The South's Best Music Festivals You Should Attend

From jazz to rock and country to pop, there’s something for everyone when it comes to live music across the region.

ACL Music Festival

 Roger Ho

Music is an inherent part of Southern culture—it weaves its way into many of our core memories, from first dances to road trips singing along to your favorite song. Many of us can easily pinpoint the first time we heard Willie Nelson or sang along to John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but there’s just something about experiencing live music that tugs a different heartstring, especially when it’s outside on a grassy lawn with friends, a refreshing beverage, and good food. 

In the South, music festivals are about more than who's on the lineup: It's a cultural experience, from food and drinks to the arts, and even your surroundings. While there are far more festivals worth attending than this short list covers, like Darius Rucker’s new Riverfront Revival, the Savannah Music Festival, or Wildwood Revival outside of Athens, Georgia, these are the South’s best music festivals— from iconic, long-standing festivals to new-and-notable music gatherings that you should add to your bucket list.

01 of 20

Austin City Limits

ACL Music Fest

Jackie Lee Young/ACL Music Fest

Austin isn’t short on reasons to visit, especially for music lovers—from South By SouthWest each spring to two back-to-back three-day weekends of ACL Music Fest in Zilker Park every fall. Since its humble beginnings in 2002, the festival has been such a hit, it expanded to two consecutive weekends, doubling your reasons to attend. The top of the bill boasts artists across rock, folk, country, indie, hip-hop, and electronics genres with iconic names and local legends like Red Hot Chili Peppers, George Strait, Stevie Nicks, and The Chicks. While many artists play both weekends, be sure to check the lineup to catch your favorites on the right one.

When: The first two weekends in October

Where: Austin, Texas

02 of 20

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Bonnaroo Music Festival

Getty/Erika Goldring

Bonnaroo is one of the South’s best-known music festivals for a reason: The list of performers who have graced the What Stage, Which Stage, Who Stage, This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent is a long one. From its start as a jam-band festival in 2002, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, and Moe. were among those on the stage. Today’s diverse lineup of 150+ acts touches just about every genre. You’ll find names like Tyler Childers, Sheryl Crow, and Chris Stapleton alongside Foo Fighters, My Morning Jacket, and Billy Strings, plus an array of up-and-coming artists. The 700-acre farm in middle Tennessee that is home to the four-day shindig offers adventure beyond music, including food, silent discos, a ferris wheel, and hundreds of other activities and activations, plus tent and RV campgrounds so you don’t miss a minute.

When: Mid-June

Where: Manchester, Tennessee

03 of 20

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Facebook/New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; Photo: Josh Brasted

What started in 1970 as a way to showcase New Orleans' culture to a small crowd has since become a beloved Southern institution that now attracts nearly half a million people, of all ages, identities, cultures, and musical tastes, to the city with world famous and local headliners alike. The cultural and musical excitement spans over two long weekends and 12+ stages at the New Orleans Fairgrounds during the last week in April and first one in May. Around every corner are the sounds of jazz, R&B, rock, gospel, funk, folk, and more, plus plenty of local bites, from jambalaya to beignets. Get a complete guide to Jazz Fest here.

When: Late April/Early May

Where: New Orleans, Louisiana

04 of 20

Pilgramage Music & Cultural Festival

Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival

Getty/Mickey Bernal

The family-friendly festival, started by local resident and musician, Kevin Griffin, is one-of-a-kind thanks to its 230-acre farm backdrop in the rolling hills of East Tennessee and a diverse lineup of rock and roll, bluegrass, indie, country, jazz, gospel, blues, and more with 60+ artists across six stages each year. Beyond music, it has a strong cultural focus that brings together hundreds of local artisans, chefs, brewers, and makers from across the region. Pilgrimage celebrates nine years in 2023, and its stages have seen the likes of Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews Band, Keith Urban, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Eddie Vedder.

When: Late September

Where: Franklin, Tennessee

05 of 20

Moon River Music Festival

Moon River Festival

Charles Reagan/Moon River Festival

Founded in 2014 by musician Drew Holcomb, Moon River got its start in Holcomb's hometown of Memphis, but moved to Chattanooga in 2018 when it quickly outgrew its original venue. The family-friendly festival that highlights the culture of the region with local food and beverage vendors can now be found in Coolidge Park on the banks of the Tennessee River. Each year, the Saturday and Sunday festival rooted in Americana music hosts about 20-30 artists across two stages. Among performers like Leon Bridges, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Brandi Carlile and Marcus King Band are some Southern Living favorites including The Avett Brothers, Margo Price, Holly Williams, and Madeline Edwards

When: The second weekend in September

Where: Chattanooga, Tennessee

06 of 20

Shaky Knees Music Festival

Shaky Knees Music Festival

Roger Ho/Shaky Knees Music Festival

Since its start in 2013, the festival has remained true to its indie-rock roots with a unique lineup of over 60 bands from The Killers and Futurebirds to Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers. While you might come for the headliners, you’re bound to leave the weekend having discovered your new favorite artist on the rise. In Atlanta’s Central Park, you also won’t go hungry with offerings from the city’s favorite spots and fan-favorite food trucks throughout the Southeast.

