Our Favorite Southern Music Festivals
Josh and I are no stranger to music festivals. Ever since we started dating in the mid 90s, music festivals and concerts have been our jam (no pun intended). We both have an eclectic taste in music so going to festivals allows us both to hear a variety of bands. Here's a list of some of our favorite in the South, along with a few that we're doing later this year!
Memphis in May-Beale Street Music Fest
One of the first music festivals we ever attended was Beale Street's Music Fest in Memphis, Tennessee. It seems to ALWAYS rain whenever it's Memphis in May Music Fest, but that never seems to bother concert goers. We've been there in the muddy mess-we were a lot younger and it didn't bother us back then. The thing I love about Beale Street Music Fest is the wide variety of acts you can see. We love getting to see talent representing a variety of genres in one weekend. Over the years, we've seen people like Bob Dylan, Widespread Panic, The Wildflowers, Little Richard, North Mississippi All Stars, Blues Traveler, Better than Ezra, and Bush (just to name a few).
If you go, make sure to pack a poncho and rain/muck boots. Chances are-you're going to need them!
Bonnaroo- Manchester, Tennessee
Set in Manchester, Tennessee (south of Nashville), this iconic 4-day fest has been going on since 2002. In 2011, Josh and I, along with two of our friends, set out to experience it. First, let me tell you...it's HOT. It's always in the middle of June in southern Tennessee, so it's not surprising it's scorching. But it's set in the middle of a 700-acre field and it gets real hot and real dusty. As long as you are prepared for the heat, you're going to be fine. And, any of my friends can tell you, but I absolutely positively hate tent camping. I don't want to rough it in a tent. Not to mention, a tent in 110 degrees--no thank you! Luckily, our two friends had access to an RV, so we were able to use that the whole weekend. Honestly, I cannot imagine doing Bonnaroo without an RV. We were able to cool off in the air-conditioned RV whenever we wanted, and we had a nice hot shower to rinse the dust off with each day.
The year we went, some of our favorite acts of the weekend included: Ray LaMontagne, Florence and the Machine, Widespread Panic, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, Old Crow Medicine Show, Loretta Lynn, and Big Boi. The crazy thing about Bonnaroo is that you can listen to a band at any time of day. Literally, concerts were still going on at 2:00 a.m. What's even crazier is the people watching. I'm talking about better than "The People of Wal-mart" people watching. I've never seen anything like it in my life.
Y'all ready for my favorite part of Bonnaroo? I absolutely loved the concerts and listening to all those amazing acts. But, my absolute, hands-down best memory of Bonnaroo was "The Silent Disco." It was an open-air pavilion, and when you walked in you were handed a set of wireless headphones. The DJ was at the front of the room playing all kinds of music. Everyone was dancing, singing aloud to the music, but because it was all in the headsets, you couldn't actually "hear" the music if you weren't wearing the headphones. I love a good dance party, and the Silent Disco was the bomb! The best was when you walked by and you could see a ton of people dancing and singing, but you didn't actually hear the music.
I found a video on YouTube to show you what I'm talking about:
Tips for Bonnaroo-
- Be prepared for lots of dust if it's dry, and lots of mud if it's been rainy.
- Wear OLD clothes and pack old shoes.
- Drink a lot of water and stay hydrated; staying out in the hot sun will get you if you're not careful.
- They have water refilling stations everywhere, so just pack a refillable water bottle.
- Pack sunscreen!
- Pack Clorox wipes (you're going to want to wipe your hands from all the dust)
- Check out the yummy food trucks. They had a donut truck from Knoxville that was delish!
Hangout Festival-Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama
In the spring of 2015, we attended the Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama. This is hands down one of my favorite festivals. Instead of standing outside on dirt or mud, you get to stand on the beach! Seriously, even though it was hot, we had the ocean breeze and sand between our toes at every show. Another awesome part of this festival-the bathrooms. In the interest of keeping it real, every porta potty had toilets with running water. If you are a concert or festival-goer, you know this is a BIG deal. I've told y'all, I don't like "roughing" it. Josh laughed when I told him how happy I was that there was running water. It's the little things, and yes I know I just admitted I'm high maintenance when it comes to the outdoors.
