- South Carolina
- New York
With a culture filled with family and traditions, the country genre is king when it comes to music festivals.
Some of the most noteworthy events to gather for food, tunes and multiday fun take place everywhere – from large cities and expansive landscapes to smaller neighborhoods and towns. Here is a guide to a great lineup of country celebrations.
CMA Music Festival
Music City hosts the annual Country Music Association Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, which brings close to 400 acts to three huge venues downtown each year in early June. Previous headliners have included Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean and Darius Rucker. Before you hear the sounds, you’ll want to learn the history. Take a guided tour of RCA Studio B, which features interactive exhibits and recordings and the actual studio where legends cut tracks that made Nashville the focal point of country. Admission also gets you into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ricky Skaggs at the CMA Music Festival
Heartland Stampede Music Festival
Formerly the Country Stampede Music Festival, the Heartland Stampede Music Festival held in Topeka, Kansas, brings together some of country music’s biggest stars for three days of music, dancing, food and camping at Heartland Motorsports Park. This popular music festival is the largest in the state and is usually held the third week of June. While you’re here for the best of country music, explore the capital city of Kansas too. Check out an eye-catching collection of colorful art and storytelling at The Great Mural Wall of Topeka, or set off on a scenic hike into an untouched prairie habitat at Iliff Commons.
Sara Evans at the Country Stampede Music Festival, now the Heartland Stampede Music Festival
Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous
Even without a guitar, a cowboy is about as country as you can get. You know there will be a lot of country connections at the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous, the second-oldest cowboy gathering in the country. A welcome barbecue, Western musicians, more than 100 cowboy poets, and a Jam ‘n Dance are among the highlights of this festival every August in the high plains cow town of Lewistown, Montana.
A mountainous scene in Montana that's worthy of a song (or poem)
Carolina Country Music Fest
More than 30 country acts deliver three days of music at this outdoor festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – featuring a zip line! – that takes place the first week of June and stretches over 18 acres of coastal area. Previous acts have included Cole Swindell, Tracy Lawrence and Josh Phillips. Must-visit places in the area include The Bowery, a 70-year-old establishment on the Atlantic Ocean serving up cold brews, excellent eats and live country music, and the Wheels of Yesteryear, which offers a visual feast for fans of vintage American-made cars and trucks.
The Watershed music festival is a feast for the eyes with country music as the soundtrack. The three-day festival takes place in early August at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, what many consider to be among the most scenic concert locations in the country, with breathtaking views of the Columbia River and the Columbia Gorge. As such, this fest is big for campers, with packages that go all the way up to Gorge Oasis: A two and four-person deluxe experience with fans and electricity. Featuring multiple stages and a mix of superstars – such as Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Big & Rich and local performers – Watershed is a must for music lovers. The event also includes rides, line dancing and a foam party.
Coachella’s country cousin brings the house down in the same venue, the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, a week before the rock festival in late April. The highest-grossing country-based festival in the world hosts a mix of well-known artists and up-and-comers playing multiple subgenres: folk, mainstream country, alt-country and bluegrass. In addition to mega stars from the past and the present – such as the Eagles, Roger McGuinn, Willie Nelson, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean – the outdoor event includes an indoor dance hall where you can learn and take part in line dancing, two-step and a hoedown. The Ferris wheel, a big-time spot for marriage proposals, offers dazzling views of the nearby palm trees and mountains.
There’s a lot of overlap between the car racing and country music fan bases. That’s why the Country 500, held each year over three days toward the end of May, is so popular. Up-and-comers join superstars such as Sugarland and Toby Keith – plus you can camp on the infield of the Daytona International Speedway racetrack in Daytona Beach, Florida!
Rock the South
Originally intended to be a one-off fundraiser in 2011, Rock the South became an annual tradition hosting stars like Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr. and Luke Bryan each June. A big draw in historic Cullman, Alabama is the Festhalle Farmers Market, which has year-round events in Alabama’s largest timber-frame structure. Learn about local history at the nearby Cullman County Museum.
Lauren Alaina at Rock the South
Taste of Country Music Festival
The Northeast isn’t exactly a hotbed of country music, but a hidden gem can be found in the small town of Hunter, New York in the Catskill Mountains. This festival is remote enough for a picturesque concert experience but close to a few big cities, including New York’s state capital, Albany. Watch more than 20 artists on two stages. The festive typically takes place the first week of June.
Windy City Smokeout
The Smokeout is one of the top-rated national festivals thanks to its combination of BBQ from pit kings from around the country (including Kentucky, Nashville and, of course, Chicago, Illinois), suds from some of the best American breweries and a heaping helping of up-and-coming country acts. You might hear artists who like to rock a little (Ashley McBride) or earnest crooners who blend in a smoother pop sound (Brett Young). The three-day festival takes place downtown along the Chicago River in mid-July.
Matthew Ramsey at the Windy City Smokeout
Northwest String Summit
Smothered with pines and other foliage in a canyon, Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon is a forest oasis and the perfect venue for this bluegrass festival in mid-July. In addition to sets by giants of the genre like Yonder Mountain String Band and Railroad Earth, there’s a band competition and a heavy emphasis on yoga. While bluegrass and country share a lot in common – sounds, themes and artists – a distinct difference is that bluegrass uses only acoustic instruments, and that’s what you’ll find at the summit.
This father of this festival, Bill Monroe, is also the patriarch of bluegrass. The best of all worlds can be found at this annual event in late July. Top-notch modern bluegrass acts perform in an amazing setting in Lyons, Colorado, with red stone mountains as a backdrop and a creek around the perimeter. Find ample amenities, including restaurants, lodging and shopping, in the small town of Lyons, an hour north of Denver.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Telluride, Colorado’s history dates to rowdy Fourth of July parties thrown by miners in the early 20th century. While things might have calmed down over the years, the acts playing this fest have a great time, performing a spin on bluegrass that blends rock, jazz and folk with traditional sounds of the genre. As such, you’ll hear newgrass artists such as Punch Brothers with country pop crossover stars, including Bonnie Raitt, and even rock icons such as David Byrne and Elvis Costello. The four-day festival in late June draws about 12,000 attendees a day to a concert area nestled among trees and mountains.
The colorful lights of a nighttime performance at the Tellluride Bluegrass Festival
Night in the Country
Three days in a quiet northern Nevada in the farming town of Yerington sounds quite relaxing unless you’re going there for the annual Night in the Country festival, a late July throw down of a hoedown with modern country stars. Campers pack the grounds for two days of extreme bull riding, mud volleyball, a Tournament of Campions with games like Cornhole and Beer Pong as well as a wild night life scene .
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