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The Bests of the Fests

From Alabama to Virginia, music festivals abound

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LOUISIANA

NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL

Not even one of the biggest natural disasters in America's history can stop the Crescent City's best-known music shindig. Count on another eclectic world-class lineup at this year's two-weekend installment (April 28-30 and May 5-7). Advertised performers thus far include: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen (fronting the Seeger Sessions Band), Dave Matthews Band, Etta James, Herbie Hancock, Keith Urban, Juvenile and a host of others. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the gate for each weekend. www.nojazzfest.com.

VOODOO MUSIC EXPERIENCE

This more modern, rock-heavy fest was forced to split its two days between New Orleans and Memphis in 2005, its seventh year. That even half of the annual Halloween-weekend blowout went down in its hometown qualifies as an unmitigated triumph, however. Voodoo '05 happened just two months after Hurricane Katrina rendered much of the Big Easy uninhabitable, and still boasted the combination of big names (Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, the Bravery, Digable Planets, etc.) and beloved local talent for which it has become known. Details for this year's festival haven't yet been posted, but event producer Stephen Rehage has reportedly said it's a go for '06; check the website for emerging details. www.voodoomusicfest.com.

MISSISSIPPI

JUBILEE!JAM

Jackson welcomes all kinds of local and regional artists to the downtown stage June 17-18. There's definitely a focus on grimy, down-home tunes, but some college rock is in the mix as well. This is the festival's 19th edition and the list of past performers is a veritable who's who. North Mississippi Allstars, appropriately enough, is the anchor this year. www.mississippi.gov.

VICKSBURG RIVERFEST

John Lee Hooker Jr. headlines this combination of arts and crafts and music April 21-22. Vicksburg is situated on the lovely banks of the Mississippi River, making it a perfect spot for some outdoor grub and dancing. www.mississippi.gov.

NORTH CAROLINA

BELE CHERE FESTIVAL

Thrown amid the amiably earthy freak show that is Asheville, Bele Chere bills itself as "the Southeast's largest free street festival." Translation: They've got all the incense. In addition to the usual arts, crafts, goods and services, Bele Chere also boasts an impressive musical lineup. While the bill for this year's festival -- scheduled for July 28-30 -- has yet to be announced, the 2005 party featured more than 60 acts on a jam-heavy schedule that included the Marshall Tucker Band, the Codetalkers, Drive-By Truckers, Susan Tedeschi and John Hiatt & the North Mississippi Allstars, to name but a few. www.belecherefestival.com.

SMILEFEST

This weekend-long (June 2-4) jam and progressive-roots fest is on its 12th year, and continues to offer the sort of lineup that college heads, Americana/Appalachia fans and musical omnivores alike can't ignore. This time around, the Yonder Mountain String Band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keller Williams and Larry Keel are among the top attractions. www.smilefest.com.

EASTERN MUSIC FESTIVAL

Last year's program for this month-plus-long (June 24--July 30 this year), pan-stylistic schedule of more than 70 concerts included such disparate artists as Branford Marsalis, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bela Fleck, the Iguanas, Los Straitjackets and Christopher O'Riley, as well as more than 300 others from classical to pop to world beat. They might be cheating a bit when they call this Greensboro to-do a festival -- it's more of a series -- but it does bring the goods. All. Month. Long. This year's schedule has yet to be posted, so hit the website toward the end of April. www.easternmusicfestival.com.

MERLEFEST

Named after legendary country/roots musician Merle Watson, MerleFest offers a generation- and genre-crossing mix of traditional and contemporary roots music, bringing together the very best of bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, Celtic, blues, folk, old-time, Cajun, jazz, and singer/songwriter music, along with traditional dance and crafts. This year's installment, held at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, takes place April 27-30. www.merlefest.org.

SOUTH CAROLINA

3 RIVERS MUSIC FESTIVAL

This three-day (April 21-23) downtown Columbia affair is put on by a nonprofit organization, and run by volunteers -- proceeds go back into the festival's budget every year in the hope of creating a self-perpetuating event. It's also one of the most eclectic and populist gigs on this list, featuring everything from hard rock (Shinedown) to singer/songwriter fare (Delbert McClinton) to country (Shooter Jennings, Nickel Creek) to classic rock (Styx). www.3riversmusicfestival.org.

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL

If you're looking for good bluegrass, it really doesn't matter which Carolina you hit up -- it seems many recognizable names make the scene at nearly every 'grass fest in both of 'em. Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition, Marty Raybon and Cherryholmes are among this event's headliners. As a bonus, it's held late in the year (Nov. 23-25), in case you just hate it when it's sticky. www.aandabluegrass.com.

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