Move over, hippies, music fests have gone country. We in the South are blessed with a true wealth of country music festivals to pick from but that creates it’s own set of problems. Which one of these has the best lineup? How many can I afford? Will my boss notice I haven’t been at work all month?
This list can’t answer those questions but it will hopefully point you in the right direction. And click here for our companion piece to see the best of the rest of the fests.
Just to keep things a little fresh, we’ve included genres like folk, bluegrass, Americana, and roots music in our definition of “country.” But once you find yourself up in the mountains, jamming out to Del McCoury and having the time of your life… we think you’ll be OK with our decision.
What is it: This is the big one. If you’ve ever enjoyed the sound of a lap steel or worn a cowboy hat unironically, then there’s something for you at CMA. Put on by the Country Music Association, this event takes over Nissan Stadium for four days every June. There’s also free performances in Riverfront Park and showcases throughout Music City for the entire week. Outside of award shows, this is the biggest event of the year for country music and anyone who buys a ticket gets to participate. How cool is that?
Who’s playing: No lineup announcement yet but we’re pretty confident saying all the biggest names in country music will be there.
When: June 6 – 9
Where: Nashville, Tennessee (duh).
What is it: This is an Americana fest for those who really love the nature aspect of America. Old Settler’s is set in Tilmon, Texas, an unincorporated community of a hundred(ish) people in the brush and sprawl of southeastern Texas. That isolation allows the festival to host one of the more unique stages you’ll find—Camp Shhtimes. Music starts here after dark, there’s no amplification, and attendees are strongly encourage to quietly enjoy the performance. And hey, if you get out there and realize the Texas quiet isn’t for you, Austin is only an hour away.
Who’s playing: This year Old Settler’s really swung for the fences with three titans of American music—Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Brandi Carlile, and Del McCoury. And just for a little variety, they booked New Orleans stalwarts, Galactic.
When: April 11- 14
Where: Tilmon, Texas
What is it: MerleFest has to be one of the best and most authentic Americana music fests in the country. The fest was founded by legendary North Carolina songwriter Doc Watson as a tribute to his late son and performance partner Merle Watson. Once a year people flock to Wilkes Community College for four days of Appalachian folk and bluegrass plus whatever else the organizer feel like booking. Feel free to bring your kids or your own instruments and hop in a jam session or enjoy the Little Pickers Stage. Doc passed on to join his son in 2012 but the fest continues to honor their tremendous contributions to American music.
Who’s playing: Merlefest attracts plenty of big names and this year they went all in with Wynonna and the Big Noise (that’s Wynonna Judd, fyi), lap steel virtuoso Jerry Douglas, and illustrious Delta blues guitarist Keb Mo’. Other performers include rising star Tyler Childers, seasoned pros The Avett Brothers, and Professor Whizzpop! who we are unfamiliar with but he looks awesome.
When: April 25 – 28
Where: Wilkesboro, North Carolina
What is it: This is an intimate festival right on the water in one of the best food towns in the South. We probably don’t need to keep going but we will anyway. This fest is curated by Charleston folk duo and married couple, Shovels &Rope. Every year, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst get their friends to gather in Riverfront Park to put on one of the best country and folk concerts around. Not enough for you? Well they also call in some of Charleston’s best food mind for Lowcountry boils, oyster education classes, and a shaded cocktail tent. It’s as good a reason as any to head out to one of the best cities in the South.
Who’s playing: Country fans will love indie rock veteran Jenny Lewis and T Bone Burnett endorsed Lera Lynn as well as festival veterans Phosphorescent and Blitzen Trapper. If soul is more your speed check out acts like Ranky Tanky, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and golden-voiced Leon Bridges.
When: April 13 & 14
Where: Charleston, South Carolina
What is it: Speaking of festivals right on the water, Fort Lauderdale has something to add to the conversation. Tortuga Music Festival was the Academy of Country Music’s festival of the year in 2017 and it’s easy to see why. You can see some of country’s biggest names on a beach in Florida with 100,000 of your closest friends. Plus, they have a dang pirate ship you can check out between sets. So grab a beer, cut the sleeves of your shirt, and please, please wear some sunscreen.
Who’s playing: It’s hard to get any bigger than headliners Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, and Thomas Rett. Tortuga had to show off though by booking folks like Sheryl Crow, Elle King, and Trombone Shorty. The author of this article also really like Midland but you can’t go wrong here.
When: April 12 – 14
Where: Fort Lauderdale, FL
What is it: It’s like CMA Fest but on the bayou. Bayou Country Superfest is a celebration of twangy guitars, cowboy hats, and all the things that make Americana great. And it’s held on Memorial Day Weekend every years so they’re literally celebrating American as well. For the fest’s 10th anniversary this year they return to Tiger Stadium after two years in the New Orleans Superdome. Even if a giant country festival in a football stadium isn’t your thing, we can promise the food around town is pretty dang good.
Who’s playing: There’s no lineup yet but—true to its name—Superfest always gets some of the biggest names in country. Past acts have included Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and many, many others.
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When: May 25 – 26
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I can't thank @joshgilligan for this bad ass picture from yesterday! There was something really inspiring about doing our soundcheck in that empty stadium, and I'm glad he was there to capture this moment for me. #deathvalley #lsu #bayoucountrysuperfest #athousandhorses #lespaul #gibson #guitartech
What is it: If you live in Alabama you already know what makes this fest special. In 2011, tornadoes destroyed parts of northern Alabama and Rock The South was created as a benefit event to rebuild the community. But have you ever thrown a party so good your friends demand you do it again? Well that’s kind of what happened here. Rock The South has moved to a new venue in Cullman 10-times the size of the original space and they’ve been booking some of the top country talent for the better part of a decade. And you can clip your cowboy boots on without any guilt. The fest still raises money for public works and children’s charities in Cullman.
Who’s playing: Rock the South is slowly releasing their acts right now. Thus far they’ve announced two massive country duos: Florida Georgia Line and Brooks & Dunn. That’s enough to convince us to head down to the Yellowhammer State so all the other acts will just sweeten the deal.
When: May 31 – June 1
Where: Cullman, AL
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Rock the South 2018 was a success! • • • • • #instagramcullman #instagrambham #cullman #alabama #aerialphotography #sun #fall #sunset #sunsetlovers #cool #clouds #beauty #beautiful #phantom4 #phantom4pro #dji #drone #droneoftheday #alcompix #thisisalabama #insta_america_alabama #insta_america #onlyinalabama #visitnorthal #rockthesouth #rts #concert #cullmanalabama
What is it: You ever want to listen to country music but without all that pesky percussion? Well, Kentucky has just the solution for you and it’s called bluegrass. For the last 16 years, the Bluegrass Music Museumm & Hall of Fame has celebrated the twangy roots music by throwing one heck of a party called Romp Fest. Not only can you hear some of the best pickers and singers around, guests are encouraged to bring their own instruments and jam with their neighbors. Just like Old Settler’s Fest, Romp Fest has a late night porch jam but you can be a little louder at this one.
Who’s playing: If you told me two of Romp Fest’s headliner’s invented bluegrass, I would believe you. You can’t do much better than Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs but Romp went ahead and booked legendary country singer Patty Loveless too. You can also enjoy folks like Jeff Austin, The Wood Brothers, and folk/rock/country/all-around-outlaw Steve Earle.
Where: Owensboro, KY
When: June 26 – 29