Schedule your U.S. travel plans around these seven blues music festivals in top destinations.
Music festivals are a fun way listen to blues music with thousands of your new best friends, sharing admiration of the U.S. music form that started with African-American experiences in the South and spread across the country. When the music is accompanied by great food, drinks and places to explore during and after the festivities, that’s a reason to celebrate.
June: Chicago Blues Festival, Illinois
Why not start with the world’s biggest free blues festival in one of the top U.S. destinations? Past performers at the weekend-long Chicago Blues Festival have included Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, Koko Taylor and Gary Clark Jr. Legacies are celebrated, too, with all-star lineups in 2018 giving tributes to people like Mavis Staples, Little Walter and Bob Koester. Bring a picnic to Millennium Park and dance to the music with the glittering Chicago skyline as a backdrop. Set aside several more days to explore world-famous museums, see skyscrapers, try a Chicago-style hot dog, deep-dish pizza, and shop to your heart’s content along the Magnificent Mile.
A moment on the Chicago Blues Festival stage with the city skyline as a backdrop
June: Eureka Springs Blues Weekend, Arkansas
Arkansas was a major player in the blues scene starting in the 1930s; it’s where B.B. King got his first steady gig and where he named his guitar Lucille. Designated as one of the top 10 Most Beautiful Blues Festivals by American Blues Scene magazine, the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend features both big-name and new musicians. This family-friendly affair is held at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a big-cat rescue organization. Outdoors enthusiasts can follow with a trek in the Ozark National Forest, known for its old-growth trees, scenic byways, abundant places for hiking and charming mountain towns like Bentonville and Fayetteville.
A bird’s-eye view of Eureka Springs surrounded by forests
June: W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, Henderson, Kentucky
Celebrate W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” at this fabulous – and free – festival in Henderson, Kentucky, Handy’s home base for nearly 10 years. The annual event is held at Audubon Mill Park situated along the picturesque Ohio River. Arrive for the Taste of Henderson Barbecue on the first day, followed by four days of top-notch blues music, listening to Zydeco performers bringing the Louisiana Creole genre north, food, parties and children’s activities. Add a tour of the Audubon Museum to your Henderson itinerary and stop for a drink at Metzger’s Tavern, the oldest in the state.
July: Pittsburgh Blues and Roots Festival, Pennsylvania
Known for professional sports teams (Steelers football, Pirates baseball and Penguins hockey), regional food specialties (pierogies, cabbage rolls), and arts and culture (Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Andy Warhol Museum), Pittsburgh is one of Pennsylvania’s most vibrant cities. The Pittsburgh Blues and Roots Festival benefits the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and, as such, features an accessible location and family-centered activities. Notably, the lineup attracts musicians who have been personally affected by autism in some way.
The Pittsburgh skyline aglow at night
August: Magic City Blues, Montana’s Urban Music Festival, Billings, Montana
Magic City Blues is the biggest blues festival in the biggest city in Montana. You’ll hear plenty of great blues tunes – past performers have included Keb’ Mo’ and Buddy Guy – alongside lots of rock and country by artists like Alison Krauss, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and ZZ Top. With a variety of food and drink vendors and multiples stages of entertainment, this is a weekend full of music magic. Don’t miss a hike in Rimrocks, an amazing geological formation that dominates the Billings skyline and offers unbeatable views of downtown.
A view of the Montana countryside from Pompeys Pillar National Monument
September: New Blues Festival, Long Beach, California
During the Labor Day holiday the first weekend in September, the New Blues Festival in Long Beach, California, celebrates the genre with acts both new and traditional. Enjoy craft beers and barbecue along with the music. Long Beach is a fantastic destination to explore before or after the music stops, especially by the water. Take a gondola ride through the canals, explore sea life at the Aquarium of the Pacific and, of course, bring your bathing suit to catch some rays and go surfing at the beach.
Exploring the coastal city of Long Beach via its waterways
April: Tampa Bay Blues Festival, St. Petersburg, Florida
Nearing its 25th year, the Tampa Bay Blues Festival features a gorgeous, bayfront setting and equally amazing music by artists like Buddy Guy, Steven Stills, Little Feat, Irma Thomas and many more. Wear comfortable shoes for all that toe-tapping, and bring your appetite for the bounty of food trucks, barbecue, fresh seafood and flowing drinks. If you’ve ever wanted to visit a beach paradise, you’re in the right place. St. Pete/Clearwater beaches are consistently recognized as some of the most beautiful in the USA. The area’s cultural attractions, such as the Salvador Dalí Museum, are second to none.