The festival season, good for soaking in summer sounds, sun, and brews, is here again, and we can't think of a better reason to load up the car and go for a drive. From blissing out in a big field to venue-hopping in a compact city to getting the best of both worlds (looking at you, Shaky Knees), there are several worthwhile festivals coming to a city near you. Here's the festival action we want in on the most this summer.
In a field only five hours away, the Shaky Knees Festival has shaped up to be the fest for indie-rock lovers this summer. Only in its third year, the Atlanta-based festival has already nailed down a drool-worthy lineup featuring the likes of The Strokes, Ryan Adams, Wilco, The Avett Brothers, Pixies, Mastadon, TV on the Radio, Mac DeMarco, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Black Lips, Built to Spill, Real Estate, Tame Impala, Spiritualized, Dr. Dog, Panda Bear, Interpol, Social Distortion, and many more. If you prefer a hotel to a tent, you'll love that all the action takes place in the city with easy access to MARTA stations. So basically, you can ride the train to the site, drink all the beer you want, and Uber it back to your room. Another bonus is the plethora of food trucks serving up good grub, including Charleston's own Roti Rolls. Founder Tim Sweetwood says he's mostly looking forward to some of the back-to-back artists on the lineup. "On Friday, you can watch Clutch, then Mastadon, and then The Strokes all flowing into one," he says. "And Sunday, you can catch Heartless Bastards, Dr. Dog, Ryan Adams, and Tame Impala without missing a beat."
You may not even need to stop for gas first to get to the Indie Grits fest an hour and a half away in Columbia. For nine years running, Indie Grits has been a film festival celebrated at the Nickelodeon Theatre (a.k.a. The Nick), South Carolina's premier non-profit art house theater. However, over the past few years other elements have been integrated to satisfy cinema, techie, foodie, art, and music nerds alike, and it all happens across various venues, including The Nick, TAPPS Art Center, The Whig, Hunter-Gatherer, Nothing to See Here, and Music Farm. "This year, thanks to an Our Town grant we received from the National Endowment for the Arts, we're making a big investment in art, all of which will be centered around the theme of Future Perfect," The Nickelodeon's executive director Andy Smith tells us. "In addition to the films, music, puppetry, and food that have made Indie Grits so popular, festival goers can explore work by over 20 artists spread around Columbia's Main Street that will provide glimpses into the southern city of the future." Music-wise, the lineup includes traveling acts Bellows from Brooklyn, N.Y. and Durham, N.C.'s Bombadil, plus Columbia bands Can't Kids, ET Anderson, and Say Brother. Charleston artists will make the trip, too, including Mechanical River, infinitikiss, and Southern Femisphere.
Founded by the alt-weekly newspaper Independent Weekly, Hopscotch is always a good way to hang on to summer for just a little longer. Featuring 175 bands across three days over Labor Day weekend, the Hopscotch festivities take place in 13 different venues you can walk to and from in downtown Raleigh. From the outdoor main stage to intimate bar settings, the music fest offers something for everyone: fans of rock and metal, folk and hip-hop, electronic and experimental. Also celebrating art, photography, and design, an additional component, Hopscotch Design Festival, has been added for the first time this year. Musically, your ears can look forward to acts like Godflesh and Owen Pallett. Most of the 140-strong lineup will be announced on the website at the end of this month.
If camping alongside fellow music lovers out in the middle of nowhere is your thing, you've probably already been to Bonnaroo. What began in 2002 as primarily a jam-band and folk-rock fest has grown into the giant it is today, a four-day event Rolling Stone named as one of the 50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll. This year, you can catch Billy Joel, Kendrick Lamar, Florence + The Machine, Slayer, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space, Belle & Sebastian, Ben Folds, Spoon, My Morning Jacket, Run the Jewels, Sturgill Simpson, Sylvan Esso — just to name a few. If you don't have a tent, you can rent one or go in style by renting an on-site RV from the folks at Bonnaroo. And you can party all night if you like — some late-night sets start at midnight and keep rockin' as late/early as 5 or 6 a.m. The cost is a pretty penny, but you can also voluntarily work for the fest in exchange for having an endless amount of fun at the silent discos, comedy clubs, and multiple stages at your disposal.
Around for over 25 years now, MerleFest was founded as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and in the memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of the legendary Doc Watson. The festival celebrates Watson's traditional music style and all of the subgenres inspired by the roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachians, like bluegrass, old-time, folk, country, Americana, and blues. "We're different from most music festivals in that our quality-focused, family-friendly environment encourages fans to focus on the music and not on the party," says festival director Ted Hagaman. This year, the 13-stage, four-day event will feature artists like Dwight Yoakam, Lee Ann Womack, The Avett Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Bela Fleck, Trampled By Turtles, The Two Man Gentlemen Band, and plenty more where that came from. Merlefest also offers a songwriter contest for up-and-coming artists with original songs in the bluegrass, country, and gospel categories. And with renowned singer-songwriter Gillian Welch among the contest's past winners, that's one indication that MerleFest is a pretty big deal.
Spring Jam Festival
Sat. April 18., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. $15-$32. The Grove at Patriots Point, Mt. Pleasant. springjammusicfest.com
Leftover Salmon, Ed Roland & The Sweet Tea Project, Delta Spirit, Milo Greene, Lefty at the Washout, The Travelin' Kine, The High Divers, and Sol Black, plus special performances by The Music Battery, The Missing Links, Glitterhoopz, and Holy City Cirque
Tues. April 28-Sat. May 2. Multiple venues and times. $50-$75. Downtown. digsouth.com
David Wax Museum, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Langhorne Slim & The Law, Regina Ferguson, She Returns From War, Collective Disparity, Electric Jazz Project, Gold Light, Volcanoes in the Kitchen, DJ Party Dad, McKenzie Eddy, Baby Baby, Logan Venderlic & The Loners, and Branford Marsalis
Fri. May 22-Sun. June 7. Multiple venues, prices, and times. spoletousa.org
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and more
First Flush Festival
Sun. May 24., 12 p.m. $32-$500. Charleston Tea Plantation, Wadmalaw. charlestonteaplantation.com
Sheryl Crow, Stop Light Observations, Dangermuffin, Ben Fagan, The Holy City Hooligans, Tyler Boone, The Tarlatans, Dead 27's, Haley Mae Campbell, and Freeway Music Showcase
Hootie's Homegrown Weekend
Fri. Aug. 7-Sat. Aug. 8., 7 p.m. $64. Family Circle Stadium, Daniel Island. hootie.com
Hootie & The Blowfish and more