When you live in a warm climate like Florida, any attempt at creating a festival frenzy need not be confined to the summertime. In fact, the next couple of months, this sunny state will experience a new spate of music festivals, giving a welcome respite to all those on the opposite side of the Mason Dixon Line who are suffering from a particularly harsh winter.
Granted, Florida is a big state, and those of us who live in its southernmost fringes sometimes feel a bit isolated due to our distance from Orlando, Tampa, and points beyond. Even so, when there are so many great gatherings that are realistically within driving distance, it's worth gassing up the car and setting out on a sonic adventure. Here are five -- one per month from now to May -- in chronological order, worth the trek.
30A Songwriters Festival
January 17 to 19
If you are pondering such an expedition, it would be best to get your plans in gear quickly. The first of these gatherings -- and the one with the largest roster of performers -- takes place this weekend.
With 20 clubs and venues of varying sizes located in various seaside enclaves in the vicinity of Fort Walton Beach, the 30A Songwriters Festival boasts a dazzling array of artists who rarely make the journey this far south. Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright, John Gorka, Ani DiFranco, Matthew Sweet, Jim Lauderdale, Mary Gauthier, Webb Wilder, Don Dixon, Marti Jones, and Marshall Chapman are but a few of the bigger names included among the 150-plus performers scheduled to appear. And with the promise of intimate venues, beautiful scenery, an array of gourmet dining options, and a cast of participants befitting some sort of spectacle, it deserves to be considered one the preferred destinations for the dedicated festivalgoer.
Don't let a 12-hour drive or the cost of an airplane ticket to Fort Walton Beach discourage you. Three-day passes cost a mere $190. Pick up tickets here.
Virginia Key Grassroots Festival
February 20 to 23
Although this is a lot closer to home, Virginia Key can sometimes seems like it's a world away, with its natural beaches and a loose, sunny vibe sure to appeal to your hedonistic instincts.
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Donna the Buffalo, a talented group of players who blend an Americana approach with populist precepts, curates this particular event that combines outfits of the jam band variety with indigenous talent that also maintains that looser groove. Del McCoury and Jim Lauderdale are featured among the national headliners, with local bands SOSOS, Locos Por Juana, the Spam Allstars, and Afrobeta also sharing the spotlight.
And hey, there's no flight necessary.
Prices begin at $25 for single-day Thursday tickets to $100 for the full four days. Visit grassrootsstore.org.
March 20 to 23
This year marks Suwannee Springfest's 18th anniversary, making it one of the state's -- not to mention one of the nation's -- longest-running music festivals. It's been continuously produced at North Florida's Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park near Live Oak. It delves into a wide variety of genres -- folks, roots, bluegrass, nu-grass, singer/songwriter types, blues, Cajun, and zydeco, and assorted other forms of traditional Americana.
A 2007 documentary about the festival, Music Farmers: Sowing the Seeds of Americana, aired over 175 PBS network outlets worldwide and also won a place at the Jacksonville Film Festival that same year. Meanwhile, Springfest has grown in attendance from around 1,000 people its first year to a current gathering of approximately 7,000 fans who come from across the country.
As befitting an event of such longevity and renown, this year's lineup is especially impressive. Among those slated so far are the Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, Steep Canyon Rangers, the Del McCoury Band, the Sam Bush Band, the Punch Brothers, Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, and dozens of others with varying degrees of headliner status. Ticket prices range from $50 for single-day tickets to $300 for VIP packages. Visit elevate.com/boxoffice.
Wanee Music Festival
April 10 to 12
See also: The People of Wanee Music Festival 2013
Get used to Live Oak's Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, because a month later, you may wanna go back there to experience the tenth-annual Wanee Music Festival. An annual event hosted by the Allman Brothers Band, the festival has steadily evolved from its founding in 2005 and now encompasses five main stages and nearly 50 live acts over three days. In addition, a much anticipated kickoff party is usually held the night before the festivities begin. This year's lineup includes: Trey Anastasio Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, Umphrey's McGee, Ziggy Marley and more. Check out the full lineup here.
Tickets for the three-day event cost $195 and can be purchased at livenation.com.
May 2 to May 4
It may be a newcomer compared to these other events with a distinct vintage, but Big Guava is already showing potential to become the premier Florida gathering as far as the quality of talent is concerned. Scheduled to take place at the Florida State Fairgrounds and MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, it will feature four stages Friday, a Monster Midway of unlimited free thrill rides, craft beer gardens, and, of course, the prerequisite supply of food trucks.
Still, it's the lineup that has our attention, a star-packed roster of acts that include Outkast (newly reunited with Andre 3000 and Big Boi), Vampire Weekend, Foster the People, Slightly Stoopid, Cake, Tegan and Sara, Violent Femmes, HAIM, Girl Talk, and Chance the Rapper, among many, many others.
What a way to cap the spring and get us all psyched for summer!
A three-day Early Bird General Admission Pass goes for $99. After January 18, the price of that pass increases to $165. Tickets include free unlimited rides and general admission to all stages including the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre (seats available on a first-come, first-served basis). Visit livenation.com.
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