Kid-Friendly Music Festivals in the Carolinas
Regional music festivals offer fun for the whole family.
Flat Top the Raccoon, the lovable and huggable unofficial mascot of MerleFest.
At one time music festivals were a bastion of hippies and old timers with banjos. While that may still be true to some degree, music festivals are no longer exclusive to the hacky-sack set. Given the popularity of large-scale festivals that serve to launch and relaunch careers (hello, Guns n’ Roses), it’s no wonder it’s hard to throw a Frisbee without hitting one these days, and some are family-friendly with acts and activities aimed at youngsters.
While you may not want to drag your kid from one downtown bar to another during Raleigh’s indie-centric Hopscotch Festival in September, you can find festivals throughout the Carolinas that allow for you to enjoy live music and it also be a hit with the kiddos. Most offer tent and RV camping for an additional cost unless otherwise noted.
Where: Wilkes Community College in North Wilkesboro
When: Thursday-Sunday, the last weekend of April
Cost: Single day passes $55-$75; three- and four-day passes $155-$245; children 12 and under free in general admission area.
Best for: Traditionalists, bluegrass newbies, and those wanting a crash course in Carolina’s deep musical roots. Family-friendly with acts that are usually conscientious of that atmosphere.
What's in it for kids? The Little Picker’s Stage; a quiet area for nap time; crafts and activities like painting, play dough art and crayon art; and nature walks, plus an acoustic showcase featuring musicians 16 and younger as well as special entertainment and educational opportunities. Bring your camera to get a photo with Flat Top the Raccoon, the unofficial mascot.
Where: On a 75-acre farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, a short drive from the triangle area.
When: First weekend of May.
Cost: Single-day pass $27-$42; four-day adult pass $114-$124, four-day youth pass (ages 13 to 15) $59-$64, kids 12 and under free.
Best for: Aging deadheads spinning in peasant skirts, music fans looking for something left of the norm, and moms and dads dressing baby in tie-dye and beads. Founded by jam band Donna the Buffalo, Shakori captures that classic hippie vibe with modern-day activism and a focus on advocacy, visual and healing arts, education and environmentalism.
What’s in it for kids? Age-specific activities and recreation and chances to learn about musical instruments and nature. Crafty kids can sell their creations at the Kid’s Arts and Crafts Market while others can give retro crafts like macramé, decoupage and spin art a whirl.
Where: Black Mountain, nestled alongside Lake Eden beneath Mount Mitchell.
When: May 11-14 and Oct. 19-22, 2017.
Cost: Single-day pass $45-$65, weekend passes $150-$180. Children under age 10 admitted free; discounted tickets are available for kids 10 -17.
Best for: Outdoor adventurers, yogis and moms with henna tattoos. LEAF is to world music and culture, what Merlefest is to roots music. LEAF showcases everything from Cuban and African music to jazz and folk, but the music may be secondary to the costumes, climbing, crafts and kayaking.
What’s in it for kids? Eight themed “villages” where kids can swing inside a dome of giant jellyfish, make puppets, meet reptiles, create costumes, play kickball or watch pop-up performances similar to entertainment at a Renaissance Fair. There’s even a teen dance party on Saturday night.
Where: Near Statesville Regional Airport on same plot of land where a field full of hot air balloons take flight each October during Carolina Balloonfest.
When: May 19-20, 2017.
Cost: Single-day pass $10-$30; weekend pass $35-$125; children age 12 and under admitted free.
Best for: Music fans who think Merlefest has gotten too big or those who remember festivals in the `80s where lawn chairs and lawn darts were the norm.
What’s in it for kids? On-site disc golf course. Campers are also encouraged to bring outdoor games from home since it takes place in a large field fit for badminton, cornhole and kite flying. There’s also a chance for fledgling players to sit in on campsite jams and drum circles.
Where: Tryon Street and Romare Bearden Park, Uptown Charlotte
When: May 25-27.
Cost: Free for afternoon activities. $10 for Thursday night entertainment; $15 for Friday and Saturday night entertainment.
