Springtime brings a flowering of music festivals close to Charleston 

The Hippie Hippie Shake

Even with silly names like Bonnaroo and Langerado, the South's major music festivals have become household words, drawing thousands upon thousands of attendees. The tent cities that pop up can resemble refugee camps — high winds and rain at last week's Langerado in south Florida left many festival-goers homeless when their tents took to the skies. If walking an hour from your campsite to a stage where you'll stand a quarter mile from the band you're watching on a three-story television screen sounds slightly unappealing, there's fortunately a host of quality, smaller festivals in the next two months, all within a half-day's drive of Charleston.

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Suwannee Springfest
Live Oak, Fla.
March 27-30

Way down upon the Suwannee River ... There are few places in the entire country more scenic than the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, nestled against the banks of the river made famous in the classic song, "Ol' Folks at Home." Young and old come together for this annual bluegrass showcase, where the camp sites' cypress trees drip Spanish moss. The lineup is legendary: David Grisman (pictured), Peter Rowan, Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale, and on and on. For the light-footed, Donna the Buffalo, Railroad Earth, and Hot Buttered Rum are all on deck for your dancing pleasure. (www.magmusic.com)

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Wanee Music Festival
Live Oak, Fla.
April 11-12

If there was ever a reason to make the same drive twice in two weeks, (and it's only four hours from Charleston!), it's Wanee. Hot on the heels of Springfest, the Allman Brothers (Greg Allman is pictured) bring their ever-growing band of talented family and friends to lazy river. Like Southern rock? Try JJ Grey & Mofro, Gov't Mule, the Band's Levon Helm, and Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, not to mention moe. and Bob Weir & Ratdog for the jamsters. With Oteil Burbridge, George Porter, and Del McCoury in the lineup, there's sure to be some stellar sit-ins with the Brothers, who headline both nights. And if the days get a bit steamy, there's always the ice-tea hued Suwannee right there to cool off. (www.waneefestival.com)

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Shakori Hill Grassroots Festival
Chatham County, N.C.
April 17-20

On a farm just far enough from Raleigh to be truly rural, the biannual Shakori Hills gathering has begun to build a name as a four-day festival that's here to stay. It seems that once folks go once, they make a point to return every time. With a schedule as diverse as Richie Havens (pictured), Arrested Development, Chatham County Line, Dub Conscious, and The Hackensaw Boys, it's easy to see why. It's also affordable at less than $25 a day, because they focus on an array of music (and dancing!) rather than name-brand headliners. If you go, don't miss New York's Sim Redmond Band on a rare trip to the South. (www.shakorihills.org)

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Merlefest
Wilkesboro, N.C.
April 24-27

The legendary Doc Watson started this event 20 years ago to honor his deceased son and pickin'-partner Merle. This annual hoe-down stands in a festival league of its own. Attracting the best of the best in the bluegrass world to share the stage together, the musicians themselves consistently rank it as a favorite event of the year. For a young band, playing Merlefest means you've made it. Dr. Ralph Stanley (pictured), Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, and Doc himself are just a few of the legends who will undoubtedly jam together this year. Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers also return for headlining gigs. It's a dry festival, but you wouldn't want to dilute what you hear at Merlefest anyways. (www.merlefest.org)

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French Broad River Festival
Hot Springs, N.C.
May 2-4

Few events let you paddle a whitewater river by day, then boogie down to authentic Appalachian stomp-grass when the sun goes down. Whether you schedule a rafting trip or just relax in the North Carolina mountains, Acoustic Syndicate, Larry Keel, Snake Oil Medicine Show (pictured), and Blueground Undergrass are all sure bets to round out your day with a big grin. Look out for local boys Sol Driven Train, who return for what's becoming an annual visit. (www.frenchbroadriverfestival.com)

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Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF)
Black Mountain, N.C.
May 9-11

"Lake Eden" pretty much says it all. The biannual gathering of smiling souls at the picturesque lake on a valley is as much about the contra-dancing, zip cord, yoga, and drum circle as it is about the live music, but with Nanci Griffith, Steep Canyon Rangers (pictured), Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas, and Shannon Whitworth scheduled, there are plenty of tunes to keep you grooving. LEAF always introduces us to bands that quickly become favorites, so it's good to go with an open mind. If you don't, LEAF will open it for you, in a very blissful manner. Bring the kids! (www.theleaf.com)

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Asheville Music Jamboree (AmJam)
Deerfields, N.C.
May 23-25

AmJam is set in a venue surrounding two ponds that's as idyllic as anywhere in the world to let loose with a few thousand friends for a weekend. Cars are left outside, and the funky purple bus that hauls you in is a harbinger of the wild time to come. They've booked singer/guitarist Keller Williams (pictured), rock trio Gov't Mule, reggae band Burning Spear, James McMurtry, and the funky Afromotive. Get some sleep before the weekend — you won't want to once you're there. (www.amjam.net)


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