Summer festivals in WNC

Locate your picnic basket, air out your tent and dust off your lawn chair. Oh, and while you're at it, better ready your favorite tie-dye/sundress/pair of moccasins/straw cowboy hat/bottle of SPF 45, because it's that time again: Festival season. And WNC is the place to be if you're into festivals. A rich local music scene, plus plenty of nationally touring acts just itching to play here, fantastic arts, loads of creative types ready to show off hula-hooping, fire-dancing and stilt-walking skills, and plenty of natural beauty to boot — it all adds up to the perfect environment for long sunny weekends of camping, swimming and dancing. We're a fest-loving folk, it seems, and the events often sell out quickly. Schedule accordingly and buy your tickets early — advance tickets are generally much cheaper than at the gate.

THE STAPLES:

French Broad River Festival

The lineup: James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards, The Blue Rags, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, Firecracker Jazz Band and more.
The dates: April 30 – May 2
The location: Hot Springs Campground and Spa
The cost: $75 at the gate; kids under 12 get in free.
The crowd: Paddlers, rafters, acoustic jammers and families.
Can you camp? Yes. Non-riverside camping is included in the ticket prices (as is registration for whitewater and biking events). Deluxe riverside campsites and RV sites are by reservation at cazkern@aol.com.
More info at: http://www.frenchbroadriverfestival.com

Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF)

The lineup: Baaba Maal, Ozomatli, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Donna the Buffalo, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Duhks, Ben Sollee and more.
The dates: May 6 – 9
The location: Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain. Day passers take a shuttle from the Owen Middle School parking lot.
The cost: $146-$169 for adult camping passes ($113-$139 for youth); $79/$94 for youth/adult community pass; $40 and $50 day tickets. Note: Tickets are only on sale until May 5 — no tickets are sold at the gate.
The crowd: World-music fans, contra and Zydeco dancers, hula hoopers, families.
Can you camp? Camping is included with weekend passes; cabins can be reserved for an additional charge.
More info at: http://www.theleaf.org

Smilefest

The lineup: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keller Williams, MaGraw Gap, Acoustic Syndicate, Jeff Coffin Mu'tet, Pimps of Joytime and more.
The dates: May 21 – 23
The location: Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, N.C.
The cost: The event is by invitation; but organizer Bob Robertson offers this deal to Xpress readers: Bypass the invite step by using the online password VASSAR. Tickets are $105 until Saturday, May 1. VIP tickets (including Thursday entry, front row viewing, shwag and more) are $200.
The crowd: Sun-loving, tie-dye wearing happy folks.
Can you camp? Primitive camping is included with ticket price, RV and car camping spaces can be reserved.
More info at: http://www.smilefest.com

Montford Music & Arts Festival

Photo by Jonathan Welch

The lineup: WestSound, Ira Bernstein & John Herrmann, The Cheeksters, EMBE Marimba Band, Montford Park Players
The dates: Saturday, May 22, starting at 10 a.m.
The location: Montford Avenue, Asheville.
The cost: Free. Enjoy live music, artist booths, vendors and food. Leave your dog at home.
The crowd: Residents of the Montford neighborhood and their friends.
Can you camp? No. Well, guess you could sleep in the bushes, but we didn't tell you that.
More info at: http://www.montford.org/festival

Mountain Sports Festival

The lineup: Custard Pie, Soulgrass Rebellion, Ol' Hoopty, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra and more.
The dates: May 28 – 30
The location: Carrier Park, Asheville.
The cost: Music and entertainment are free; to compete, contact the coordinator for each event via the festival Web site.
The crowd: Athletes (ball sports, climbing, cycling, paddling, running, disc golf), music fans, sporty kids.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.mountainsportsfestival.com

White Squirrel Festival

The lineup:Jupiter Coyote, Bone Pony and Jeff, Ike & Mike.
The dates: May 29 & 30
The location: Downtown Brevard.
The cost: Free. (The 5K and 10K White Squirrel races have entry fees)
The crowd: The white (and no, they don't have albinism) squirrel population of Brevard and the people who love 'em.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.whitesquirrelfestival.com

Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival

The lineup: Belleville Outfit, The Honeycutters, Lone Derangers, Geoff Achison, Scoot Pittman and more.
The dates: June 11 & 12
The location: Harmon Field in Tryon.
The cost: $7; children under age 12 get in free.
The crowd: Families, folks with portable lawn chairs (but no coolers!) and foodies who like to purchase their vittles with "BBQ bucks."
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.blueridgebbqfestival.com

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

The lineup: Ed Miller, Albannach, Lisa Lynne & George Tortorelli (plus the five-mile "Assault on Grandfather" foot race, among other athletic and cultural events)
The dates: July 8 – 11
The location: MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain, near Linville.
The cost: Four-day tickets run $55/$25 for adults/children. Events not held at MacRae Meadows require separate admission; more details online.
The crowd: Bagpipers, sheep herders, kilted wrestlers.
Can you camp? Yes. Fees depend on tent or RV size, ranging $25 per night for a two-man tent to $100 per night for an extra-large RV.
More info at: http://www.gmhg.org

