Bluegrass Bucketlist: 5 Festivals You Shouldn’t Miss

Bluegrass Bucketlist: 5 Festivals You Shouldn’t Miss

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February is ALMOST OVER! With the fast approach of daylight savings on March 8th (unless you’re in one of those states that doesn’t participate in this glorious event, *cough cough* Arizona), we can start looking forward to some longer days. And longer days means more time on the weekends to haul your ass out to a festival and have a good time. 

In anticipation of festival season, I’ve put together a little list of 5 bluegrass festivals you shouldn’t miss. I haven’t been to all of these, but they’re on my bucket list. 

Before I continue, it should be noted that I’m not a musician. I’m merely a low-key fan who participates in the community because of Marcel. So, these festivals might not be your favorite, but I don’t really care. These are the festivals that intrigue me or have been a good time for me in the past! Enjoy and let me know in the comments what your favorite festivals are and where we’ll see you this year.

1. IBMA

Alright, great. Starting with the big, obvious one for #1. The biggest reason I like IBMA is for its location. We currently live in Raleigh, NC  so IBMA being within our vicinity is really convenient. 

Besides pure convenience it’s a festival that provides a LOT to do. And I mean a lot. Not only can you explore Raleigh if you’re feeling the need to get away from the chaos, but the festival itself gives so many options. Almost too many…

So, if you’re planning a trip out to IBMA and you’re looking through the website for IBMA, I beg you to not get anxious and click away. The site makes the festival seem really confusing and frankly, quite expensive. But it’s not. This is arguably one of the cheaper festivals because so many shows are free and you only need to pay if you’re doing conferences or desperately want a pass for the Ramble. (This is basically a pass to go see the later evening shows at local venues. It’s a good deal if you’re there to enjoy music, not play). 

This festival offers something like six outdoor stages, performances in the conference center and jamming all night long in the hotel lobby. 

This festival is super easy and you mostly just need a place to crash. So book your hotels and we’ll see you in September.

2. DARRINGTON BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL

I’m going to jump all the way over to the great Pacific Northwest. The grand state of Washington. My home-state! 

Darrington Bluegrass Festival is one of those “best kept secrets” festivals. It’s in the small town of Darrington, Washington up in northwest Washington.

The green hat Marcel always wears is a Darrington hat.

The festival is super clear, super relaxing and has some stunning views of the mountains. You drive through a small town, set up your camp in the trees (hoping to avoid the roots for your backs sake) and crack a beer open in your lawn chair. 

This is a super family-friendly festival. The area isn’t’ so big that you’re going to lose your kid somewhere and often you’ll see the older kiddos zoomin’ around on their bikes and playing flashlight tag until their parents make them sleep so they can sip whiskey and pick some tunes. 

Darrington has one of the better “jam” scenes that I’ve seen. Everyone is excited and social, so the picking can go on all night! The only downside is that it gets really chilly in the evenings, despite it being mid-July. Washington just isn’t that comfortable at night. So bring layers and lookout for some Lessons with Marcel merch because lots of our friends head to that festival. 

And if you’re not staying the night at the campgrounds, please be careful driving at night. There are lots of winding roads. Fun fact: I drove home from Darrington late one night and hit a bird going around a corner. It was terrifying. So, yeah. Be careful.

3. GREY FOX

Now I’m finally venturing into the land of “shit, I haven’t been to this festival. What am I going to say?”

But here’s what I’ll say; I’ve never been like “oh that lineup looks bad!”. Grey Fox always has a great selection of musicians. It’s a huge festival. So compared to something like Darrington which is one I’d call “intimate”, Grey Fox is more like a circus. Lots of people, lots of options and I’ve heard the nightlife is really fun!

Since the festival takes place in mid-July, it’s a great time for the northeast area even if it’s warm and is pretty accessible for a lot of people. 

This is one of those festivals that I’d be really excited to go to. What do you say folks? Should I buy tickets to it for Marcel’s birthday?

4. TELLURIDE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL

Admittedly, I haven’t been to Telluride either!

It’s just never been in the stars for us. But I’m desperate to go and we have a friend who we may be able to convince to do a road trip one of these days. . .

This song is called: I Hope You Don't Have Anything Important To Do For The Next 20 Minutes

I’m interested in Telluride because it feels more like a rowdy, party crowd. And even though I like to be in bed by prompting 10:30 these days (though I’ll have you know I’m writing this article and it’s 10:49pm, so I’m really bending over backwards for you folks) I really do enjoy the jamming and the late night camaraderie over music. 

