Best Live Outside Music Festivals

The Evolution of Live Music Festivals with Notes from Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho.

For many years, live outside music festivals have been a place of worship for music fans. The larger festivals often combine established, well-known musicians with less well-known performers to provide a mix of talent and to round out the concert. The best outside music festivals let visitors hear their favorite music, and watch performers they've never seen before, too. The Woodstock music festival is a perfect example.

In 1969, Woodstock set the bar for music festivals, billing itself as "3 Days of Peace & Music". Set on a farm in Woodstock New York, the concert featured outstanding performers including The Who, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and a host of other talented musicians that cut across music styles to share stages and perform for the crowds, who showed up in record-breaking numbers.

The debris left over from the Woodstock music festival was something of a record-breaker too; despite the communal atmosphere, eco-friendly festivals were not on the minds of concert organizers and attendees. In addition, the concert organizers didn't expect so many people to attend; audience members tore down fences to enter the concert and suffered without adequate bathroom facilities or proper medical staff which led to even more chaos.

The Woodstock music festival was repeated in 1979, 1989, 1994 and most infamously, in 1999. The 1999 Woodstock music festival, held in upstate New York, erupted in random acts of looting, dangerous bonfires and violence after a series of events frustrated angry concert-goers. High temperatures marked the day, along with high prices for everything from concert tickets to a bottle of water. And once again, bathroom facilities were scarce and security was also in short supply.

In recent years, however, live music festivals have evolved from adult-oriented love fests to family-based entertainment venues. "Live music festivals have changed over the years to reflect the needs of the Boomers," says Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho. "While rock shows may still be aimed more at adults, most music festivals now make a solid effort to make their event accessible and fun for the whole family. Outside music festivals now incorporate kid's activities, food, and cultural exhibitions around music performances."

"Summer music festivals bring together diverse groups of people all united for one purpose: their love of good music," says Doug. And whether you're a bluegrass fan, a country music lover, rock 'n' roll devotee or a blues aficionado; there are plenty of live music festivals in the U.S. and around the world to keep you dancing all year long. 

Guide to the Best Outside Music Festivals This Year by Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho.

  • In April, find the River & Spires free live music festival in Clarksville, Tennessee. 100 entertainers play music of all sorts, making this one of the best outside music festivals of the year.
  • The June Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival combines camping with music for a modern-day Woodstock. The Manchester, Tennessee live music festival has something for everyone with a mix of music from rock to jazz to hip-hop. The classic Tennessee music festival gets a special nod for its environmental efforts, too.
  • The Norwegian Wood outside music festival offers something special for the rock 'n' roller in you. Featuring national acts from the U.S. and Norway, this brash summer music festival in Oslo makes it mark in mid-June with a mix of hard-rocking bands and classic rock legends.
  • The third week of June brings one of many bluegrass summer music festivals in the south, the River of Music Party (ROMP) in Owensboro, Kentucky. This four day festival includes a number of bands, the Masters Film Festival and the Bluegrass Legends concert.

Don't Miss These Annual Blues Festivals This Year by Catherine Woods of Mobulls in West Plains, Missouri.

Many annual blues festivals are held in areas of the country that have rich blues histories; while the blues has strong ties to the south, many blues musicians moved to northern and western states in the early 20th century in search of establishing new roots in more tolerant metropolitan cities.

Annual blues festivals keep blues music alive at the grassroots level and, as important, provide a means by which blues musicians can continue to support themselves outside of CD sales and other live shows.

Blues music festivals often give back to the local blues community in other ways, too. Blues festivals give money to organizations that support local blues on the radio, they fund educational programs about the blues and perhaps most importantly, they subsidize programs that keep the blues culture alive for new generations of blues fans.

Many blues festivals also offer swap meets that give concert-goers an opportunity to buy and trade rare or out of print blues albums. Lectures and workshops at some of the larger blues festivals, like the Black Diamond Blues Festival in Pittsburg, CA and the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in Greenville, MS also educate concert-goers on cultural diversity and on ways to improve the lives of blues musicians, friends and neighbors of the festivals.

Our Top Annual Blues Festivals

The saxophone, a washboard and a deep, resonating voice signals only one thing: you've entered blues territory. Whether you're deep in the south or as far-flung as Scandinavia, you can find the world's top annual blues festivals in our Best Festivals Guide.

So, relax, spread out your blanket and enjoy a picnic under sunny skies as you enjoy the music. The best outside music festivals are worth the road trip, so make your reservations ahead of time to get reasonably priced tickets and lodging.  

  • The Mississippi Valley Blues Society holds the annual blues festival in Davenport, Iowa at the end of June and beginning of July. The three-day summer music festival flanks the Mississippi River and prides itself on not being too commercial; it's just down-home fun for the whole family!
  • The annual Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon always runs over the 4th of July weekend and goes for several days. An inexpensive admission and a couple of canned goods benefit the Oregon Food Bank. Held along the beautiful Willamette River, the summer music festival features multiple stages, and national and local blues acts, educational workshops, local foods and wines and Blues Cruises on the river.
  • The Notodden Blues Festival (NBF) is the largest annual blues festival in Norway. Held in August, the festival in Notodden, Norway features nationally known blues legends and is a favorite for blues fans everywhere.  

We thank our contributors:

  • Doug Melvin Boise Idaho
  • Catherine Woods, Mobulls, breeders of French and English bulldogs, West Plains, MO