.com
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
The multi-genre mega fest, which takes place on a 700-acre farm in the middle of Tennessee, has big things planned for this summer. The festival’s top billing goes to Kendrick Lamar, Odesza, and Foo Fighters. The undercard is quite impressive, too, featuring Tyler Childers, Lil Nas X, My Morning Jacket, and Sylvan Esso. bonnaroo.com
Appalachian Trail Festival
in the Gap
A day-long celebration of the Appalachian Trail will take place at a new venue this year. Located at the Gap Stage and Old Stone School, the festival includes trail talks and workshops, as well as tunes from Mink’s Miracle Medicine and Justin Trawick & the Common Good. roundhillat.org
The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame puts on this picker’s paradise at the scenic Yellow Creek Park. Serious string work will be on display over four days, including sets by Old Crow Medicine Show, Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush, and Molly Tuttle. rompfest.com
Back Home Festival
New Martinsville, W.Va.
This free festival in downtown New Martinsville will feature a range of jam and roots acts, including Melvin Seals & JGB, Pink Talking Fish, 49 Winchester, and Dogs in a Pile. backhomefestival.com
Red Wing Roots Music Festival
Mount Solon, Va.
Virginia string band the Steel Wheels host this annual gathering at Natural Chimneys Park in the Shenandoah Valley. The lineup is always impressive, featuring a full slate of Americana and bluegrass heroes, and the atmosphere is intimate, scenic, and friendly for music fans of all ages. This year’s lineup includes the sounds of Old Crow Medicine Show, Robert Randolph, Watchhouse, and Sierra Ferrell. redwingroots.com
Big jams will take place at the high elevations of West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Acts on the bill at this growing festival include Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, Cory Wong and Sierra Ferrell. 4848festival.com
Bike Bash West Virginia
Bruceton Mills, W.Va.
Mountain bikers can get their fill of fat tire fun at this big bash offering plenty of opportunities to ride some of West Virginia’s finest singletrack. In addition to access to 50 miles of trails at the Big Bear Lake Trail center, the fest also features a bike expo, skills clinics, group rides, and live music. bikebigbearwv.com
FloydFest had major plans to move to a new “Forever” home in Floyd County. But in late March it was announced the site would not be ready for use due to permit issues and organizers were ultimately forced to cancel this year’s iterations of the beloved regional festival. Acts booked for 2023 included the Black Crowes, Goose, My Morning Jacket, and Sheryl Crow, so expect big things next year. floydfest.com
Front Porch Fest
August 31 – September 3
Taking place in a scenic and relaxed stretch of the Blue Ridge, this family-friendly music and camping fest takes place on the picturesque Spirit Haven Farm in Patrick County. Lineup: Dangermuffin, Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast, Big Daddy Love, and the Judy Chops. frontporchfest.com
Earl Scruggs Music Festival
Mill Spring, N.C.
A packed lineup of pickers will pay tribute to the late bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Catch sets from Emmylou Harris, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, and Michael Cleveland. earlscruggsmusicfest.com
Mountain Song Festival
Hosted by hometown favorites the Steep Canyon Rangers, this festival features a weekend of top acts in roots music at the Brevard Music Center’s open-air auditorium. mountainsongfestival.com
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion
Taking place right on the Tennessee/Virginia borderline, Bristol celebrates its roots as the “Birthplace of Country Music” with a lively street fest that incorporates artists from many generations. This annual gala features a range of acts from national headliners to down home Appalachian pickers playing on more than 20 stages along the bustling main drag of State Street. This year the festival will feature sets from Nickel Creek, Margo Price, Bruce Hornsby, and Watchhouse. birthplaceofcountrymusic.org
Moon River Festival
Tennessee musician Drew Holcomb hosts this annual bash at Coolidge Park. This year’s lineup—featuring Hozier, Caamp, Nickel Creek, and First Aid Kit—resulted in a fast sell out. But waitlist spots are available. moonriverfestival.com
Go Outside Festival
Roanoke is one of the most adventure-friendly towns in the Blue Ridge, and this annual fest spotlights the area’s abundance of mountain sports action with three days of fun events around downtown and in Elmwood Park. In addition to running races, bike rides, and boat demos, you can learn to fly cast, sip local craft beer, and catch some live tunes. roanokegofest.com