Some highlights from that show (besides the awesome beach scenery) were the vendors, the food trucks, the shuttle experience and the time of year it was held. It was in May so it wasn't scorching hot. At an outdoor festival, that's always a plus in my book. We also paid to do the shuttle buses and that was well worth the money. We didn't have to worry about getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, as the shuttle buses pick up out front of most major condos in the area.
Some of the acts we saw that year were The Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band, Beck, Skrillex, and Paramore. I have to say that I wasn't expecting this, but Skrillex was my fave. I wasn't sure I'd like his show, but y'all, it was amazing! If you've never heard of him, he's an electric dance DJ, and the light show combined with the music was unbelievable. I knew none of his music because it's all computer generated (not radio friendly), but it was a killer show. I'd like to see his show again, but I'd have to make a trip to Las Vegas, where he DJs.
Tips for The Hangout Fest
- Pay extra for the shuttle service via bus-it's worth it
- Pack sunscreen and a water bottle (they had refillable stations inside)
- Pack a small towel or blanket you can use on the sand; it's perfect for sitting at the back of the shows and taking it all in.
- Wear shoes you can easily take off (like flip flops)
Forecastle Festival-Louisville, Kentucky
In the summer of 2015, we went to The Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. It's set on the banks of the Ohio River with multiple riverfront stages on about 85-acres. Louisville is such a cool city, and I really wished we would have had more time to explore it. We stayed really close to the show at the Embassy Suites in downtown Louisville. It is in a historic building, but it's completely modern and updated. We were able to stay parked in the garage and walk back and forth to the show.
That summer, a few of the acts we saw included Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton (before he became super famous later that year), Shovels and Rope, and My Morning Jacket. Josh is a huge Sturgill fan, so getting to this festival and seeing him was how we spent our 13th anniversary!
The Forecastle Festival, at least the year we went, seemed like a way scaled back version of other festivals we've attended. You could easily get to the front of the stage at all the shows we went to, and all the stages were pretty close to each other.
2017 Music Trips!
Sloss Festival-Birmingham, Alabama
This summer, we have tickets to attend the Sloss Fest in Birmingham, Alabama. It's a two-day festival at the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. There are going to be over 40 bands of 4 stages. Here's who we're excited to see: Alabama Shakes, Sturgill Simpson, Widespread Panic, Need to Breathe, and Nathaniel Ratliff and the Night Sweats. I keep hearing great things about this festival, and it's one more for Josh and I to check off our "list."
Pilgrimage Music Festival-Franklin, Tennessee
To round out our list of festivals, this fall we're going to the Pilgrimage Music Festival in downtown Franklin, Tennessee. We've been wanting to attend for the past 2 years, but we couldn't make the date work with our schedule. I'm sure many of you have heard the buzz around the festival this year already. If you haven't heard, Justin Timberlake (who bought a farm in Williamson County) is headlining it. I've seen him in concert at Bridgestone, and I can't wait to see him at an outdoor venue. The Pilgrimage Festival is hosted on a 200+ acre farm/park and features a wide-variety of musical acts. It will take place entirely during the day, and all shows will end by 8:00 p.m. One of the things the festival is known for is it "Pilgri-mashups." This is where artists come together for one-time collaborations on the stage. I honestly can't wait to see who will get paired up this year. Here are the acts we're most excited about: Justin Timberlake, Eddie Vedder, Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers, Mavis Staples, Better than Ezra, Shovels and Rope, and Valerie June.
So for you West Tennessee folks reading this, I have an interesting story about the last artist-Valerie June. I wasn't familiar with her, until my family and I were on a Southwest flight to Orlando recently. Josh handed me the Spirit of Southwest magazine, and told me to read an article about a girl from Jackson. Valerie was born in Jackson and raised in Humboldt, and has made a name for herself in the music world. Her bio reads like a "who's who" of people she's collaborated and toured with over the years. She's performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, the Tonight Show, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Later with Jools Holland in the U.K. She's toured with Sturgill Simpson and Norah Jones as well. We've been listening to her music ever since we read the article and learned she had West Tennessee roots. I'm excited we get to see her in concert later this year.
So, that's my list of top music festivals in the South that Josh and I have been to over the last few years.
To recap our complete list, here you go:
- Memphis in May-Beale Street Music Fest
- The Hangout Fest
- Forecastle Festival
- Sloss Fest
- Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Fest
I'd love to hear from y'all! Do you have a favorite music festival that's not on this list? Josh and I are always looking for the next one to add to ours.