Music festivals are back. Here's your guide to the biggest within Nashville driving distance
If you had a festival pass for every time you heard something "looks a little different this year," you'd be off to just about every major music event coast-to-coast, right?
But it's true. Like virtually all in-person entertainment upended by COVID-19 last year, the rebounding festival landscape isn't the same as when fans pilled into dusty fields months before pandemic precautions took hold.
Organizers of some familiar Nashville events — such as CMA Fest and Live on the Green — decided 2022 looked more promising for a return. Others, like Bonnaroo, rescheduled for later in the year. New events cropped up and longstanding fests plotted multi-night returns after a year of weathering in-person silence with holding virtual events and releasing archived footage.
Where's that leave some of this year's biggest music festivals? Read along for a guide to some of the top events offered around Nashville, plus a few more within driving distance of Middle Tennessee.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
It's been too long since shouts of "Happy 'Roo!" filled Coffee County, Tennessee. The staple multi-night camping event returns after two summers of laying dormant (hopefully not in a sweltering tent, either). The lineup features leading women of hip-hop (Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo), rock giants old and new (Foo Fighters, Phoebe Bridgers), a night at the Grand Ole Opry (GOO at the 'Roo, some call it) and an undercard featuring can't-miss upcoming Nashville talent (Joy Oladokun, Hailey Whitters and Marcus King Band, to name a few).
When and where: Sept. 2-5 at Great Stage park (AKA The Bonnaroo "Farm") in Manchester, Tennessee.
We're yet to know who the Americana Music Association tapped for the return of this downtown Nashville festival, conference and awards show, but — given the overflowing talent from a format that hosts some of the best storytellers in folk, rock 'n' roll, country and soul music — it'll likely be worth the wait.
When and where: Sept. 22-25 at various venues in Nashville.
Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
Pilgrimage picks up where it left off, blending modern country, rock, soul and Americana with a lineup including Dave Matthews Band, Black Keys, Maren Morris, Cage The Elephant, Black Pumas, Tanya Tucker and more. It also features what may be the most underrated festival perk for early risers: Music wraps at 10 p.m. on night one and 8:30 p.m. on night two.
When and where: Sept. 25-26 at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin.
Nashville Pride Festival
Salt N Pepa return to Music City with dance-pop singer Kim Petras, masked country artist Orville Peck and trailblazing Nashville country performer Brooke Eden for a belated fall edition of Pride celebrations.
When and where: Sept. 18-19 at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville.
Self-described as a "party with a purpose," this three-night event brings some of the biggest names in popular Christian music to rural Hickman County. The lineup includes Michael W. Smith, Danny Gokey, Lecrae, Newsboys and more.
When and where: July 29-21 at Hideaway Farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee.
Music collides with craft beer, cocktails and culinary expertise at the Nashville branch of "Blended," a festival launched in San Diego that mixes the aforementioned libations with live tunes. Rapper Lil Jon, EDM artist Kaskade, country singer Matt Stell and genre-blurring "The Git Up" performer Blanco Brown tops and bill that also boasts a stage topped by local chefs and mixologists.
When and where: Aug. 13-14 at First Horizon Park in Nashville.
If you want to drive ...
Itching to get on the road again? Try a music festival within an afternoon's drive of Nashville. Read below for a few to consider.
Mempho Music Festival
Beale Street Music Festival — a summer music stronghold in West Tennessee — went silent in 2021 due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. But that doesn't mean Memphis won't see a standout multi-night event later this year. The fourth installment of Mempho Music Festival returns in October with a lineup featuring jam staple Widespread Panic and Americana favorite The Avett Brothers, as well as Lucinda Williams, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Black Pumas, Julien Baker and Waxahatchee, among others.
When and where: Oct. 1-3 at the Memphis Botanic Garden, about three hours from Nashville.
Shakey Knees Music Festival
Stevie Nicks, Run The Jewels and the Strokes offer and one-two-three headlining punch easily worth a few hours' drive down I-24 South.
When and where: Oct. 22-24 at Central Park in Atlanta, about four hours from Nashville.
Jason Isbell, Leon Bridges, My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews and more top a Kentucky festival where fans can team a live music experience with fine whiskey and horse racing. Rounding out the bill is blues artist Cedric Burnside, country breakout Zach Bryan and show-stopping Americana duo War & Treaty, among others.
When and where: Aug. 28-29 at The Grounds at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, about three-and-a-half hours from Nashville.
Speaking of Isbell, the Nashville-based songsmith returns to his Northern Alabama roots for ShoalsFest, a two-night event curated by the singer and 400 Unit bandleader. Taking place in Florence, Alabama, Isbell and his band headline both nights, with support coming from Lucinda Williams, Drive-By Truckers, Amanda Shires, Candi Staton and more.
When and where: Oct. 1-2 at McFarland Park in Florence, Alabama, about two-and-a-half hours from Nashville.
Moon River Music Festival
For another artist-led festival, consider Drew Holcomb's Moon River in Chattanooga. The Tennessee-raised Americana artist enlists Wilco and Lord Huron to headline the festival, with lineup highlights also including Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, Indigo Girls, Old Crow Medicine Show, Yola and Molly Tuttle, among others.
When and where: Sept. 11-12 at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga, about two hours from Nashville.