News & Views » Cover

The Best of the Fests

Top 25 music festivals in the Southeast

People move to the Southeast for all kinds of reasons, one of the most popular being the temperate climate. Sure, it may get a little steamy in the summer, but not enough to keep us indoors if there's something worthwhile going on outside. And, judging from the music festivals that take place across the region, there almost always is. With bluegrass jamborees in the mountains, beachfront symphonies on the coast and rock fests in the cities, there's no shortage of events within a day's drive of wherever you happen to be. Here's a list of 25 of the best music festivals the South has to offer, plus a list of other music events that take place every year across the region.


CITY STAGES The prototype for city music festivals throughout the Southeast, City Stages in Birmingham, Ala., celebrates its 16th year June 18-20. Streets are closed and multiple stages are erected throughout the city, where the top acts in a myriad of musical styles perform for three glorious days and nights. This year's lineup includes Ruben Studdard, Al Green, Keb Mo, Ralph Stanley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fuel, Live and Fountains of Wayne.

W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL Named for the man called "the father of the blues," this festival (July 25-31) celebrates the origins and advancements of two seminal American music forms: jazz and blues. Artists as diverse as Bobby Blue Bland, Dizzy Gillespie and the North Mississippi All-Stars have celebrated their heritage in clubs, restaurants, parks and other venues throughout Florence, the city where Handy was born in 1873. Ticket prices vary.


CITYLINK MUSIC FEST The Broward/Palm Beach alt-weekly CityLink sponsors this annual 12-hour festival. From 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. in late December, an unbelievable 75 or so bands (mostly unsigned locals) perform on 10 stages in Hollywood. Ticket prices vary with the venue. Check out when the weather starts to cool.

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY This 25-year-old Pinellas County tradition, which occurs Oct. 14-17, strives to balance its smooth jazz offerings with more adventurous and/or classic styles. Case in point: Herbie Hancock was headliner last year. Best of all, every night of this shindig -- held at Clearwater's Coachman Park -- is free.

FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL Spearheaded largely by Orlando culture-and-nightlife tabloid Axis, the April 15-17 festival has quickly grown from a showcase event for unsigned artists to a three-day party featuring several national alternative, indie, modern-rock and DJ acts. This week, River City High, Less Than Jake and The Early November will join more than 150 yet-to-be-discovered artists for a networking free-for-all. Fourteen venues charge individual covers, or FMF offers an all-access wristband. For prices and schedules, go to

SUWANNEE SPRINGFEST The largest jam-band festival in the state is held the last weekend of March. It leans heavily on bluegrass/newgrass styles, but rarely fails to fill out the bill with other eclectic fare. Medeski Martin & Wood and Charlie Hunter are past headliners, and George Clinton's P-Funk All-Stars are regulars. (There's also a fall version called MagnoliaFest that runs Oct. 21-24.) The show is held in the amphitheatre and surrounding areas of Live Oak's Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, between Gainesville and the Georgia state line. Tickets are $115 in advance, $130 at the gate. Sat.-Sun. only tickets are $105. (Multiday passes include camping.) Or pick up daily tickets at $30-$50 apiece.

TROPICAL HEATWAVE WMNF-FM's (88.5) event only lasts one afternoon and evening (May 1), but the Tampa community-funded radio station's wildly eclectic playlists ensure that its six Ybor City stages are packed with quality talent from every genre. This year includes rising roots-punks Against Me! And hip jazzbos Sex Mob. Thirty artists appear in all. Tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door.

VERIZON MUSIC FESTIVAL Now in its fourth year, the May 19-22 festival generally caters to older, semi-schooled fans of jazz, blues and jazzy, bluesy pop. It still provides an eclectic mix, however. This year features Missy Elliott, Jewel and k.d. lang, for starters. The festival doesn't take place at a single location, but rather at quality venues all over the Tampa Bay area.


ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL Throughout May, the city's cultural calendar is devoted to the smooth sounds of sax, skittering drums and blaring trumpets beckoning from a variety of venues. After a steady buildup of shows throughout the month, the action culminates Memorial Day weekend in Piedmont Park with a slate of can't-miss shows. Performing May 27-31 are Arturo Sandoval, Yusef Lateef, Shirley Horn, Randy Weston & African Rhythms, Regina Carter and more. Most of the festival is free, but tickets for shows at Chastain Park and Spivey Hall must be purchased at the venue's box offices or websites.

Add a comment