Music lovers, you’re in luck: there are almost endless options for finding live jazz, blues and folk music (and pretty much any other kind you can think of, too) in the southern Mississippi River states. Here’s a closer look at four essential festivals you shouldn’t miss.
Also just known as Jazz Fest, this annual celebration of Louisiana’s most famous music spans two weekends in April and May at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track in the middle of the city. It’s second only to Mardi Gras in terms of visitors for New Orleans, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Jazz Fest is home to a dozen stages and tents and features an eclectic mix of artists, from local New Orleans performers to contemporary acts like Lizzo and the Wu-Tang Clan. Jazz Fest weekends are also a great time to be in New Orleans (but when isn’t, really?), as there are countless shows during the days before and after at unaffiliated venues throughout the city.
If you love blues music, head to the Mississippi River town of Helena, Arkansas, in early October. There, you’ll find some of the best up-and-coming blues musicians—along with a handful of blues legends—at the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival. The festival’s name comes from King Biscuit Time, the long-running radio program that started in 1941 (and is still broadcast each weekday from the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena!) and featured music from Sunny Boy Williamson and other blues legends, as well as ads for the local flour company which gave the show its name. The festival offers four days of live blues music and attracts tens of thousands of attendees every year.
About a half hour south of Helena (and across the Mississippi River) sits Clarksdale, Arkansas, an iconic destination for any music fan. This Mississippi Delta town is home of the famed “Crossroads”—where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul for his unearthly musical talent—as well as the popular Delta Blues Museum. Naturally, Clarksdale is a great place for live music and music festivals, including the Juke Joint Festival, which describes itself as “half blues festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta.” It’s a true trip through blues history, featuring more than 100 acts, including several living legends in their 80s and 90s.
No matter what musical genre you like, you’re bound to find some great live performances at this four-day music festival, held on a massive farm in southeastern Tennessee every September. Bonnaroo, which was first held in 2002, features several tents and stages that highlight a variety of musical styles, from indie rock and rap to bluegrass and electronica. The festival also includes interactive art exhibits, a marketplace, food vendors and more. (Fun fact: “bonnaroo” is actually Creole slang for “good stuff.”)
Other festivals for music fans: