Six regional festivals to experience this summer
SHAKORI HILLS SPRING GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL, SILK HOPE, APRIL 21-24
Who to see: Arrested Development, Taj Weekes, Langhorne Slim, the Lee Boys & The Travelin’ McCourys, Kooley High, Donna the Buffalo. Lots of Donna the Buffalo.
The scene: It’s a pretty even split of twentysomething festies getting their fix of what’s usually the opening bell of festival season and middleaged Donna fiends hajj’ing to their Mecca. Foodwise, the campground dining scene is nearly nonexistent. There’s a cove of approved vendors offering fairly standard fest fare, but at usually less-than-desirable prices.
Why you want to go: For festival lovers with kids of just about any age, it doesn’t get much better than Shakori Hills. It’s free for kids 12 and under, and there’s an army of staff and volunteers on hand to play with the wee ones. Discounted youth tickets are also available for the 12- 15 set who are both too old for face painting and too cool to hang with their parents. For everyone else, the pristine woodland and rolling hills are an idyllic place for a little age-regression therapy.
Miscellanea: It’s a mere 1-hour jaunt from Greensboro and adults can procure a 4-day pass for $90 before April 18. Single-day passes are also available at shakorihills.org.
MERLEFEST, WILKESBORO, APRIL 28-MAY 1
Who to see: Doc Watson, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Lyle Lovette, the Doobie Brothers, Randy Travis, George Hamilton IV, the Infamous Stringdusters, Jerry Douglas with Viktor Krauss and Omar Hakim.
The scene: Depends. They put away the corn liquor at midnight in the family-friendly campgrounds. In family-unfriendly spots, someone’s going to crash ass-first into your tent at least once. If you’ve booked the onsite hotel, then there’s free cable and unlimited tiny soaps. The festival itself sits squarely on the campus of Wilkes Community College, so leave the whiskey behind.
Why you want to go: MerleFest has nearly as much tradition as bluegrass itself, and the living institution of American folk music Doc Watson ain’t getting any younger. Between The Wayback’s Hillside Album Hour and the Midnight Jam, once-in-a-lifetime experiences abound.
Miscellanea: Wilkesboro is about an hour from Winston-Salem. The early bird ticket deadline has been extended until April 11, so scoop those discounted tickets while you can at merlefest.org.
SMILEFEST, PINNACLE, JUNE 3-5
Who to see: Railroad Earth, Melvin Seals and JGB, the New Mastersounds, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Danny Barnes and Larry Keel, John Brown’s Body, Nora Jane Struthers
The scene: Haters gonna hate, and the ones with badges hated on SmileFest so much that the beloved fest went into hiding for a few years. It resurfaced last year at Jomeoke (Okey Dokey!) Campground near Pilot Mountain as an invite-only festival. That means only past SmileFest attendees and friends and family were in on ticket sales. That way, no interlopers and their meddlin’ ways could muck up a real good thing again.
Why you want to go: To interlope. Not really, but SmileFest has such a good vibe about it that it’s hard not to want to be a part of it. Organizer Bob Robertson has administrated different logistical aspects for many major festivals, and this being his baby, its focus is on the jam and all of its many shapes and colors.
Miscellanea: It’s the shortest drive of all the region’s big events at less than 45 minutes and considering the quality of acts, not a bad deal either. Weekend passes can be had for $100 right now at smilefest.com, while VIP packages are also available.
LAKE EDEN ARTS FESTIVAL, BLACK MOUNTAIN, MAY 12-15
Who’s to see: Angelique Kidjo, Maceo Parker, Ricky Skaggs, Spam Allstars, Red June and an insane jam of NOLA greats with Tab Benoit, Cyrille Neville, Anders Osborne, Johnny Vidacovich and more.
The scene: Because of its educational focus, it’s probably the most PG-13 of all the festivals on this list. That said, it sits in some of the most aweinspiring environs in Appalachia, and camping is worth the ticket price alone.
Why you want to go: At twice a year, the LEAF is like Shakori Hills on steroids. It maintains a similar nonprofit focus on celebrating cultural diversity, but musically the lineup is far more top-heavy with a greater proliferation of direct engagement activities in the undercard. Can’t dance? Correct your malady with African and hip-hop dance workshops. Play a mean fiddle? Prove it in competition. Struggling against the Nizmo-Indian defence? There’s a chess master on-hand.
Miscellanea: There are as many price tiers as there are performers, but count on a little over $150 for a full-weekend pass at theleaf.org.
BONNAROO MUSIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL, MANCHESTER, TENN., JUNE 9-12
Who to see: Buffalo Springfield, Lil Wayne, Dr. John with the Original Meters, Opeth, Bootsy Collins & the Funk University, Del McCoury with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Wanda Jackson, DÃ£m-Funk & Master Blazter, J. Cole, Man Man, Karen Elson
The scene: Books will be written on the scene at Bonnaroo, and one of the images that most sticks out in my mind is that of a topless thirtysomething woman with a butterfly painted across her bare chest with her 3-year-old daughter adorned likewise. That was 2003, and also feels like a completely different festival. The good-time opportunists, scenesters and petty bourgeois have waxed while the quasi-counterculturists who populated it in the beginning have waned. The common ground remains the same, however. Get past the oppressive heat, and it’s hard not to have a good time.
Why you want to go: Bonnaroo is kind of a bucket list thing. You go to see music, more music and then some more music, a lot of which only happens therein. You and about 80,000 other people. Being it’s 10 th year, it’s going to be an extra little bit of nutty.
Miscellanea: It can take anywhere from 8-12 hours from the moment you leave the Triad until the moment you pull into a camping spot. The more cash you want to fork over, the lower that number becomes. VIP ticket holders have a separate entrance and if you can get eight people to come up with about 20 large, you can be a pampered pup in Total Access.
FloydFest, Floyd, Va., July 28-31
Who to see: Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Taj Mahal, David Grisman Sextet, Yard Dogs Road Show, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, YARN The scene: The scene at FloydFest rarely teeters too far in favor of any particular festival-going demographic, making it one of the more balanced you’re likely to come across. There’s just as many graying, white collar ex-Deadheads as there are college-aged party seekers, and everyone tends to keep everyone else in check.
Why you want to go: Simply put, it’s a near-perfect balance of great music, manageable crowd sizes, lush scenery and temperate weather. Also, the VIP package is one of the best around for the price, which is why it sold out five months before the festival.
Miscellanea: Four-day passes will run you about $155 and it’s about a two-hour drive there at the speed limit. For an extra $1,000, you can shave about 15 minutes off that drive time.