[Updated Jan 25, 2023]
The music that took root in the Southeast– including bluegrass, blues, country, gospel, and old-time music– historically served as one of the foundations for popular culture in the United States.
So it should come as no great surprise that, in North Carolina, music festivals are widespread and largely steeped in these traditional music genres.
The NC festival season typically last from late spring to early autumn, when the fall colors in North Carolina begin to reach their peak.
During this span, there are dozens of music festivals in North Carolina worth checking out, and the North Carolina mountains are home to more than their fair share.
Music festivals in NC come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from county fiddler’s conventions held in high school gyms to massive, camp-for-the-weekend venues.
While any of the North Carolina music festivals is likely to represent some sort of regional identity, what follows are some of the best festivals for getting a feel for what music means to my home state.
North Carolina Music Festivals Guide
(organized chronologically by 2023 dates)
- App State Old-Time Fiddlers Convention (Boone NC, February)
- Bluegrass First Class (Asheville NC, February)
- Digital Gardens (Charlotte NC, April)
- MerleFest (Wilkesboro NC, April)
- Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention (Mount Airy NC, June)
- White Squirrel Weekend (Brevard NC, June)
- Bluff Mountain Festival (Hot Springs, June)
- Boonerang Music and Arts Festival (Boone NC, June)
- Folkmoot Summerfest (Waynesville NC, July)
- An Appalachian Summer Festival (Boone NC, July)
- Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (Asheville NC, August)
- Reevestock Music Festival (Elkin NC, August)
- Soulshine Farm Music Festival (Burnsville/Spruce Pine NC, August)
- NC State Bluegrass Festival (Marion NC, August)
- Night In The Country Carolinas Music Festival (Mill Spring, August)
- Earl Scruggs Music Festival (Mill Spring, September)
- Mountain Song Festival (Brevard, September)
- North Carolina Folk Festival (Greensboro, September)
- LEAF Festival (Black Mountain NC, October)
- Balsam Range Art of Music Festival (Lake Junaluska NC, December)
READ MORE: The 15 Best Fairs in North Carolina to Visit
Spring Music Festivals in North Carolina
1. App State Old-Time Fiddlers Convention
Boone NC (February 4)
The annual App State Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in Boone NC is put on by the Appalachian Heritage Council.
This festival is unique in that it is entirely operated by App State students.
The event includes an opening night performance by an established band, with traditional dancing to go along with it. The second day is all about the competition, both for individual musicians and bands.
The festival also features music classes, local luthiers (to repair string instruments), and an arts & crafts market.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Boone NC
2. Bluegrass First Class
Asheville NC (February 17-19)
The first of the year’s Asheville music festivals, Bluegrass First Class has been around since 1996.
It consistently offers an array of top-rated bluegrass musicians performing in the comfortable setting of the Crowne Plaza Resort, which is located near the River Arts District and several popular Asheville Breweries.
The multi-day event offers reserved seating as well as general admission.
It’s hosted by WNC native Milton Harkey, who has a lifetime love of bluegrass and produces other Asheville events.
During this popular festival, jam sessions and spontaneous picking happen round the clock in the hotel, halls, lobbies, and foyers, with only a single quiet wing that stops the music so folks can get some shut-eye.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
3. Digital Gardens
Charlotte NC (April 21-22)
For a quick jaunt out of the mountains and into the big city, Digital Gardens is an annual Charlotte music festival.
It’s also a complete departure from the typical NC music festival, in that it’s all about that bass (no treble).
This event has no traditional mountain music. Instead it features electronic music, visual artists, and lots of tech-y stuff, such as an LED wall.
Digital Gardens is a two-day event held at the outdoor Blackbox Theater, which has a full bar and food trucks to keep partygoers going late into the wee hours.
Wilkesboro NC (April 27-30)
MerleFest features music on multiple stages over multiple days.
This may be the premier musical festival North Carolina has to offer: It’s been going on for over three decades now!
This is a proper music festival with camping and four days of music, including big names like Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, The Wood Brothers, and Emmylou Harris (from the 2022 lineup).
The festival also features craft and food vendors, volunteer opportunities, and improvisational jam sessions.
Summer Music Festivals in Western NC
5. Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention
Mount Airy NC (June 2-3)
Dating back over 50 years, Mount Airy’s Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention is a two-day event that’s held on the first weekend in June.
