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The Best Southern Music Festivals

southern music festivals

The South has a longstanding musical legacy, as most styles of music, from R&B to rock to bluegrass, all trace their heritage to the region. It’s also produced some of the country’s most famous artists like Elvis Presley and the Allman Brothers Band, just to name a few. So it makes sense that music festivals would thrive here. Here are our picks for the best Southern music festivals, covering every genre of music.

Jazz Fest

New Orleans Jazz Festival 2010

Marcus Miller at Jazz Fest 2010 (credit: The City Project)

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is one of the city’s most well known and regularly brings in acts like Billy Joel, John Mayer, Ben Harper and Band of Horses. The festival also celebrates the best of regional food, crafts and culture.

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

music festivals

Bonnaroo Arch 2013 (credit: Author)

Held on a farm in rural Tennessee, Bonnaroo is like it’s own village of fellow music lovers. It brings eclectic acts like Paul McCartney, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, R. Kelly and The Lumineers. “The Roo” also hosts comedy acts like Bob Saget and screens independent films.

Hangout Music Fest

Hangout Fest

Hangout Fest 2011 (credit: Ted Reese)

It doesn’t get much better than Hangout, which is held annually on the beach. Past performers have included Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder and Bassnectar, covering nearly every genre of popular music. Attendees stay in condos and hotels right on the beach for ease of access to the festival.

Music Midtown

Ludacris @ Music Midtown

Ludacris at Music Midtown 2012 (credit: Mark Runyon | ConcertTour.org)

What started as a small local weekend music festival in 1994 has become known throughout the region for bringing in well-known acts. Music Midtown‘s past performances have included locals Ludacris and T.I. as well as top bills Coldplay, Florence + the Machine and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. It went on hiatus from 2006 to 2011 but is back and bigger than ever.

  • Where: Atlanta, Georgia
  • When: September

Southern Ground Music and Food Festival

David Gray

David Gray at Southern Ground 2012 (credit: Stacey Kizer)

Southern Ground is a fairly new festival features artists and food from the region, based in both Nashville and Charleston. The festival was started by Zac Brown and his company and features Zac Brown Band as well as past artists Amos Lee, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and David Gray, pictured above.

Beale Street Music Festival

Florence and the Machine @ Beale Street Music Festival

Florence Welch at Beale Street 2012 (credit: Mark Runyon | ConcertTour.org)

It’s no longer just blues at Beale Street Music Festival, held on Memphis’ most famous street since 1977. It is the first event in a month long festival called Memphis in May. Past acts include Herbie Hancock, Wiz Khalifa, Alison Krauss and Union Station and the Smashing Pumpkins.

  • Where: Memphis, Tennessee
  • When: May

Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival

wakarusa June 5-8 2008 067

Wakarusa 2008 (credit: Erin Colonna)

Wakarusa is a festival held in Mulberry Mountain in the Ozarks of Arkansas, named for the nearby river of the original location in Lawrence, Kansas. Well-known past performances have included Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Ben Folds and the Avett Brothers.

  • Where: Ozark, Arkansas
  • When: May/June

Forecastle Festival

Forecastle 2013

Forecastle 2013 (credit: ZepfanMan.com)

Founded in 2002 as a music, arts and activism festival, Forecastle Festival has become one of Kentucky’s largest music events, held in Louisville Waterfront Park. Past artists have included Big Boi, Old Crow Medicine Show, Widespread Panic and My Morning Jacket. Activists groups like Greenpeace and The Sierra Club are always in attendance.

Merlefest

Doc Watson Merlefest 2005

The late Doc Watson at Merlefest 2005 (credit: Robbie Link)

Named for Eddy Merle Watson by his father musician Doc Watson, Merlefest is an annual celebration of “traditional plus” music, which includes bluegrass, acoustic, blues, folk, Cajun, jazz and everything in between. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, the festival has hosted Dolly Parton, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Steve Martin.

Mentioned in this post
  1. New Orleans
    City in Louisiana

    New Orleans Louisiana
  2. Manchester (Tennessee)
    City in Tennessee

    Manchester (Tennessee) Tennessee
  3. Gulf Shores
    City in Alabama

    Gulf Shores Alabama
  4. Atlanta
    City in Georgia

    Atlanta Georgia
  5. Nashville
    City in Tennessee

    Nashville Tennessee
  6. Charleston
    City in South Carolina

    Charleston South Carolina
  7. Memphis
    City in Tennessee

    Memphis Tennessee
  8. Ozark
    City in Arkansas

    Ozark Arkansas
  9. Louisville
    City in Kentucky

    Louisville Kentucky
  10. Wilkesboro
    City in North Carolina

    Wilkesboro North Carolina

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