Transformus

The lineup: Each camp (see camping info below) brings its own sound system. Touch Samadhi, Wondrous Temple of Boom and Philidelphia Experiment — among others— have made prominent showings in the past.
The dates: July 16 – 19
The location: Deerfields, Horse Shoe.
The cost: Tickets are sold in batches of 550, up to two for each purchaser. On May 1, go to the festival Web site and log in for a promo code. $80.
The crowd: Fire dancers, DJs, visionaries and artistic types pushing the boundaries of perception.
Can you camp? Yes. There are theme camps or camping communities which all interconnect to form Mysteria, the village of Transformus. Festival goers can join theme camps prior to the festival.
More info at: http://www.transformus.com

FolkMoot


The lineup: Folk dance troupes from Russia, India, Latvia, UK, France, Switzerland, Jordan, Portugal and Poland
The dates: July 22 – August 1
The location: At performance venues in Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Maggie Valley, Canton, Clyde, Highlands, Bryson City, Cullowhee, Asheville, Columbus, Burnsville, Marion, Mars Hill, Flat Rock and Franklin. 
The cost: Performance tickets go on sale May 1 and vary by date and venue. Some free public performances also take place as part of the festival.
The crowd: Families, dance enthusiasts and those who believe it really is a small world after all.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.folkmootusa.org

Bele Chere

Photo by Shannon Brinkman
Snappy dress, snappy song: Gospel vocalists The Blind Boys of Alabama play LEAF.

The lineup: The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Freekbass, Randall Bramblett, Inner Visions, Jamie McLean Band and others (The official lineup has not yet been announced).
The dates: July 23 – 25
The location: Downtown Asheville.
The cost: Free.
The crowd: Thirty-two ounce light-beer guzzlers meet craft collectors in this weekend-long music and arts streets festival. Break out the flip flops and belly up to the corndog stand.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.belecherefestival.com

Sourwood Festival

The lineup: Food vendors, arts and crafts vendors and music to be announced
The dates: August 14 – 15
The location: Downtown Black Mountain.
The cost: Free
The crowd: A Mayberry-esque mix of locals and tourists.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.blackmountain.org/festivals

Goombay

Down on the river: James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards headline the French Broad River Festival. Also on the bill? The Blue Rags, Snake Oil Medicine Show and more.

The lineup: To be announced
The dates: August 27 – 29
The location: Downtown Asheville on "The Block": Eagle and Market Streets.
The cost: Free
The crowd: Folks celebrating their African and Caribbean heritage (real and/or assumed).
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.ymicc.org/goombay

Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Fest (LAAFF)

The lineup: To be announced.
The dates: Sunday, Sept. 5.
The location: Downtown Asheville on Lexington Avenue.
The cost: Free
The crowd: This strictly local street fest draws a raucous, costumed crowd.
Can you camp? No.
More info at: http://www.arts2people.org/laaff.html

FARTHER AFIELD:

Merlefest

The lineup: Doc Watson, the Avett Brothers, Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Steep Canyon Rangers, Donna the Buffalo and more.
The dates: April 29 – May 2
The location: On the campus of Wilkes Community College, Wilkesboro, N.C.
The cost: Tickets range from single-day passes at $35 to $55, to 3- and 4-day passes at $130 and $250.
The crowd: Old men in lawn chairs who've been coming to the festival since its modest, but authentic, inception, and a new set coming for the killer lineup.
Can you camp? Not on the grounds, but nearby. For a list of campgrounds, check the Web site.
More info at: http://www.merlefest.org.

Music on the Mountaintop

Photo by Mike Schrieber
Sun-lovin' happy folks, most of the time: They might look all serious now, but Michael Franti and Spearhead are all about this year's Smilefest in Pinnacle, N.C.

The lineup: Sam Bush, Keller Williams, Railroad Earth, Toubab Krewe, Acoustic Syndicate and more.
The dates: August 27 & 28
The location: The Old Fairgrounds, Boone
The cost: 1-day tickets are $40 advance/$45 at the gate; 2-day tickets are $70 advance/$75 at the gate.
The crowd: An eclectic all-ages group of Appalachian music fans — from babes in arms to folks in their 90s. No joke.
Can you camp? Camping is limited but is included in ticket price.
More info at: http://www.musiconthemountaintop.com

Bonnaroo

The lineup: Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Conan O'Brien, Tenacious D and more.
The dates: June 10 – 13
The location: Manchester, Tenn.
The cost: $234.50-$249.50 (plus fees) for general admission with VIP ($1,349.50 per pair, plus fees) and total access (inquire via bonnaroo.com/totalaccess/contact.aspx) available.
The crowd: Body-painted, American Apparel-wearing all night-dancing masses who aren't afraid to chase The Black Keys with Tori Amos.
Can you camp? Yes. Access to campgrounds in included in ticket price. A rent-a-tent program launches this year for those who don't want to lug or set up their own. Rent an onsite RV or purchase an RV pass to bring your own.
More info at: http://www.bonnaroo.com

