Music to Your Ears: 6 Top Summer Music Festivals

Get your groove on this summer at these music festivals.

by NEA Member Benefits

If your idea of a great vacation involves swaying to the sweet sounds of your favorite music alongside thousands of like-minded folks, then consider planning a trip around a music festival. With many free concerts and activities, plus plenty of reasonably priced accommodations nearby, summer festivals pack in a lot of value. Be sure to bookmark the more popular festival websites and check back often for performer and ticket sale updates, as many shows—like Rhode Island’s popular Newport Folk Festival—sell out months in advance.

Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, August 3–12, 2018

Since its launch in 1984, the community-run Musikfest has been among the largest and most diverse music festivals in the U.S., with more than 500 shows on 14 stages in 10 days. It’s also the largest free music festival in the nation, featuring musical, dance and comedic performers from nine countries. Wherever your musical tastes lie, Musikfest has them covered: Choose from alternative, blues, classical, folk, country, funk, indie, jazz, oldies, polka, pop, soul, hip-hop, rock and world music. Stages are called “platzes”—a nod to Bethlehem’s German roots—and the event stays eco-friendly by offering reusable beverage mugs.

In 2017, 1.2 million people headed to the Lehigh Valley site to see Santana, Chicago, Colin Hay, The Smithereens and Toby Keith. There’s also plenty of non-musical fun, such as inflatable art installations, kids’ camps and arts classes. All proceeds from Musikfest are redirected into programming for local nonprofit organizations.

Plan your trip: Discover Lehigh Valley | VisitPA

Driving distances: 1 hour 20 minutes from Scranton, Pennsylvania | 2 hours from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City, New York | 3 hours from Baltimore, Maryland and Ithaca, New York

Area attractions: Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites | Lehigh Valley Horseback Trail Rides | National Museum of Industrial History

Where to stay: Comfort Suites Bethlehem | Hyatt Place | Historic Hotel Bethlehem

Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware, June 14–17, 2018

Looking for a memorable way to celebrate Father’s Day weekend? Make your way to the Firefly Music Festival, where more than 90,000 music fans gather in Delaware’s capital city on 105 acres adjacent to the Delaware International Speedway at The Woodlands, a group of tree-lined fields. Firefly started in 2012 as a must-do for the college crowd, but has since expanded its offerings.

The 2018 star-studded lineup includes Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, The Killers, Lil Wayne and Arctic Monkeys, along with many emerging artists. Firefly also incorporates some unique elements such as The Nook, where visitors can plop down into a hammock for a restorative break; The Coffee House for intimate performances; electric dance parties at The Thicket; and the all-acoustic Treehouse Sessions, which take place in a real tree house.

Plan your trip: Visit Delaware Villages | Visit Delaware

Driving distances: 2 hours from Baltimore, Maryland and Woodbine, New Jersey | 3 hours from New York City, New York and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania | 4 hours from Binghamton, New York

Area attractions: First State National Park | Biggs Museum of American Art | Air Mobility Command Museum

Where to stay: Holiday Inn Dover-Downtown | Hampton Inn Milford | Premium Glamping (on-site)

Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 27–July 1 and July 3–8, 2018

Set on Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, Summerfest is known as the world’s largest music festival, with 800+ artists, more than 1,000 performances and 11 stages. Established in 1968, Summerfest’s 11-day event showcases country, reggae, pop, R&B, rock and alternative music. Last year’s lineup featured Paul Simon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan and P!nk, and some of 2018’s scheduled headliners include James Taylor, Dave Matthews Band and Florida Georgia Line.

Local eateries serve up a variety of treats to keep attendees’ energy up, and music-themed items are sold at four markets. Magicians, puppeteers and jugglers are also on hand for youngsters.

Plan your trip: Visit Milwaukee | Travel Wisconsin

Driving distances: 2 hours from Joliet, Illinois and Rockford, Illinois | 3 hours from Bloomington, Illinois and La Crosse, Wisconsin | 4 hours from Indianapolis, Indiana and Grand Rapids, Michigan

Area attractions: Harley-Davidson Museum | Edelweiss Boat Cruises | Urban Ecology Center

Where to stay: Intercontinental Milwaukee Hotel | Hilton Milwaukee City Center | The Pfister Hotel

ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 5–8, 2018

Billed as the “Party with a Purpose,” ESSENCE fest is the largest event celebrating African-American culture and music in the U.S.—a platform for writers, artists and craftspeople to showcase their talents and sell their wares. Free inspirational daytime events feature authors, celebrities and scholars presenting motivational seminars, beauty clinics and tastings from NOLA’s renowned cuisine. Each year, 500,000 people come together to soak up four days of entertainment and empowerment, culminating in evening concerts across five stages at the Louisiana Superdome, including four intimate Superlounges.

Past guests included Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin and Magic Johnson, and the 2018 lineup focuses on powerhouse women like Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. New this year: an interactive musical performance with The Read’s Kid Fury and Crissle.

Plan your trip: Visit New Orleans | Louisiana Travel

Driving distances: 2 hours from Mobile, Alabama and Hattiesburg, Mississippi | 3 hours from Jackson, Mississippi | 5 hours from Selma, Alabama and Shreveport, Louisiana

Area attractions: New Orleans Cemetery History Tour | Audubon Park | New Orleans Museum of Art

Where to stay: Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans Convention Center | Hotel St. Marie | Hampton Inn New Orleans-St. Charles Avenue

Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado, June 21–24, 2018

Attendees who return to Telluride’s four-day Bluegrass Festival year after year call themselves “Festivarians,” and throngs of them camp outside in this historic mountain town in southwestern Colorado to immerse themselves in nature and the magical sound of bluegrass virtuosos. Past musicians included Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Mumford & Sons and Counting Crows. For its 45th anniversary, the festival has lined up Emmylou Harris, Sturgill Simpson, Béla Fleck and The Infamous Stringdusters.

Artists are encouraged to push the boundaries of roots music, often forming impromptu “Telluride House Bands.” The main stage hosts concerts all day, while intimate workshops take place in town, along with songwriting contests and late-night jam sessions throughout Telluride’s indoor venues and campgrounds.

Plan your trip: Visit Telluride | Colorado Tourism

Driving directions: 2 hours 30 minutes from Grand Junction, Colorado and Gunnison, Colorado | 3 hours from Bluff, Utah | 4 hours from Gallup, New Mexico | 6 hours from Santa Fe, New Mexico

Area attractions: Bear Creek Trail | Blue LakeTelluride Horseback Adventures

Where to stay: Ouray Victorian Inn | St. Elmo Hotel | Lumière Telluride

Tips to stay healthy at summer festivals:

It’s easy to lose yourself in the music and forget about taking care of yourself. However, spending full days dancing in the sun requires some festival smarts. Don’t forget to:

  • Reapply SPF30 sunscreen every few hours.
  • Wear a hat or take breaks in the shade.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wear comfortable, breathable footwear.
  • Sanitize your hands before eating.
  • Avoid eating too much fatty food.
  • Protect your ears at concerts by wearing earplugs.

Find your next summer getaway today