N.C. Outdoor Music Festivals Offer Family Fun


Published:

As warm weather returns, a new season of outdoor music festivals beckons music-loving families to enjoy a diverse range of musical talent in relaxing outdoor settings throughout the state.

A seven-month season with nearly 100 music festivals across North Carolina begins in April, with the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in Silk Hope and MerleFest in Wilkesboro among the month's larger events.

Today's music festivals are not the counter-culture gatherings of a generation ago. Most are well organized and may be backed by name-brand sponsors. Many cater to families by presenting a variety of activities and performances for the younger set, often offering discounted tickets for youths and free admission for the very young.

Activities for kids

Sara Waters, co-coordinator of the semi-annual Shakori Hills festivals, says organizers have always stressed the value of music and art through education, "and to start with the kids is a good place to start."

Shakori Hills — where four days of music may range from bluegrass to rock, jazz, Zydeco and Klezmer — places its Kids' Zone at the center of the festival's 72-acre farm. Beyond storytelling, simple crafts and bubbles for young kids, there are organized games like Capture the Flag and crafts such as tie-dying for older children. In a separate area, teenagers can enjoy poetry, songwriting and instrumental workshops; foosball; and an open mike stage.

A week after Shakori Hills each April, MerleFest takes over the Wilkes Community College campus for four days to present Americana, bluegrass, country and rock music on more than a dozen stages. School groups are admitted free on Friday, bringing about 3,200 kids in grades 5, 8 and 12 to the festival. MerleFest's Little Pickers' Area offers children's games, crafts, storytelling and music. In addition to three Youth Showcase performances during the weekend, which children 16 and younger can apply to perform in, festival coordinators book children's acts for the Little Pickers' Stage.

In mid-May and October, LEAF (Lake Eden Arts Festival) in Black Mountain puts on four days of world music, folk, rock, hip-hop and Americana. Held at Camp Rockmont, a children's camp, the festival focuses on enhancing family experiences, says Jennifer Pickering, festival executive director.

LEAF's Kids' Village has two stages for performances by and for kids, a musical instrument petting zoo, craft and costume play, a climbing wall, roving jugglers, stilt-walkers and more. LEAF also offers day care until late at night and a tent for nursing, changing diapers or simply rocking an unsettled child. At the lake, a "Splash Pass" provides access to canoes, swimming and a zip line that starts on a hillside and splashes down into the water.

The LEAF in Schools & Streets program sends teaching artists into area schools, and youth musicians from the program play at the festival.

"Since the start (16 years ago), we wanted to make it for all ages — an intergenerational experience," Pickering says. "For many, LEAF is a family tradition. Some who come every time, who are now in their teens, have been coming since they were in diapers."

Families at the festival

Kippy Perkins and her husband, Tom, of Chapel Hill have taken their boys, now 16, 14, 12 and 8 years old, to LEAF almost every spring and fall since the festival began. "I've only missed two, and it was because I was having babies," she says.

Her boys "love to hang out. They love to run around and the freedom," she says. "It's safe. It's like camp for all of us."

Anne and Cleve Tanner of Forksville, Va., have been taking their nieces, now 14 and 16, to Shakori Hills for about 10 years. They camp alongside three families from Cary with seven kids among them.

"They're friends and they see each other twice a year, and they catch up and have a great time," Anne Tanner says. "We've never had a situation where we've felt uncomfortable with the kids."

As Tanner's nieces have grown, they have begun to appreciate the festivals' music more and have taken up musical instruments themselves. Perkins' boys enjoy world and hip-hop music at LEAF, she says.

Both women say the festivals' diversity of music and people has offered valuable learning experiences for the kids.

"I think it expands their whole horizons," Tanner says. "They see different people from different countries who dress and think differently. It's just a good experience."

A music-centered community

Attending a multi-day music festival is like vacationing among a culture dedicated to live music. Larger festivals, especially, offer all the amenities you need to immerse yourself in the sounds, sights, people and play.

Festival food vendors typically offer fare ranging from fair food to balanced meals, and festivals usually allow patrons to take in coolers. Some festivals allow or sell alcohol, though many prohibit it. Camp chairs are standard equipment, but some festivals offer reserved seating for higher prices or VIP packages with access to tents and perks such as artists' receptions.

Prepare as you would for any day outdoors that will stretch into the evening. This includes sunscreen, hats and layers of clothing to add after sunset. Don't forget rain gear, either.

Check festival websites for what is allowed, but in general you can take items you normally would to keep children happy when they're not occupied with the festival activities.  n

Christopher E. Nelson is the founder of CarolinaOutdoorsGuide.com, and CarolinaMusicFests.com, a calendar and festival guide to more than 100 (mostly) outdoor music festivals in the state.

N.C. Music Festivals

North Carolina's main music festival season is April through October, with single- and multi-day shows almost every weekend. For a comprehensive calendar and guide, see www.carolinamusicfests.com.

(Ticket prices below are "at the gate.")

Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, Silk Hope  •  www.shakorihillsgrassroots.org
April 19-22 and Oct. 4-7
Eclectic range of music from about 50 bands on four stages. Children's activities include arts and crafts, songwriting and instrument workshops, a nature walk and a costume parade.
Four-day pass for adults, $100; ages 13-15, $55; 12 and under, free. Daily pass, $25-$45; ages 13-15, $12-$22; 12 and younger, free. Camping for tents, $10; RVs, $60. Family area available.

Family Style Bluegrass Music Festival, Roxboro  •  www.willowoakpark.com
April 26-28
Four or five bluegrass bands each day play afternoon and evening shows.
Three-day pass, $75; ages 13-16, $45; 12 and under, free. Daily pass, $25-$30; ages 13-16, $15; 12 and under, free. Tent/RV camping, free with ticket; RVs with hookups, $10-$15.

MerleFest, Wilkesboro  •  www.merlefest.org
April 26-29
About 80 bluegrass, country, Americana and rock bands play on
13 stages, some indoors. Kids' area has crafts, games, and musical and non-musical acts.
Four-day pass, $155 general admission; age 12 and under, free; reserved seating, $225-$250. Friday-Sunday general admission; $140; daily; $35-$55; age 12 and under, free. Limited RV camping on campus, $450 (four days). Plentiful camping nearby with shuttle buses.

LEAF, Black Mountain  •  www.theleaf.org
May 10-13 and Oct. 18-21
About 40 world music, blues and Americana bands play on four stages (three indoors). Many activities available, including arts and crafts, canoeing, swimming and organized hiking.
Four-day pass, $169; ages 10-17, $139; 9 and under, free; discounts for local residents. Daily pass $40-$50; ages 10-17 $32-$42; 9 and under free.
Four-day passes include tent camping, with separate family area. Camp Rockmont, the festival site, offers cabins, lodge rooms and lodge bunks at various prices.

Red, White & Bluegrass Festival, Morganton  • www.redwhiteandbluegrassfestival.com
June 30-July 4
About 35 bluegrass bands play at Catawba Meadows Park, which offers playgrounds, walking trails, a zip line and other amenities. The festival also includes fireworks and a youth bluegrass musicians' camp.
Preview night (June 30) presents six bands for free. Four-day pass, $80; age 12 and under, free. Daily pass $30. Camping, $30 for full event, $20 daily.

—   Christopher E. Nelson

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Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Where:
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Contact Name: Kelly
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Cost: 20

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Cost: Free

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Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
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Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

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Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
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More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society since 2015, the 19th...

Cost: 0

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.