Best for: NASCAR fans and those willing to mingle with NASCAR fans from all around. The festival takes place in uptown Charlotte but coincides with the Coca-Cola 600 that happens at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord on Sunday before Memorial Day.
What’s in it for kids? The Mello Yello stage has music for kids throughout the day, and the main stage at Romare Bearden Park hosts headliner bands in the evening hours. Look for a variety of children's activities and racing-related fun on Tryon Street beginning at noon each day.
Where: Union Grove, straight up I-77 North in Iredell County.
When: Memorial Day weekend.
Cost: Single-day tickets $5-$15; weekend passes $20-$25; kids age 12 and under admitted free.
Best for: The whole family, including grandma and grandpa, anyone who’d rather relax in a lawn chair than dab, and those seeking a history lesson. Established in 1924, the four-day fest centers on competitions that attract some of the best players in the region.
What’s in it for kids? Witnessing fleet-fingered pickers that wow crowds without modern technology. In fact Fiddler’s Grove is a bit like stepping back in time during an era the younger generation will never know — playing outdoors with fiddle tunes firing away in the distance or learning to clog or fiddle in one of the festival’s many workshops.
Where: West Point on the Eno River at Durham City Park, Durham. Sixty-five artists perform on four stages.
When: Over July 4th weekend.
Cost: Single-day passes $18-$23; two-day passes $30-$35; Youths age 13-17, $11; children age 12 and under admitted free.
Best for: Festival commitment-phobes who crave a hotel shower, music fans hungry for something eclectic and, often, new, and shopaholics eager to check out the juried arts and crafts. Organizers are as selective about the music lineup as they are the art. Proceeds benefit the Eno River State Park, where off-site camping is available during the festival (its eight miles away).
What’s in it for kids? Kids show up with bathing suits under their clothes and flip flops, ready for the water. There are also chances to make take-home crafts, contribute to the massive sand sculpture, and meet creatures indigenous to the area. It also has parent-friendly hours – the festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., perfect for keeping baby on schedule.
Where: In the breezy hills of Floyd, Virginia.
When: July 26-30, 2017.
Cost: Single-day pass $85; three-, four- and five-day passes range if price from $185 to $230; passes for kids age 6-12 are $30, which covers all five days; kids under age 6 admitted free.
Best for: Locals, Americana fans whose kids aren’t too cool for mom and dad’s music (yet), and early Bonnaroo goers put-off by that festival’s growth and mainstream lineup. FloydFest has become the region’s go-to for anyone burned out on bigger, more corporate gatherings.
What’s in it for kids? The Children’s Universe occupies tired tots with parades, face painting, yoga, hooping, Taekwondo, and a talent show while testy teens can take part in drum, ukulele, and mixed media workshops, or veg out in the Teen Scene tent. Kids are encouraged to bring instruments and costumes. A giant ark, sandbox, playgrounds, and basketball goal are permanent fixtures. There’s also child care in case your toddler’s breakdown coincides with your favorite band’s set.
FloydFest happens July 26-30, 2017.
Photo courtesy of FloydFest
Where: Downtown Elkin.
When: Aug. 14-15, 2017
Best for: City folk looking for a taste of the country and its down-home music without having to go very far (Elkin is 70 miles north of Charlotte and 40 miles west of Winston-Salem) and festival-goers looking for something organic and homegrown.
What’s in it for kids? A bounce house, outdoor games and face painting.
Where: A free non-camping festival in downtown Greenville, S.C.
When: Oct. 14-15, 2017.
Cost: Free entry, but must purchase tickets for food, drink and kids’ rides.
Best for: Apprehensive campers in search of a large, eclectic lineup. Fall For Greenville is four days of live blues, Americana, soul, and indie rock that doesn’t require sleeping in a tent. Come hungry as it’s is as much a tasting event as it is a music festival.
What’s in it for kids? Ticketed amusement park rides. Most are aimed at kids under 12, but some require a parent to accompany them.
Courtney Devores has written about music and pop culture in the Carolinas for 18 years. She has two sons, ages 8 and 6. She got married in Vegas on the way to a festival in California 12 years ago.