When: The first weekend in May

Where: Atlanta, Georgia

07 of 20

Bourbon & Beyond

Bourbon & Beyond Music Festival

Getty/Stephen J. Cohen

As a relatively new festival in the South, Bourbon & Beyond has quickly made a name for itself, starting strong with headliners Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder, and Steve Miller Band in 2017. Expand your taste when it comes to music and bourbon with four jam-packed days of fun, from a glass of Angel’s Envy to the rhythm of Ryan Bingham. As America’s biggest bourbon experience, you won’t be short on libations—or tunes from bands like Brandi Carlile, Midland, The Black Crowes, and Boy Named Banjo.

When: Mid-September 

Where: Louisville, Kentucky

08 of 20

High Water Festival

High Water Fest 2022

Charles Reagan/High Water Festival

Husband-and-wife musical duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels & Rope, curated High Water to bring a big live music event to their hometown. For two days in mid-April, you’ll find the sounds of Americana folk and rock acts and delicious smells of Lowcountry food drifting out of Riverfront Park, where oak trees draped in Spanish moss wait to greet you. While you’ll always see Shovels & Rope on the lineup, big-name past performers include My Morning Jacket, Drive-by-Truckers, Mavis Staples, and Wilco.

When: Mid-April

Where: North Charleston, South Carolina

09 of 20

Bear Shadow

 Bear Shadow Music Festival, Highlands, North Carolina

Bain Stewart Media/Bear Shadow

With its debut in 2021 as the sister festival to Highlands Food & Wine, which takes place in November, Bear Shadow is quickly on the rise. This springtime gathering celebrates the changing of seasons with daytime adventure offerings including fishing, hiking, and outdoor yoga throughout the Highlands Plateau area until the music kicks off in the early evening. Among those on the 2023 lineup are The Head And The Heart, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Neal Francis, and Woody Platt & Shannon Whitworth.

When: Late April

Where: Highlands, North Carolina

10 of 20

Riverbend Festival

Riverbend Festival Chattanooga
Riverbend Festival

Chattanooga's first and oldest music festival is named for the bend in the Tennessee River where it's held. Riverbend first graced the town in 1982 as a five-night celebration, but today you'll find three nights of music at Ross’s Landing downtown, which the locals refer to as Scenic City’s front porch. With 40 years of music covering almost every genre, icons like Willie Nelson, The B52s, Styx, Lionel Richie, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue have performed, as well as some country favorites, like Maren Morris, Martina McBride, Little Big Town, Trisha Yearwood, Darius Rucker, and Thomas Rhett.

When: The first weekend of June

Where: Chattanooga, Tennessee

11 of 20


Emmylou Harris at MerleFest
Suzie Guerrant/MerleFest.

Grammy award-winning guitarist Doc Watson founded MerleFest in 1988 in honor of his son Merle. The festival celebrates “traditional plus” music they played together—a marriage of traditional Appalachian music, along with any other style that struck the father-son duo's mood. For 35 years, the four-day festival that doubles as a fundraising event for Wilkes Community College has kept its roots in welcoming unexpected collaborations and sounds. The 2023 lineup features The Avett Brothers, Maren Morris, John Paul White, and Jerry Douglas, among an array of newcomers. 

When: Late April

Where: Wilkesboro, North Carolina

12 of 20

Moon Crush

Moon Crush Music Festival

Getty/Erika Goldring

New to Florida's coast in 2020, Moon Crush is designed to be a music vacation where the festivities don’t kick off until the sun starts to set, allowing you to fully enjoy your days on the beach or by the pool. Kick off the summer with four nights of music at Pink Moon in April and close the sunny season in September with Blue Moon for three nights of family-friendly tunes.

When: Late April and early September 

Where: Miramar Beach, Florida

13 of 20

Rock The South

Rock The South Music Festival

Getty/Rick Diamond

What was intended as a one-time event is now celebrating over ten years of performances by some of the top names in country music, from Alan Jackson and Chris Stapleton to Luke Bryan and Brett Eldridge. First hosted in 2012 to celebrate how the region came together after the tornadoes that tore across Alabama in April 2011, today Rock The South continues to raise money for community partners across the state.