Hosted by the Surry Arts Council, this is a family-oriented event with lots of live music, jam sessions, dancing, and competitions.
There are also food vendors, craft stalls, workshops for kids, and even a kids music competition with prize money.
The annual festival is held at Veterans Memorial Park in Mt Airy, where there’s plenty of space for camping.
6. White Squirrel Weekend
Brevard NC (May 26-28)
Formerly known as the White Squirrel Festival, this celebration takes over Downtown Brevard for two days every June.
The event is named in honor of the small town’s famous white (not albino) squirrels.
This festival is chock full of music and dancing in the streets. It culminates with the “NC Guitar Celebration” at the awesome Brevard Music Center.
There’s a stage right on Main Street, a beer garden with local microbrews, and a HoopJam Hula Hoop Dance Party.
7. Bluff Mountain Festival
Hot Springs NC (June 11)
The Bluff Mountain Festival is an all-day event held in early June at the Hot Springs Resort & Spa in Hot Springs NC.
This music festival is free to attend, and the music is primarily traditional stuff from the region, including bluegrass, old-time, and folk ballads.
The festival has been going on for over a quarter-century now and it tends to draw well-known artists from the region.
8. Boonerang Music and Arts Festival
Boone NC (June 15-17)
This awesome North Carolina music festival is free to the public, and held right off King Street in Downtown Boone.
It lasts for several days, with a pre-Boonerang concert on Thursday evening, a kickoff concert on Friday evening, and shows throughout the day on Saturday.
There are volunteer opportunities for those looking for a deeper festival experience and a celebration of things closely linked to Boone NC.
9. Folkmoot Summerfest
Waynesville NC (July 28-31)
Established in 1984, Waynesville’s Folkmoot Festival has historically been an international dance and music festival.
Now the Folkmoot Summerfest is a 4-day event that primarily takes place in an old elementary school, which was donated by the Haywood County School system to create the Folkmoot Friendship Center.
Volunteers are invited to help put on this event, which takes place in multiple locations, including Downtown Waynesville and nearby Lake Junaluska.
10. An Appalachian Summer Festival
Boone NC (July 1-29)
An Appalachian Summer Festival is presented by App State’s Art and Culture programs. It includes music as well as film, visual arts, theatre, and dance.
The annual Boone NC festival has received acclaim from both The New York Times and the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the most prominent summer festivals (in the US and the southeast, respectively).
The shows take place all over the ASU campus, with five different centers playing host to an eclectic mixture of artists and performances.
This year’s lineup will include world-renowned artists such as country legend Marty Stuart, jazz/R&B artist Esperanza Spalding, Broadway star Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton), and classic rock icon Box Scaggs.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Waterfalls Near Boone NC
11. Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
Asheville NC (August 3-5)
Held annually at UNC-Asheville’s Lipinsky Hall, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is a three-day event celebrating Southern Appalachian culture and music.
The Asheville NC festival was founded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford and has been kicking (and toe-tapping) since 1928, promoting the region’s traditional music and dance styles.
Bascom’s original intention was to present the finest “ballad singers, string bands and square dance teams” Appalachia has to offer. His dream still lives on as the festival enters its 95th year.
The 2022 festival will feature performances by beloved musicians such as Jim Lauderdale, Songs From The Road Band, Buncombe Turnpike, Sons of Ràlph, the Cockman Brothers, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, Bearwallow Bluegrass, Sheila Kay Adams, Laura Boosinger, and many more!
12. Reevestock Music Festival
Elkin NC (August 4-5)
Reevestock is a hybrid festival, with both indoor and outdoor performances. It’s hosted by the historic Reeves Theater in Downtown Elkin NC, and basically takes over Main Street for a day.
Shows begin outside the Reeves Theater on Friday evening, moving inside for a nighttime performance, followed by a late-night gig at Angry Troll (one of Elkin’s best breweries).
Saturday has music from lunchtime into the night, with performances at Elkin’s Hidden Amphitheater.
This festival has been happening for over a decade now. It raises money annually for the Reevestock Scholarship Fund, which helps local school seniors pay for their continued education.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Elkin NC
13. Soulshine Farm Music Festival
Burnsville/Spruce Pine NC (Dates TBD)
On hiatus during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Soulshine Farm Music Festival is an annual weekend event suitable for family and friends.
Although details for this year’s festival had not been confirmed in time for our deadline, a post on their Facebook page in February reads, “See ya in 2022!”
