Photograph by John Grubbs
In my family, we're fools for festivals. Every summer, we hit the road for at least one (two, if we're feeling flush). My husband, Scott, and I go for the thrill of live music and because outdoor festivals make it so easy to share that experience with our son, Quinn. At 9 years old, Quinn likes the music, but he loves what comes along with it: the joyful, neighborhood-party atmosphere, the food trucks, the craft vendors, and all the fun -- from kid tunes to hands-on crafts and circus arts -- in the children's tent.
Scott and I perform at festivals, too, and we've visited many over the years. I'm not talking Lollapalooza here (awesome as it is), but smaller, mellower festivals that truly welcome families. Musically, these tend toward genres like folk, bluegrass, and world music. They happen in farmers' fields, city parks, and mountain meadows, with all-day entertainment on multiple stages. The daily crowds (3,000 to 6,000, on average) are friendly, the sites are a blast to explore, and there are usually maps, first-aid tents, and flotillas of helpful volunteers. Some events offer families staying overnight a quiet campground option, with an early curfew. Most roll out the red carpet for children, with kids' stages, strolling magicians, giant sandboxes, and more.
At upwards of $40 per day and $200 for a camping weekend, tickets aren't cheap, but they're a bargain for a full day of entertainment, especially when kids get in for free. When I add in priceless family time spent outdoors dancing, learning to juggle, eating too much kettle corn, and falling asleep to the last acts on the main stage, I'm sold. If you are, too, check out these festivals (and more online). They unfold in tempting destinations with dazzling lineups -- and they all go the extra mile for families.
Music festivals are ideal for families who...
- Like discovering new tunes
- Have kids of various ages
- Can tolerate a little dust and a lot of sun
- Enjoy a laid-back vibe
And less ideal for families who...
- Prefer their concerts with chairs and without ambient noise
- Don't like crowds
- Can't abide Porta-Potties
Our Favorite Music Festivals
Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF)
Photograph by Dave Bonnot
Black Mountain, NC
May 9-12; October 17-20
This biannual frolic is kid heaven, a world of puppets, parades, circus arts, storytellers, roving magicians, unicyclers, and face paint, just 20 minutes from downtown Asheville, North Carolina. When families aren't canoeing, zip-lining, or browsing the kid-made craft marketplace, they can dance and listen to music on seven stages. $184 for a 3 1/2-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 10; $47 to $57 for an adult day ticket.
Strawberry Music Festival
May 23-27; August 29-September 2
Held in the fragrant pines bordering Yosemite National Park, Strawberry is legendary for its community spirit and its kid and teen programs, which include a music stage, swimming and boating on Birch Lake, arts and crafts, storytelling, and nature hikes. Top-tier acts are drawn from many genres, including bluegrass, folk, blues, and alt-country; and Hog Ranch Radio broadcasts it all to your campsite. $200 for a 4-day adult camping pass; discounts for youth; free for kids under 5.
Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival
Pete Seeger launched this ecofestival more than 40 years ago to celebrate the Hudson River, and it's still going strong, drawing crowds of up to 10,000 a day. It boasts a diversity of music and more river activities than you can shake a paddle at, including river seining, kayaking, and canoeing. Proceeds support the educational sloop Clearwater. $200 for a 2-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 12; $90 for an adult day ticket.
Harbor Springs, MI
Five miles (and a short shuttle ride) from one of Michigan's most beautiful beaches, Blissfest's vibe is true to its happy, hippy name. Three stages blend blues, zydeco, and more; musicians give acoustic workshop performances in the campground. The kids' area overlooks the main stage (for easy listening) and overflows with homegrown, crafty fun. $115 for a 3-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 12; $32 to $51 for an adult day ticket.
Rocky Mountain Folks Festival
In August, this Rocky Mountain meadow hosts a parade of top songwriters and their bands. Kids can spend all day in the St. Vrain River's shallow, sandy pools; drier activities include slack-lining, knot-tying, wilderness skills, and a chance to record your own MP3. $195 for a 3-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 12; $55 for an adult day ticket.
Riverhawk Music Fest
Tucked next to an orange grove an hour and a half from Orlando, Riverhawk is an intimate, family-run operation. Overhung with Spanish moss, the main stage rings with bluegrass, folk, and rootsy Americana acts both national and local. For kids, there are games (tug-of-war and a piñata hung from a live oak tree), crafts, a sand pit, and a trapeze rig. $125 for a 4-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 12; $40 to $50 for an adult day ticket.
Old Settler's Music Festival
When bluebonnets bloom, it's time for Old Settler's, held just outside of Austin. Kids can indulge in the inflatable playground, rock-climbing wall, crafts, petting zoo, and swimming and wading in Onion Creek. For everyone else, there are heaping servings of great Americana music and barbecue. $239 for a 4-day adult camping pass; free for kids under 12; $69 for an adult day ticket.
A Short List of Other Great Music Festivals
Live Oak Music Festival
Photograph by Sienna Wildfield
Santa Ynez, CA
Grass Valley, CA
Montana Folk Festival
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
The Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival
Green River Festival
Happy Valley, OR
American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront
Four Corners Folk Festival
Pagosa Springs, CO
August 30-September 1
August 31-September 2
The Wheatland Music Festival
Life Is Good Festival
To find other music festivals near you, check out an extensive database, organized by month, at
If you're planning more than three to four months ahead, visit the individual festival websites for the most up-to-date information.
Rani Arbo is a fiddler, singer, and longtime FamilyFun contributor. She performs with the band daisy mayhem.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of FamilyFun