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The Bests of the Fests

From Alabama to Virginia, music festivals abound

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ALABAMA

CITY STAGES

Birmingham's big bash occurs June 16-18 this year and features the following: Marty Stuart, Hank Williams Jr., Yellowcard, John Hiatt and the Allman Brothers Band, plus about 120-something other acts. It's quite worth the money, too ($28-$40), considering that most of these acts would charge you the same (if not more) individually. www.citystages.org.

W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL

The father of the blues may be long gone, but his legacy remains. W.C. Handy, born in Florence, Ala., (of the musically historic Muscle Shoals area), is honored every year with the W.C. Handy Music Festival -- known as "Handy Fest" to some. The fest takes place July 23-29 and features performers such as this year's headliner, Ellis Marsalis Jr. Ticket prices vary. www.wchandymusicfestival.org.

FLORIDA

LANGERADO

This early-March festival attracted some class-A talent for the 2006 edition, with headliners like the Flaming Lips and Wilco. The hangovers are still slowly going away, so who knows what's planned for next year over in Sunrise? There doubtless will be a ton of bands vying for a spot in the sun. www.langerado.com.

WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE

This hipper-than-hip dance/electronica get-together goes down every March in Miami -- where else? There are countless panels and performances for what is maybe the most important American confluence of cutting-edge electronic talent. Hell, even the hotel lobby has DJs scheduled for the entire time. You've got plenty of time to start working out now for 2007: A lot of this shit happens pool-side. www.wmcon.com.

SUWANNEE SPRINGFEST

This late-March festival in Live Oak spotlights the best of the best in the rural arts. Genres range from country to folk to bluegrass. This past year, highlights were Béla Fleck & the Flecktones and crunchy country-rock dudes Daddy. Just keep your Birkenstocks handy for 2007. www.magmusic.com.

TROPICAL HEATWAVE

May 20 is the date. The Cuban Club in Ybor City's the venue. This gathering, brought to us by the good folks at WMNF-FM (88.5), has an immense list of national and local artists of all styles. Included in the rundown? Summerbirds in the Cellar, a band so good we had to pick them as one of our Bands to Watch. See if they make your list. www.tropicalheatwave.org.

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY

The lineup to this year's festival in Coachman Park is under airtight security until August, meaning we can only speculate about what jazzbos might be in town. The event goes down Oct. 19-22 and is -- no shit -- free to the public. Hit up the website come August and start planning your fall. www.clearwaterjazz.com.

FLORIDA FOLK FESTIVAL

This yearly event brings in an astounding amount of Floridian and national folk talent for a weekend of campin' 'n' pickin'. Everything goes down May 27-28 for this year's -- the 54th -- installment. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is the host, in a beautiful spot out in the middle of nowhere. Tickets will run you $15-$20 for a day and $35-$40 for the weekend. www.floridastateparks.org/folkfest.

FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL

Downtown Orlando gets rocked by a (hopefully metaphorical) hurricane May 17-20 with this industry-heavy showcase spread over 15 local venues. Artist applications are still being sifted through, meaning even the promoters don't know who's going to show up yet. If a reason to visit Orlando exists, this might be it. www.floridamusicfestival.com.

JVC JAZZ FESTIVAL

Miami Beach gets a taste of this festival, which actually makes a handful of stops around the country. Everything goes down June 1-5. The lineup includes mostly crowd-pleasing types. The nice thing about it? Instead of paying one large all-week fee, you can pick and choose which shows to check out. www.festivalproductions.net.

GEORGIA

THE ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL

For 31 days in May, eclectic jazz artists take over a variety of venues around town. The festival wraps up with an outdoor concert series and competition held Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29) in Piedmont Park. Most shows are free, but tickets for shows at Chastain Park and Spivey Hall must be purchased at the venues' box office or website. www.atlantafestivals.com.

BLIND WILLIE MCTELL BLUES FESTIVAL

For the 13th year, on May 20, the town of Thomson celebrates the legacy of Blind Willie McTell, the great blues guitarist born there in 1901. This year's lineup includes Georgia native and Allmans/Rolling Stone pianist Chuck Leavell, the Randall Bramblett Band, Sean Costello and more. Tickets will cost $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. www.blindwillie.com.

KENTUCKY

W.C. HANDY BLUES AND BARBECUE FESTIVAL

Also celebrating the great bluesman W.C. Handy, the town of Henderson hosts a weeklong blues cookout and concert from June 10-17. Peppering the lineup are acts such as Bettye LaVette, Joe Bonamassa, Wayne Baker Brooks, Ian Siegel Band, the Tommy Castro Band and more. Admission is free. www.handyblues.org.

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