This past Summer, my wife and I were in the middle of what formerly had been a cow pasture in a quaint town in Tennessee.
The sun was starting to set, but instead of enjoying a quiet moment at dusk, we were wading our way through LED lights, totems with Internet memes, and thousands of people having the time of their lives.
We barely slept for four days, braved 90+ degree heat, got to see some of our absolute favorite bands and make memories we’ll never escape from.
It’s admittedly a crazy experience, but one that we wouldn’t give up for anything.
With the emergence of the festival scene in recent years, Huntsville has found itself geographically right in the middle of the explosion.
With so many options within a day’s drive, it might be hard to pick the right one.
There are a range of options available, with festivals serving many levels of both adventure and musical taste. All that’s left is to find the one for you, and that’s hopefully where this list comes in.
June 8 – 11
2 hour drive
If you’re a music fan in the Huntsville area, you’ll find that we’re really blessed to have one of the greatest festivals in the world just an hour or two up the road in the otherwise sleepy town of Manchester, Tennessee. While Manchester has roughly one fourth of the population of Madison throughout the rest of the year, close to 100,000 campers descend on the town every year on the second weekend of June.
Having boasted headliners such as Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Billy Joel, Bonnaroo has gained a reputation for booking hard to get acts, and this year is no different. Bonnaroo will feature a headlining set from the white whale of festivals, legendary Irish band U2.
U2 has never played a headlining set in the United States, which makes their slot in Manchester this June one of the must-sees of the summer.
Bonnaroo also has a reputation for featuring one of the most eclectic lineups on the festival circuit, representing all genres from reggae, punk, bluegrass, electronic, and country. It’s also infamous for one of the wildest late night scenes at any festival, with music and other madness lasting until sunrise. And that’s all on top of the fact that the camping nature of the festival creates it’s own temporary city right outside the main venue gates.
The tickets aren’t cheap at around $300 each, but if you can work up the courage, it’s worth both the price of entry and the two hour drive north of Huntsville.
Top Acts This Year: U2, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Weeknd
Acts To Watch For: The XX, Portugal the Man, Milky Chance, Car Seat Headrest
Who Is It For: The experience of camping for four days in an alternative universe in the blazing sun is very much a marathon and an endurance test. The heat and late nights are not for the faint of heart, but also perfect for those looking for adventure. From grizzled hippies to young ragers, you’ll also find a little bit of everyone in the crowd.
May 19 – 21
6 hour drive
If you have a young person in the household, you’ve probably heard of this one already. Not only does Hangout bring a music festival with a Spring Break vibe to Gulf Shores, but it caters almost specifically to the type of crowd listening to Top 40 radio today.
This year, band of the moment Twenty One Pilots will be making their first major festival headlining appearance. If you’ve listened to local pop radio, you’ve undoubtedly heard music from the plucky Indie Pop duo.
Luckily for the slightly older crowd, Folk Rock heroes Mumford & Sons will also be there to counteract things.
While Hangout is a truly picturesque and one of a kind experience, it does unfortunately come with a hefty price tag. The majority of attendees book hotel rooms and condos, which doesn’t come cheap.
It’s also almost necessary to purchase a bus pass to get you from your room to the festival, which adds to the total as well. However, it’s a splurge worth it at least once.
Top Acts This Year: Mumford and Sons, Frank Ocean, Twenty One Pilots
Acts To Watch For: Local Natives, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Warpaint
Who Is It For: Attendees who are interested in making a vacation out of a festival. The sandy white beaches of Alabama’s favorite beach in Gulf Shores make for a picturesque setting that can’t be beat. That said, the majority of the crowd does tend to be composed of teens and a college crowd.
May 12 -14
4 hour drive
Atlanta’s own Shaky Knees has emerged as a contender on the festival circuit in recent years, hosting a typically impressive lineup right in the middle of Downtown Atlanta. The three to four hour drive from Huntsville makes it great competition to Bonnaroo, especially if you’re more interested in having your own hotel room as opposed to roughing it in a tent.
The big differentiating factor with Shaky Knees is that the lineup is unapologetically focused on rock music.
While the headliners this year part with that tradition slightly, the rest of the mid-card and supporting acts are composed of hard hitting alt-rock. Up and coming acts like Cloud Nothings are there, but so are beloved stalwarts like Third Eye Blind.
To put it in Huntsville terms, think Big Spring Jam but bigger and better.
If you’re looking for a return to that scene, it’s worth it for the drive to Atlanta in May.
Top Acts This Year: The XX, LCD Soundsystem, Phoenix
Acts To Watch For: Third Eye Blind, FIDLAR, Cloud Nothings
Who Is It For: Festival attendees who are serious about alt-rock. Shaky Knees caters almost exclusively to guitar-driven music, and has a separate event altogether for electronic music called Shaky Beats. If you’re serious about some old fashioned rock, Atlanta is the place to be on the second weekend of May.
July 16 & 17
2 hour drive
Entering its third year, Sloss Fest in Birmingham has quickly gained a reputation for hosting a quality lineup right in the heart of the city. Composed of two main stages and a smaller shed stage, Sloss takes up residence right outside and inside the historic Sloss Furnace in the Iron City.
While Sloss is much smaller than most of its neighboring festivals, it has historically not skimped on its lineup.
It scored the coup of booking the notoriously evasive alt-rock band Modest Mouse as the first headliner. It also typically caters to the more laid-back and folksy music taste of Birmingham, with appearances from bands like First Aid Kit or Shovels & Rope.
Typically at between $100 to $150 for tickets, Sloss is one of the best values when it comes to bang for your buck at a festival within driving range of Huntsville.
Top Acts This Year: Sloss’s 2017 lineup has not yet been announced, but past headliners have included the likes of The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams and Ray Lamontagne.
Acts To Watch For: Past up and coming acts have included Grouplove, Glass Animals, and White Denim.
Who Is It For: Anyone curious in attending their first festival. Sloss is a great way to start with the festival scene, taking up a few blocks in Downtown Birmingham. The heat is often a struggle in the middle of July, but being in the middle of the city with easy access to a hotel room and restaurants makes it a great deal easier.