Eclectic Early Summer Festivals

PHOTO: Tachevah, dubbed "a Palm Springs block party," is a concert that takes place in between Coachella weekends.
Courtesy Tachevah

Sunshine, picnic blankets, girls in flowy dresses, hula-hoops. Music festival season is mere weeks away, and everyone from Philharmonic fans to indie rockers has something to anticipate. If mega-festivals make you claustrophobic, here’s a sampling of eclectic festivals with sense of place and friendly – not crushing – crowds.

PHOTO: Abbey Road on the River, Louisville, Ky.
Courtesy arotr.com and 365 Events
Abbey Road on the River - Louisville

The Scene: Fond memories of the Fab Four, and a lot of good feelings: See the first rule of AROTR, as posted in the FAQ section: “Do not worry about anything because we will solve all of your problems and answer all of your questions and make you happy when you show up. We mean it!”

The Music: Though this annual festival celebrates “the music and spirit of the Beatles,” more than just Beatles cover tunes are played. The Beach Boys are headlining this year. But if it’s Beatles you want, there will be 250 concerts from tribute bands, hailing from every corner of the world including Norway and Japan. (May 22-26, 2014)

PHOTO: Mountain Rails Live, Southern Rockies, Colo.
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Mountain Rails Live – Southern Rockies, Colorado

The Scene: People love the two-hour trip to the venue – which is not something you can say often about a festival. Come aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, travel through the Southern Rockies to Fir Mountain, an “all green” concert site in the high mountains. On July 4th weekend, this 13-week series goes all-out for an inaugural “Americana Music Festival” -- in addition to the concerts, there’ll be local brews and barbecue.

The Music: Western folk, country rock and classic Americana. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band headlines for the first time. Juice Newton and Michael Martin Murphy are among other headliners. Bonus for fans: the chance to meet the musicians in the club car on the trip home. (Weekends, June 14-15 through September 13-14, 2014)

PHOTO: Waterfront Blues Festival, Portland, Ore.
Joe Cantrell/Waterfront Blues Festival
Waterfront Blues Festival -- Portland

The Scene: Kinda like New Orleans JazzFest meets Burning Man -- only thankfully, temperatures are about 30 degrees cooler. Five days of music and a Fourth of July firework fest. One of the biggest and best festivals in Cascadia’s green, micro-brewing heart.

The Music: Headliners for 2014 include Boz Scaggs, Los Lobos and Gregg Allman. Blues greats include Maceo Parker, Lee Fields and the Expressions, John Nemeth and the Bokeys, and a host of others. Also, expect a little zydeco, a little rockabilly, and perhaps a marching band or two. (July 3-6, 2014)

PHOTO: Aspen Music Festival and School, Aspen, Colo.
Courtesy Aspen Music Festival and School
Aspen Music Festival and School - Aspen

The Scene: Rarefied air, rarefied music, and plenty of tradition: Since 1949, this has been one of the country’s preeminent classical music events. Tens of thousands of attendees mingle with classical music’s greats, and more than 600 promising music students cherry-picked from around the world. About 300 live performances over eight weeks transform this mountain town and draws an altogether different crowd than the Hollywood ski-bro norm.

The Music: The theme this year is “The New Romantics,” and the music director is Robert Spano – now in his third year. The storied Tony Bennett himself will appear June 28. Rufus Wainwright also performs one night only. The operas this year are “Carmen,” “Eugene Onegin” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” (June 26-August 17, 2014)

PHOTO: BottleRock, Napa Valley, Calif.
Courtesy BottleRock Napa
BottleRock – Napa Valley

The Scene: After an outsize start last year, BottleRock has settled down a bit, with a mellower lineup, seasoned promoters taking over, and – if locals get their wish – an atmosphere suited to Northern California’s wine country vibe. Speaking of wine country, at least 10 great producers will be pouring, and there will be a “restaurant garden” as well as a food truck area.

The Music: Outkast, The Cure, Eric Church, Weezer, TV on the Radio, LL Cool J with Z-Trip, The Fray, Matt and Kim, Heart, Deer Hunter, and about a dozen hitmakers of the Nineties. Supporting acts range stylistically from Irish bluegrass to experimental LA rock to accordion. (May 30-June 1, 2014)

PHOTO: NXNE (North by Northeast), Toronto, Canada.
Phil Brennan/NXNE
NXNE (North by Northeast) - Toronto

The Scene: For all the people who sigh that SXSW is too much of a scene, not about bands anymore…Try the Canadian version. Now in its 20th year, it’s no small scene either, but still brings in a solid lineup of under-the-radar and breaking artists in addition to a couple chart-toppers. And it also has grown to have film, interactive and art components.

The Music: St. Vincent, Spoon and Spiritualized are among headliners this year. The rest of the lineup is split between artists known in Canada but not yet globally (Mac DeMarco, Tim Hecker); and buzz bands like Danny Brown (Detroit rap) and tUnE-yArDs (low-fi experimental pop). (Dates: June 13-22, 2014)

PHOTO: Rochester Lilac Festival, Rochester, N.Y.
Courtesy Rochester Lilac Festival
Rochester Lilac Festival - Rochester

The Scene: People in Western New York know it’s truly spring when Rochester’s lilacs are in full-blooming glory. Rochester’s nickname is The Flower City, and at this festival, they’re the center of attention. Other program highlights include a music fest, fun run, parade, art fair, and a festival-within-a-festival: Big Rib BBQ & Blues Fest.

The Music: On Lilac Center Stage, Eddie Money, Rusted Root, the Original Wailers and the Skycoasters are among those to headline a night of the 8-day festival. Big Rib recently announced headliner Robert Randolph & the Family Band, the James Hunter Six, and Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. (May 9-18, 2014)

PHOTO: Sweetgrass Music Festival, Charleston, S.C.
Courtesy The Sweetgrass Music Festival
Sweetgrass Music Festival -- Charleston

The Scene: Only in its second year, this Charleston festival is one to hit if you like authentic bluegrass, a casual family-friendly vibe, and a relaxed stage where musicians can try out new band lineups and interact with the attendees. The location, across from Charleston Harbor, promises gorgeous sunsets and breezy mid-Seventies temperatures.

The Music: World-class bluegrass. Headliners include Lonesome River Band, Nothin Fancy, and IIIrd Tyme Out (fronted by Russell More, five-time International Bluegrass Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year). Free mandolin workshop led by Grammy nominee Alan Bibey on Saturday. (May 2-3, 2014)

PHOTO: Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo, New Orleans, La.
Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo
Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo – New Orleans

The Scene: A free festival on the Bayou St. John, with three stages, an artists’ market and awesome street-fair food. Special events include a bicycle pub crawl and “rubber ducky derby.” One stage is just for kiddie entertainment; the others feature a whole lot of local bands. This annual event started 9 years ago as a Katrina fundraiser, and continues to be all about supporting community, heritage and art.

The Music: Zydeco, hip-hop/soul, funk, jazz fusion, and more music made for dancing. Queen Freedia – drag queen, pioneer of bounce music, and star of an eponymous Fuse reality show – is set to headline. (May 16-18, 2014)

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