These Southern music festivals are worth the road trip 

Gas It Up

click to enlarge She Returns from War is one of several local acts to perform next month at Southsounds Fest in Alabama

Jonathan Boncek

She Returns from War is one of several local acts to perform next month at Southsounds Fest in Alabama

From the Alabama shores to the North Carolina hills, a ton of music is coming to the South this summer. Whether you're in need of a music getaway out in the middle of nowhere or a one-day stint in the middle of a city, there's a not-too-far-away festival that's perfect for you.

Savannah Music Festival
Savannah, Ga.
March 24-April 2
savannahmusicfestival.org

The Savannah Music Festival's offerings are always world-class, on par with the Spoleto festival, with everything from classical ensembles to flamenco guitarists bringing live music to gardens, theaters, and churches. Head there at the end of March and catch all that plus these killer artists: David Rawlings Machine, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Andrew Bird, Drive-By Truckers, and My Brightest Diamond.

SouthSounds
Mobile, Ala.
April 8-10
southsoundsfest.com

Around since 2011, SouthSounds focuses solely on great up-and-coming bands from the South, and lots of familiar Charleston faces will be kickin' it there this year. Look for the Holy City's own She Returns From War, SUSTO, Brave Baby, Slow Runner, INDIANOLA, and the High Divers, who will join acts like the Weeks, Col. Bruce Hampton & the Madrid Express, and Futurebirds in various venues and outdoor spaces all over downtown Mobile.

Indie Grits
Columbia, S.C.
April 14-17
indiegrits.com

Columbia's Indie Grits festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and it promises to be a memorable one. An all-film fest from the outset, Indie Grits has evolved into a celebration that also includes technology, art, and yes, music — lots of it. In addition to the non-profit Nickelodeon Theatre, the fest's original home and inspiration, Indie Grits also gets around to other Soda City venues, like the Whig, the Music Farm, and Art Bar. And this year, they're wrapping up the fest with a River Concert on the Congaree River complete with food, drinks, art installations, screenings, and the sounds of Big Freedia, New Madrid, TOMBOi, and Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band. More music on other dates and venues will be announced soon at indiegrits.com.

MerleFest
Wilkesboro, N.C.
April 28-May 1
merlefest.org

Having started as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, MerleFest has been a special part of the local community for over 25 years. It was also founded in remembrance of Doc Watson's son, Eddy Merle Watson. At Merlefest, there are really no surprises — you'll hear the kind of music that feels at home in the Appalachians, like bluegrass, Americana, folk, blues, old-time, and country. This year's hootenanny welcomes John Prine, Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine, Brandi Carlile, the Wood Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and lots more.

LEAF
Black Mountain, N.C.
May 12-15
theleaf.org/music

The Leaf Festival wants you to "salsa into" their 42nd festival to date. Each year, the small town of Black Mountain transforms into a musical destination. Surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, hills, and streams, you'll hear world fusion with Cuban spice, including acts like Juan De Marcos & the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Shovels & Rope, Fatoumata Diawara, Danay Suarez, DakhaBrakha, Sarah Jarosz, and more.

Shaky Knees
Atlanta, Ga.
May 13-15
shakyknees.com

Now in its fourth year, Shaky Knees has quickly risen to the cream of the festival crop with its unmissable lineups. We didn't think much could top last year's influx of headliners like the Pixies, the Strokes, TV on the Radio, Wilco, and Noel Gallagher, but 2016's offerings promise last year a run for its money, with three days of top-of-the-bill acts like Jane's Addiction, the 1975, Bloc Party, Cold War Kids, My Morning Jacket, Phosphorescent, Huey Lewis & the News, Eagles of Death Metal, the Decemberists, Florence + the Machine, At the Drive-In, Deftones, Explosions in the Sky, and more. The bonus? Charleston's own Benji Lee will perform with Caveman, the Brooklyn-based band he recently joined. The fest is being held in Centennial Olympic Park in the heart of downtown A-town.

Shaky Beats
Atlanta, Ga.
May 20-22
shakybeatsfestival.com

Fresh off the heels of Shaky Knees comes Shaky Beats, an all-new, all-electronic and hip-hop fest. In its inaugural year, the festival has an impressive lineup of over 40 acts across three stages, including Major Lazer, Zhu, Odesza, Chromeo, Porter Robinson, Cherub, Yeasayer, Duke Dumont, Big Gigantic, Nas, Carnage, Yellow Claw, and A$AP Ferg. It's all happening on the same grounds as Shaky Knees — Centennial Olympic Park, steps away from the Peachtree Center and Philips Arena MARTA stops.

Hangout Music Festival
Gulf Shores, Ala.
May 20-22
hangoutmusicfest.com

Dude, we've never been to Hangout, but according to its online photo gallery, it entails watching live music while lying on the beach against pillows made of sand or straddling a giant rubber ducky float. As if beachfront stages and oceanside antics aren't reason enough to pack the sunscreen and head west, this lineup should be: Florence + the Machine, Calvin Harris, Haim, Alabama Shakes, Ellie Goulding, Lenny Kravitz, Leon Bridges, Jason Isbell, Run the Jewels, Foals, Courtney Barnett, and the list goes on and on.

Bonnaroo
Manchester, Tenn.
June 9-12
bonnaroo.com

If you like camping in the Tennessee heat and/or dropping acid and relishing in the true festival experience, Bonnaroo's the fest for you. Since it started in 2002, its lineup has been a highly anticipated one, and 2016's offerings include Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, LCD Soundsystem, J. Cole, Ellie Goulding, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Tame Impala, Death Cab for Cutie, Ween, M83, and more.


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