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The Bests of the Fests

From Alabama to Virginia, music festivals abound


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As a gem in the crown of our nation's stupidly named music fests (see Coachella, Langerado, Lollapalooza), Bonnaroo has become one of the safest bets for those who wonder: Is paying $184.50 for tickets, plus the $15 service fee, plus the dangers of contracting hepatitis from the portable toilets really worth it? To answer your question, ponder how much you love Radiohead, Tom Petty, Beck, Elvis Costello, Bright Eyes, Oysterhead and too many other top-shelf bands to list, and let your conscience be your guide. The three-day fest (June 16-18), as always, takes place in tiny Manchester, Tenn., and camping is included in the ticket price.


Vanderbilt University produces some top-notch grads. Apparently, it's now producing some top-notch music fests as well. April 21-22, on the Alumni Lawn of the Nashville university's campus, hear Ben Folds, Secret Machines, My Morning Jacket and -- for reasons we can't understand -- mid-1990s chart-topping rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Maybe concert organizers don't want Rites of Spring to be just another rock-centric affair? Who knows. Tickets cost $25-$50.


Memphis is, like Nashville, a town whose name is synonymous with good music. Elvis aside, R&B made Memphis (Booker T. Jones, Aretha Franklin and, um, Justin Timberlake all hail from there). This year's Beale Street Music Festival is a bit more diverse, offering tasty tuneage from pop-star-in-the-making Jason Mraz, plus usual suspects like Memphis native sons Big Star and the Bar-Kays. Canadian export Bryan Adams is also on the bill. Tickets cost $49.50 and the fest runs May 5-7.




The Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau website touts this yearly four-day, 10-stage beachside party as "the premiere musical event on the East Coast!" We don't know about all that -- past performers include Hootie & the Blowfish, LeAnn Rimes, Goo Goo Dolls and Kansas -- but this will be the 11th time Verizon has put a ton of mainstream-friendly national and local rock, pop, country and blues acts on the sand. For more information on this year's installment, check


This annual series of shows is a bit pricey at $50 per performance, but the Hampton Jazz Festival has a reputation for putting big names on stage. This year, for instance, features headliners Maze, B.B. King and Toni Braxton from June 23-25.


Now settled into its new home at Christopher Newport University's Ferguson Center in Newport News, Va., this annual to-do serves as both entertainment and education for jazz fans. For 2006, the event features appearances by Branford Marsalis, Patti Austin & the Count Basie Orchestra, CNU Jazz Ensembles and more, and runs April 5-8. Ticket prices vary; for more information, go to


BAYFEST. Oct. 6-8. Blues, rock, pop. Downtown Mobile.

PENSACOLA JAZZFEST. Early April. Jazz. Seville Square, Pensacola. Free.

RIVERHAWK MUSIC FESTIVAL. Nov. 9-12. Country, folk, blues. Sertoma Ranch, Brooksville.

SARASOTA BLUES FESTIVAL. Oct. 28. Sarasota Fairgrounds, Sarasota. $17-$22.

SARASOTA JAZZ FESTIVAL. Early April. Jazz. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. $32-$50 (per show); $250 (festival pass).

SUNFEST. May 4-7. Rock, pop, reggae, southern rock. Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach. $17-$20 (per day), $35-$40 (full passes).

SUWANNEE RIVER JAM. April 20-22. Country. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $125-$200.

SUWANNEE RIVER JUBILEE. June 14-17. Gospel. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak. $10 (per night), $25 (pass).

TAMPA BAY BLUES FEST. May 5-7. Blues. Vinoy Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg. $50.

THE FEST. Late fall. Punk, indie rock. Various venues, Gainesville. Lineup and tickets to be announced.

BEAR ON THE SQUARE FESTIVAL. April 21-23. Bluegrass and old-time. Historic Public Square, Dahlonega. Free outdoor events.

ATHENS HUMAN RIGHTS FESTIVAL. May 6-7. Political activists and musicians in a festival without corporate sponsorship. Downtown Athens.

ATHFEST. June 21-25. Indie rock. Downtown Athens. Free.

NATIONAL BLACK ARTS FESTIVAL. July 14-23. Jazz, world. Various Atlanta venues.

GEORGIA MUSIC HALL OF FAME 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY GALA. Sept. 21-23. Three days of Georgia musicians. Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon. Free.

ATLANTIS MUSIC CONFERENCE. Oct. 4-7. Primarily rock showcase with industry conference. Various Atlanta venues.

PICKIN' FOR MEMORY. June 22-24. Bluegrass. Sparta. $10-$35.

POPPY MOUNTAIN BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL. Sept. 12-16. Bluegrass/newgrass. Moorehead. $15-$90.

COUNTRY STAMPEDE. June 22-25. Country. Sparta. $45-$200.

FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL. April 21-23. Jazz, Dixieland, Zydeco. French Quarter, New Orleans. $50-$60.

MOFEST. April 28-30, May 5-6. Jazz, R&B, blues -- all New Orleans artists. Woldenberg Park, New Orleans. Free.

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