It’s really enjoyable to be around all of these people with shared interests and excitement. I’m hoping we can get out to Telluride next year.

5. MERLEFEST

Last one for today, y’all and I’m bringing it full circle to North Carolina again. 

We’ve been to Merlefest once (maybe you’ve seen our vlog?) and even though it started as an utter disaster, it ended up being absolutely wonderful. We got good weather and hung out hard at the main stage. 

The biggest downside, from our experience, was that there were less activities in the evening. We found only one jam at the campsites we were at and we didn’t travel with any friends that weekend. So I think the next go-around would be with other friends and we’d make it a better evening adventure. Or find a different camping scenario altogether. 

There is a shuttle from most of the camping areas to cart you up to the community college. There are so many music tents and vendors that you really won’t get bored. 

The best stage is easily the one of the hill behind the school (if you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about). It’s basically a hill that’s at a 70 degree angle and always has the best performances. It’s like a cruel joke by the event planners that they’re going to have Sam Bush and Sierra Hull performing at the super scary mudslide hill. 

This festival is definitely worth a look though. It’s really easy going and entertaining.

That’s all I’ve got for you! Again, let me know what festivals you love, where we should be going and where we can find you this year.

Kj also writes for Milktoast Magazine. Find it online and follow on Instagram.

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12 thoughts on “Bluegrass Bucketlist: 5 Festivals You Shouldn’t Miss”

  1. Real n00b question. I am going to my first bluegrass festival in May (Delfest). How do you secure your guitar if you are camping out? Is it something that worries you? If you lock it up in a vehicle, how do you deal with the oven-like temperatures inside the car? And I don’t have a car, I have a motorcycle, so that isn’t an option as a place for me to have lockable storage.
    Thanks

    1. Hey Mitch!
      A lot of festivals have an instrument check once you get inside the festival! Typically, we do that, that way we know it’s safe, you aren’t stuck carrying it all day but have access if you decide to play with some friends and it’s usually in a room or tent that is shaded and has fans blowing. It costs a couple bucks, but better that than in a tent that someone can bust into!

      Hope that helps!

    2. Mitch – I wish I had asked this same question last year. I went to DelFest 2019. The music was awesome and I had a great time. But, I was expecting something different. I thought there would be more impromptu jamming with fellow campers. But hardly anyone was jamming during the day or night. Also, the heat was intense, and I didn’t have a cool place to store my guitar. In the day time, I carried it to some indoor concerts, but it was always a concern. It’s quite possible they have lockers in one of the outbuildings. I would call to find out.

  2. The city of Frankfort IL sponsors a bluegrass fest every year the weekend after 4th of July.
    Free admission and ok parking.
    They get nationally known bands.
    I’ve heard special consensus there.
    Google Frankfort bluegrass fest or call down home guitars Frankfort IL.

  3. Thanks for your run down. There are so many more in the summer. Last summer, we attended Pickin in Parsons, WV. Excellent festival and very welcoming hosts. One of the best we have attended.

    If you are bored and cold in the winter come to Florida. There are festivals almost weekly with all the name acts trying to escape the winter at home. There are also festivals outdoors, indoors, on cruise ships, etc. Danny Stewart does a number of cruises. Sertoma Camp north of Tampa has numerous genres and festivals, Palatka, FL near Jacksonville has a fall and spring festival. Plus there are numerous smaller festivals that have lots of jamming. Not to be deemed festivals, but there are lots of house party concerts by many different groups. I know last year we went to one that had 5 IBMA recognized winners playing. There are many all over north, south, east and west Florida during the winter/spring.

  4. How can you leave off the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS? I’ll grant you it isn’t a true bluegrass only festival. They usually have one or two bluegrass bands and lots of accoustic music playing on five official stages (and many more unofficial) beginning 10:00 am and running well past midnight everyday. But for sheer jamming 24/7, I’m willing to bet there is no equal to it. Bluegrass, jazz, country, rock, whatever blows your skirt up is all but one campsite away. I’ve been going 20 years and have never seen anything close to it in terms of jamming. But that’s just my humble opinion.

  5. If any of you folks in Marcel Nation will be on the island of Oahu in the great state of Hawaii in April or October (Corona not withstanding), please check out Bluegrass in the Ko`olau, Hawaii’s premier Bluegrass festival put on by Bluegrass Hawaii (www.bluegrasshawaii.com). The finest Bluegrassers from Hawaii and beyond in the beautiful Ho`omaluhia Botanical Garden. Days are free, overnight camping is $10 with a year-long membership to Bluegrass Hawaii (covers April and October). Hope to see you there. Thanks!

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