All Good Music Festival & Campout

The lineup: Further (featuring Phil Lesh & Bob Weir), Widespread Panic, Umphrees McGee and more.
The dates: July 8 – 11
The location: Masontown, West Va.
The cost: Advance tickets (allgood.musictoday.com or 1-800-594-TIXX) run $154 for a 3-day pass; $169 for a 4-day pass (add $30/$55 for prices at the gate). Kids up to age 3 are free, ages 4-12 are $75. Adults VIP tickets are $439 for all four days.
The crowd: People who spent the latter half of the 1960s circling the country in a psychedelic-painted school bus. Or wish they did.
Can you camp? Heck yeah! It's even in the name of the festival. Tent camping is in the meadowlands. No electricity, but there will be a shower service for a nominal fee. RV camping is $50 in advance/$75 per vehicle.
More info at: http://www.allgoodfestival.com

Floydfest

The lineup: The Levon Helm Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Railroad Earth, Soulive, Deer Tick, Budos Band and more.
The dates: July 22 – 25.
The location: An 80-acre festival site in the Southern Virginia town of Floyd.
The cost: Advance tickets are available for single days and 3- or 4-day weekend passes, ranging from $40 to $55 for a single day to $125 to $140 for the multi-day passes. As always, advance tickets are a better deal than buying 'em at the gate.
The crowd: The VW, family, flower-power, jam-rock set. And Levon lovers.
Can you camp? Yes. While on-site RV tickets are sold out, there is primitive camping available for $50 and off-site RV camping for $100.
More info at: http://atwproductions.com.

OTHERS:
 Madison on Main Festival: A group art show and pedestrian shopping event concurrent with Mother's Day weekend. May 8, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. http://www.madisoncountyarts.com
• Saluda Arts & Music Festival: A showcase of fine arts and crafts from regional artisans. May 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. http://www.saluda.com/events.html.
• WNC Highlands Celtic Festival: This is the first such event to be Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain. Lineup includes Rathkeltair, Pipapelli and more. $10 for both days. June 18 & 19, 5-11:30 p.m. http://www.celticheritageproductions.com/wnc.htm
• Singing on the Mountain: Now in its 86th year, this all-day festival takes place in a meadow and features gospel song and sermon. Performers include The Greenes, The Primitive Quartet and others. Free. June 27.
http://www.grandfather.com/planning_your_visit/events/singing.php
• Shindig on the Green: Bluegrass pickers gather in huddled jams while onlookers pull up lawnchairs and take it all in. The informal gathering has been running 44 years with no signs of slowing down. This year it returns to Pack Square. July 3, 10, 17, 31; August 14, 21, 28; September 4, 7-10 p.m. http://www.folkheritage.org
• Carolina Mountain Ribfest 2010: Basically, it's all about pork. Ribs, brisket, pulled pork … oh, and chicken. And a little comfort food and dessert to round out the feast. Once you've got your strength, you can also check out arts and crafts, a car show, comedy and music from the likes of Peggy Ratusz & Daddy Long Legs, Angela Easterling & the Beguilers, Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys and more. July 9-11. http://www.wcpshows.com/ribfest.html
Mountain Dance & Folk Festival: This is the indoor counterpart to Shindig on the Green. The event — running since 1928 — celebrates mountain music. This year's festival includes Buncombe Turnpike, Flora McDonald Gammon, High Windy Band and more. August 5-7. http://www.folkheritage.org
• Rockin River Fest: This free festival, organized by RiverLink, includes a silly raft race from Bent Creek to French Broad River Park, vendors, kids events and bands to be announced. August 14. http://www.riverlink.org.
• Mountain Song Festival: Now in its fifth year, this celebration of mountain music — hosted by the Steep Canyon Rangers, and featuring Doc Watson and David Holt — takes place at the Brevard Music Center. September 10 & 11, $35, $40 & $70. http://www.mountainsongfestival.com

Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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2 thoughts on “Summer festivals in WNC

  1. Lil Teed Off

    Thank you for posting the festivals in the western North Carolina region for this summer. In most cases this is a great way to showcase all of the fun going on in our niche of the world. However, Transformus is a closed/ word-of-mouth event that welcomes all, except for those that might try to show up with preconceived judgements that would tear down all of the work that so many have achieved over many years. This post is a colossal violation of all we as burners(people who attend burns)believe and practice.

  2. Thunder

    Great information on Summer Festivals – Some things people should know about Transformus: Unlike other gatherings – Transformus is all volunteer run and the community is built by volunteers. This means that there is WAY more responsibility placed on attendees beyond just the price of admission. Attendees mush carry in all the provisions they need for the weekend, and they must carry everything out that they bring in + plus any garbage they’ve created. There are not any vendors on site – there is no opportunity to buy additional provisions – If you don’t have it with you, you have to tough-it-out, (or hope someone brought some provisions to share). Transformus is a commerce free zone NOTHING is bought and sold there. . . NOTHING. Attendees should volunteer in some way, shape, or form – over the course of the weekend to make the event happen. There are plenty of opportunities for volunteerism over the weekend. . . TransformUs is not a festival for the lazy. We have a lot of fun over the weekend – but we work hard to create the safe space for that fun. . . lazy partiers should think twice before dropping down $80.00 on this event.

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