Roadside Americana: Alabama – Colorado
State to state, America is alive with the sound of acoustic guitars, some of them in jingle-jangle mode, others flatpicking a rustic bluegrass tune, or sliding into a Delta-blues lament, or strumming behind a cowboy poet, or soaking in the swampy vibe of Louisiana bayou country, or maybe playing an intricate Bach rondo.
Put your (unplugged) pedal to the metal and experience roadside Americana for yourself.
Here’s your travel guide—50 states, 50 must-attend events.
The Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music presents the best in contemporary and traditional bluegrass and acoustic music at the more-than-a-mile-high Pickin’ in the Pines, with workshops, a square dance, and a band contest. Artists have included the Infamous Stringdusters, Muskellunge, the Freight Hoppers, Chatham County Line, the Kathy Kallick Band, to name a few. This year’s fest is in May. pickininthepines.org
Launched in 1996 in founder Steve Masterson’s front yard, by 2010 the rustic, family-friendly Acoustic Café Amphitheater in Marion County (about 70 miles northwest of Birmingham and 60 miles north of Tuscaloosa) had found a home on a 220-acre site located deep in the woods—the area is covered in trees, has a pond, and plenty of flat places to camp. Held during the Memorial Day weekend, the 2013
festival featured Tony Rice, Claire Lynch, Todd Snider, and Dread Clampitt. The 2014 show is scheduled for May 23–24. theacousticcafe.com
A free week of concerts, dances, workshops, and jamming held for the past 40 years in Juneau, the Alaska Folk Festival, to be held April 7–13, features one paid guest artist a year (the rest of the performers are local musicians who volunteer their talent). Past guests include Guy Davis, Nanci Griffith, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and (in the festival’s inaugural year) Merle Travis. All artists attending support the fest’s principle that music should be a way of life, not necessarily a livelihood. akfolkfest.org
The spirit of Robert Lockwood Jr. is alive and well. Though the headliners include such electric-blues slingers as Sonny Landreth and Robert Cray, Acoustic Guitar reader Shein Die says there are plenty of great authentic acoustic-blues artists performing on the smaller stages at the King Biscuit Blues Festival, held in mid-October in Helena, home of the long-running radio show King Biscuit Time and just a stone’s throw from the mighty Mississippi River. kingbiscuitfestival.com
On both Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, the Strawberry Music Festivals take over historic Camp Mather, just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park. The event was cancelled last fall due to the devastating Rim Fire, but a spirit of renewal should be in the air beginning this spring. While performers on the main stage include the likes of Patty Griffin, the Del McCoury Band, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and John Prine, many music lovers come for the round-the-clock music in the campgrounds. Bring your guitar. strawberrymusic.com
It’s been called Connecticut’s best-kept secret. The Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, held in early August in Hebron, is one of the Northeast’s premier bluegrass festivals, with a popular band contest, workshops, children’s activities, and acts such as Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, Tony Trischka, Vassar Clements, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Jonathan Edwards, Mike Cleveland & Flamekeepers, and the Greencards. Now you know, August 7–9. podunkbluegrass.com
Held on Labor Day weekend, the Four Corners Folk Festival in the Rocky Mountains features acoustic faves John Hiatt, Punch Brothers, Darrell Scott, Sam Bush, and Aoife O’Donovan, among others, along with workshops and a kids’ tent to keep attendees happy when they’re not basking in the mineral baths down the hill in Pagosa Springs, 60 miles from Durango. August 29–31. folkwest.com
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