While many might know about mega-festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, there’s a whole other subsection of festival culture that frequently gets overlooked: smaller, local festivals. While mega-festivals have the pull of huge superstars and ~cool~ locations, smaller festivals have the pull of helping one discover fantastic new music while not having to fight crowds of thousands to experience it. Below is a list I’ve compiled of some of the best overlooked festivals around the US.
1. AthFest: Athens, GA on June 22-24, 2018
While I might be a bit biased because I attend the University of Georgia in Athens, I can’t help but plug this festival because of my love for all things Athens. This festival has everything you could possibly want in a smaller festival. Athens is historically known for its diverse and vibrant music scene, and this festival pays homage to that. Athfest has a plethora of the best local indie artists playing all over downtown, from outdoor stages to indoor shows at bars and concert halls. During the day there are food vendors, fun activities, and arts and crafts booths spread across downtown. At night you get to experience shows in bars and concert halls while in a town with a vibrant nightlife scene, seeing as Athens has 80 bars in one square mile. Along with all this, you get to experience this festival while knowing that you’re supporting a charity called Athfest Educates, which helps provide funding for music and arts education for youth.
2. Underground Music Showcase: Denver, Colorado on July 26-29
The Underground Music Showcase, also known as UMS, started small and has expanded into a four-day SXSW-style festival over its 17-year history. This indie rock/folk festival has previously included national headliners like Nataniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and the Lumineers while still paying tribute to smaller local artists, which gives festival-goers the best of both worlds. Another bonus to attending UMS is that you’re in Colorado, home of many beautiful outdoors sights and adventures. If you plan on attending the festival you should plan on coming early or staying late so you can experience one of the many outdoor adventures that the Denver area has to offer, from rafting at Clear Creek in Idaho Springs to hiking in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
3. Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love: Marfa, Texas in September 2018
Many people know about Austin City Limits but not nearly as many know about another gem of a Texas music festival. The Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love offers festival-goers a unique camping-style experience that is different from other camping-style festivals like Burning Man and Bonnaroo. This festival, held on the El Cosmico campgrounds, focuses on building a strong sense of community in festival-goers by promoting the hippie/nomad style. As El Cosmico’s website says, “El Cosmico takes its inspiration from a long American history of hippies, nomads, bohemians and those living a life of self-determination. We believe in tuning in, dropping out and being here now.” Festival attendees are also afforded the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of unique activities, from attending classes on pinch pot ceramics and the methods of shibori hand dying to seeing a baseball game at the local baseball field. The festival also boasts a solid lineup. Last year, artists like Wilco and Ron Gallo performed along with Latin artists like Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkestra and Camilo Lara & Jay De La Cueva (of the Mexican Institute Of Sound).
4. Chinook Fest: Naches, Washington on September 7-9, 2018
Chinook Fest is a 3-day festival dedicated to roots-rock, Americana, country, and funk music. The festival, set in Jim Sprick Community Park, features beautiful rustic views right on the banks of the Naches River, tucked away in the Cascade Mountains. The festival offers attendees the ability to see great live music while being just steps away from scenic hiking trails. Morning yoga classes on the banks of the Naches River allow attendees to center themselves before beginning the day’s activities, which might include lawn golf or cornhole. Previous lineups have included artists such as Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, Colter Wall, and Hillstomp. The festival offers a general admission weekend ticket starting at $95, which makes it way more affordable than many other festivals, whose tickets can typically range from $150+.
5. Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion: Bristol, Tennessee, on September 21-23, 2018
The Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion pays homage its town’s legacy as “the birthplace of country music” by hosting over 130 bands on 20 stages in downtown Bristol. The festival is part of a non-profit organization called The Birthplace of Country Music, which seeks to promote Bristol’s rich musical heritage and create recognition and economic benefit for the area through the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival, a Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and Radio Bristol. This festival offers prices as low as those of Chinook Fest, which can make it cheaper for one to plan a fun fall weekend getaway. The festival has already attracted the attention of the Rolling Stone magazine, who dubbed the festival one of 2016’s hottest country tours and festivals. While the 2018 lineup isn’t out yet, past lineups have included artists like John Anderson, Josh Ritter, and Rusted Root.