The Great Eight: A few Road-Trip Worthy Festivals You've Never Heard Of

By Author: Carolyn Briggs, Date: Jun 21, 2017
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Is there a better road trip destination than a music festival? Driving to your destination feels like more of an adventure when your car is packed with tents and coolers. You’re driving into a new little world that will only exist for the one weekend, like Brigadoon but with less showers and more flower crowns. Even if you’re not a camper, the energy created by crowds and live art at festivals can be intoxicating, and incredibly good for the soul.

We all already know the big names. Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lockin and South By SouthWest can offer some incredible experiences, but there are drawbacks to big festivals. Huge crowds, long walks, dirty bathrooms, and very few unknown or local artists can be a drag. There’s also something about seeing sponsor ads everywhere that takes away from the “all about the art” atmosphere.

For those of you looking to discover something new this summer, check out these eight festivals with smaller names. Spread out throughout the country, at least one of these festivals is just a few states away from anywhere in the continental United States, and all boast local acts and art. And while we really like these eight, there are music festivals at locations throughout the country all year long, so keep your eyes and ears open for one near you.

NEW ENGLAND

Great North Music Festival – Minot, ME – Sept. 8 – 10

Bringing music, art and culture to the great white north is the goal of this four year old festival in Maine, now one of the largest annual events in the state. Set in the deep woods, the festival places as much emphasis on visual art as the music itself. So much so that one version of the poster features the lineup, another the visual artists, a third version has performance artists, and the fourth details the classes (yoga, dancing, and hooping are all options) and lectures. That’s not to say the music won’t be plentiful. The festival is headlined by Disco Biscuits and Scientists of Sound, and there are too many other smaller names to count. You’ll want to bring a sweater, though. Great North is a pretty apt name – Maine gets cold on September nights.

APPALACHIA

Deep Roots Mountain Revival – Masontown, WV – July 20 – 22

If you’re into folk and bluegrass, you’ll want to make Deep Roots a destination this summer. Set on a beautiful mountainside in West Virginia, stages are placed both in open fields and among the trees of the Appalachian forest. This festival showcases the best of West Virginia – breathtaking scenery, open people, and a distinct sense of untamed freedom that comes from the untouched Blue Ridge Forest. Nationally known headliners Brandi Carlile, Dr. Dog, and Lettuce are bolstered by local heroes like Rachel Eddy and The Manor and Friends – this is one of those festivals where you’ll leave talking about the local fiddle player, dancing around the trees. Plus if you’re lucky, a local will offer you a sip of Apple Pie Moonshine. Start planning for a gorgeous mountain drive as you experience wild, wonderful, and always weird West Virginia.

SOUTH

Hopscotch Music Fest – Raleigh, NC – Sept. 7 – 10

If the wilderness isn’t for you, or you’re the type of person who needs a daily hot shower, set your GPS south and make your way to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. For four days the city ropes off streets, hosts huge outdoor concerts and smaller intimate club shows, and throws more than 40 different day parties around the city. You won’t find too many huge names here; more than 20 percent of their acts are local to North Carolina. What you will find over four days and 12 venues, is someone that you’ve never even heard of, but completely fallen in love with. Obviously a festival in downtown Raleigh won’t offer camping, but the festival website recommends several hotels, all walkable and friendly to festival crowds.

MIDWEST

Up North Music and Arts Festival – Copemish, MI – August 18 – 20

The philosophy of this festival is simple and hard to argue with – people often have transformative moments through music. Let’s have those moments together in a beautiful place, and all leave feeling more connected. The stages are set in the fields and trees of northern Michigan, which means one very special thing: clear, dark, open skies, filled with more stars than most of us ever get to see. The lineup, which was curated by artists themselves, features Big Wild and G Jones, along with plenty of local talent (Detroit may be going through rough times, but it is still a mecca for art and music). Head up north this summer, and take some beauty and serenity back with you into the real world.