When: Mid-July

Where: Cullman, Alabama

14 of 20

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

The Birthplace of Country Music/Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Held in the Birthplace of Country Music, the three-day annual music festival celebrates the city’s music heritage and influence on today's soundtracks. On State Street in Bristol’s historic downtown, you’ll find 20 indoor venues and outdoor stages hosting over 100 artists that showcase the best of Appalachian music and beyond. Since 2001, the gathering on the Tennessee-Virginia border has hosted Doc Watson, The SteelDrivers, and Wynonna Judd. While there, visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

When: Early September

Where: Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia

15 of 20

CMA Fest

CMA Fest, Nashville
Luke Bryan plays CMA Fest in Nashville.

Fredrick Breedon IV/Getty Images

The CMA Fest began in 1972 as the ultimate music experience for country music lovers and has since become Nashville’s signature country music event hosting fans from across the world. Through the CMA Foundation, a portion of the proceeds goes towards supporting music education programs across the country. Celebrating over 50 years as the longest-running country music festival, the four-day extravaganza now hosts over 250 artists on nine stages across the city. You’ll discover new artists and catch performances from big names in country music like Alan Jackson, Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, and Zac Brown Band. 

When: Mid-June

Where: Nashville, Tennessee

16 of 20

FORMAT Festival

FORMAT Festival 2022
Pooneh Ghana/FORMAT Festival.

This out-of-the-box phenomenon truly covers it all—art, music, and technology. In 2022, C3 Presents, alongside the Walton family, who have a large influence over Bentonville, launched FORMAT Festival. Working with visual artists and architects, they've curated a truly one-of-a-kind experience, including a variety of unconventional stages like the “Drag Me To The Disco” barn and “The Cube,” in addition to two traditional stages. Because the festival offers everything from watching renowned artists create or simply soaking in the music, everyone can customize their own experience based on their interests. The 2023 lineup has headliners like LCD Soundsystem, Alanis Morrisette, and Leon Bridges, who will respectively cap off each night of the Friday through Sunday festival. 

When: Late September

Where: Bentonville, Arkansas

17 of 20

Beale Street Music Festival

Aerial shot of the crowd and stage at Beale Street Music Festival

 Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

The three-day musical extravaganza, which first took place in 1977 at the corner of Beale Street and Third, became part of the Memphis in May International Festival the following year. It now takes place in Tom Lee Park, situated between the Mississippi River and downtown Memphis’s skyline alongside the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest, making a weekend trip to the iconic city well worth your while. This year, find The Lumineers, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Greta Van Fleet, and The Roots among the 60+ musical guests. 

When: The first weekend of May

Where: Memphis, Tennessee

18 of 20

Double Decker Arts Festival

Double Decker Arts Festival

Visit Oxford

Inspired by a double-decker bus that was imported from England in 1994 by the city of Oxford, the two-day festival celebrates 26 years of the arts in 2023. Live music Friday evening kicks off the weekend and extends throughout the day into the following night. During the day on Saturday, you’ll find over a hundred art vendors and live demonstrations, plus local food vendors offering favorites from fried catfish to snow cones throughout the historic Courthouse Square. 

When: Late April

Where: Oxford, Mississippi

19 of 20


FloydFest 2019 Overhead View

Roger Gupta/FloydFest

There’s nothing quite like this five-day festival of music and adventure with the Blue Ridge Mountains as the backdrop. The diverse Americana musical event which has strong Appalachian roots in Floyd, Virginia, is celebrating 20 years by moving a few miles down the road for 2024. FloydFest’s lineup of folk-rockers, bluegrass, jam bands, and blues icons even ranges to hip-hop pioneers and New Orleans-style funk.

When: Late July
Check, Virginia

20 of 20

Big Ears Festival

Big Ears Festival Knoxville, Tennessee

Billie Wheeler/Big Ears Festival

Since the festival's first appearance in 2009, Big Ears has brought together generations, from legendary voices of Grammy Award-winning artists and Pulitzer Prize recipients to new performers across genres including jazz, rock, folk, pop, and more. The Oxford American has described it as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals.” The performances are scattered throughout downtown Knoxville in unique clubs, historic theaters and churches, parks, art galleries, and more, so the experience celebrates more than just music. The four-day festival, hosted by a nonprofit organization, is a cultural experience with interactive workshops, vocal performances, installations, among many other surprises.

When: Late March/Early April

Where: Knoxville, Tennessee

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