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC
14. NC State Bluegrass Festival
Marion NC (August 17-19)
For an extended weekend every August, this North Carolina Bluegrass Festival takes over Tom Johnson’s Camping Center in Marion NC. Individual day passes and 3-day special passes are available.
As the name suggests, this festival is primarily focused on a mix of traditional and modern bluegrass music. This year’s lineup will include some big name acts, including Rhonda Vincent & the Rage.
Performances typically go from midday well into the night, with about seven acts playing each day. There will also be “Moonlight Jams” on Thursday and Friday night, starting at 9:30 PM.
15. Night In The Country Carolinas Music Festival
Mill Spring NC (August 24-26)
This annual country music festival is hosted at the Tryon Resort in Mill Spring, which is located about 20 miles east of Hendersonville NC.
Unlike many of the music festivals in North Carolina featured here, this one focuses primarily on nationally-known acts, most of which fit squarely into the Modern Country genre.
In 2022, the 3-night festival will feature performances by Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Jimmie Allen, Ashley McBryde, Jon Pardi, Jameson Rogers, and many more.
In addition to country music concerts, the event includes local food (“Brews & Que”), local breweries,(“The Craft Beer Experience”), local wineries (“Grapeland”), and an array of outdoor nightlife experiences.
Fall North Carolina Music Festivals
16. Earl Scruggs Music Festival
Mill Spring NC (September 1-3)
Born in 1924 in Cleveland County NC, Earl Scruggs is widely revered as one of the best and most influential banjo players the world has ever seen.
His 3-finger banjo style has become a defining characteristic of bluegrass music, and this annual NC bluegrass festival is held in his honor.
The Earl Scruggs Music Festival is a 3-day event that draws in seriously well-respected musicians like Bela Fleck and Allison Brown, who are generally considered two of the best banjo players in the world today.
The festival has multiple outdoor stages, and is especially suitable for families. There’s also an official jamming area for those budding bluegrass musicians out there!
17. Mountain Song Festival
Brevard NC (September 8-9)
This annual music festival in Brevard NC is hosted by the Steep Canyon Rangers, the bluegrass band that regularly collaborates with comedian/actor/writer/banjo virtuoso Steve Martin.
The Mountain Song Festival is all about acoustic music, including everything from bluegrass and “newgrass” to old-time, folk, jazz, and traditional mountain music.
The festival has shows on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening, including live performances by the Steep Canyon Rangers on both nights.
The Mountain Song Festival takes place at the Brevard Music Center, a top-flight venue with an amazing outdoor stage and grounds. The event raises money for the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club.
18. North Carolina Folk Festival
Greensboro (September 8-10)
Held annually in September in the city of Greensboro, the North Carolina Folk Festival features over 300 artists on multiple stages, providing non-stop entertainment.
The 3-day festival is free and includes lots of music and dance, as well as handicrafts, food, and family attractions.
Musicians come from all around the world to share creative expressions of their culture and traditions.
Performers at the 2022 festival will include bluegrass legend Sam Bush, Georgia-based Americana band Futurebirds, Black Opry Revue, Afrobeat artists Kaleta & Super Yamba Band, and Cajun legends BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet.
19. LEAF Festival
Black Mountain NC (October 19-22)
Held in Black Mountain NC, just a few miles east of Asheville, The LEAF Festival is a massive event with 27 years on the scene and more than 100 different countries represented.
The LEAF Festival is all about enjoying a broad variety of world music in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
In addition to multiple stages for music, the 2022 festival will include a family adventure village, art vendors, and artists of all sorts to make the experience memorable.
20. Balsam Range Art of Music Festival
Lake Junaluska NC (December 1-2)
Hosted by Waynesville NC bluegrass icons Balsam Range, this excellent indoor music festival takes place in early December, right around the time the local NC Christmas events get going.
Held at the Stuart Auditorium, the Balsam Range Art of Music Festival features fancy shows, with meals included in the opening night tickets. Note that VIP tickets often include meet-and-greet opportunities with the performers.
There are also free workshops (no pre-registration necessary) offered on Saturday afternoon, and the Saturday evening shows start right after the workshops have ended.
Onsite lodging is available at the historic Lambuth Inn overlooking Lake Junaluska, with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains providing a picture-perfect backdrop. –by Jonathon Engels, featured image via Canva