dancefestopia – Kansas City, MO – Sept. 7 – 10

For the young, and young at heart, we have dancefestopia, a four day rave where the music literally never stops. You can dance, take a spin on the ferris wheel, a helicopter tour, a canoe trip, or visit local art installments; it seems like the only thing you won’t be able to do is sleep. The amenities aren’t all about fun, though, they’re offering some pretty serious comfort options. New showers and freshly mulched walkways are pretty novel at festivals, but the best sentence on the website is “VIP flushable toilets.” That there is worth the upcharge. Zeds Dead, Bassnectar, and Tiesto are joined by more than 75 other DJs to pump out music around the clock, with promised “MASSIVE BASS.” Whether you’re a regular raver or just looking to try something new, dancefestopia is an all immersive experience you won’t find anywhere else.

SOUTHWEST

Lost Lake – Phoenix, AZ – Oct. 20 – 22

Don’t expect Lost Lake to be a little known festival for long. Superfly, the company that brought us the iconic Bonnaroo festival, have partnered with cultural leaders in the Phoenix community to bring us three days of music art and food that showcase the cultures and traditions of the southwest. You can explore and purchase local art and crafts, try food from favorite Phoenix restaurants, or drink craft brews made just a few miles away. The lineup, while a little scattered, is littered with names you know. You could see Chance the Rapper, The Killers, Pixies, Ludacris, Lil Jon, A Tribe Called Red, even Huey Lewis & The News shows up on the list. You might not want to see everyone at Lost Lake, but you’ll certainly find one person you want to see really badly. That plus incredible food and art? Sounds like you’ll want to hit up Lost Lake this year before it takes off.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Waterfront Blues Fest – Portland, OR – June 30 – July 4

Not all festivals require you to live in the dirt and forsake showers for half a week. The Waterfront Blues Fest is a five day showcase of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame blues legends, along with the most up and coming names in the genre. Enjoy the Portland waterfront as you listen to Joss Stone, Chris Isaak, the Big Head Blues Club, and too many others to list. General admission is standing room only, but for some extra bucks you can purchase a table, close to the stage. This festival doesn’t offer camping, but never fear. Between hotels, local campsites, and Air B’n’B, there’s no shortage of nice places to park your car in Portland. Plus this way you’ll have access to a private bathroom at the end of the evening – no baby wipe showers this time!

ROCKIES

ARISE – Loveland, CO – August 4 – 6

It’s not just it’s set on 100 acres of stunning mountainside in Colorado. It’s not just that the lineup features Atmosphere and Ani DiFranco. It’s not even all the extras – yoga classes, art installations, and farm to table food. This festival doesn’t just celebrate music, art and food, it celebrates and cares for the land that makes it possible. Arise is a family run, leave-no-trace event. Of course that means no plastic water bottles, but ARISE goes far beyond that. They offer classes that focus on reducing your footprint, and host discussions and show documentary films, and after the festival, organizers plant a tree for each ticket sold, a tradition that dates back five years to the very first ARISE. Even bathing is eco-conscious: Showers are water-efficient cedar stalls, with all natural Dr. Bronners soap and bath products available. This event is a living breathing example that living well and caring for our Earth can be more fulfilling, comfortable, and make for a happier community.

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Carolyn Briggs

I grew up on the road. As a child, my family took regular trips from Wisconsin to both coasts. That's how I've seen most of this country — through the window of a car. Years later, I still feel that excitement when I toss my bags in the trunk and get behind the wheel. That's how seeing something new always begins. I've scaled mountains, dived with sharks, and stepped to the very edge of the Grand Canyon, all because I spent hours in a car. This site combines my passion for the road with my actual talent — communication and journalism. In college I rose to the position of managing editor for The Badger Herald, the largest independent student newspaper in the country at the time. I spent a year after graduating in social media marketing before moving off the grid to explore the wild beauty of West Virginia.

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