Best of the Fests: The Biggest Music Festivals in North Carolina in 2024

Whether you love bluegrass, rap, indie or jazz, outdoor music experiences abound — here are a few across the state to put on your list.
by David Menconi & Addie Ladner

Springtime in North Carolina means college basketball madness, azaleas blooming — and the earliest days of outdoor music. Our state has a staggering array of A-list music festivals spanning numerous genres from now until fall. Here’s some you should be making plans for.

Dreamville Festival at Dix Park

Founded by North Carolina native J. Cole, the hip-hop music and culture festival Dreamville returns for its fourth installation. Hosted at Dorothea Dix Park, more than 20 artists will perform over two days — including headliners hip-hop and pop star SZA, R&B legend Chris Brown, trail-blazing rapper Nicki Minaj and Cole himself. While on the grounds, guests can interact with art installations commissioned by Artsplosure as well as enjoy food from local vendors and booths from community organizations.
April 6 & 7 | Various times; From $300; 1030 Richardson Drive;

MerleFest in Wilkesboro

Named after the late, legendary bluegrass musician Eddie Merle Watson, MerleFest is a four-day celebration of music predominately inspired by the Appalachian mountains. This year, the lineup includes notable acts like Donna the Buffalo, Chatham RabbitsChatham County Line, Molly Tuttle and the Golden Highway, Earls of Lancaster, Sierra Hall and Nickel Creek. Beyond the music, peruse vendors, enjoy nature walks and, if you have young ones with you, swing by the craft tables at the Little Pickers Family Area.
April 25 – 28 | Various times From $80; 1328 S. Collegiate Drive, Wilkesboro;

Bear Shadow in Highlands

The mountains of the far Western corner of North Carolina are the setting for this springtime festival, a sister festival of Highlands Food & Wine. First conceived in 2021, this year’s model has a first-rate alternative-leaning lineup featuring Black Pumas, North Mississippi All Stars, our own American American and Grace Bowers. All ticket levels include alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and a complimentary shuttle into Highlands. Children 12 and under get in free.
May 11-12 | From $125 for a single day pass; The Highlands Plateau; Winfield Farm, 250 Winfield Farm Road, Scaly Mountain, 28775;

Photo credit: Justin Kase Conder

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance in Pittsboro

An all-are-welcome, lively weekend-long festival in Pittsboro, the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music Dance is worth the hour drive from Raleigh. More than just American folk music, this festival has plenty to explore while you connect with other roots music fans. There’s a huge dance tent, a kids village and a teen outpost, a healing arts village, an advocacy area, camping sites, a number of craft vendors and a sustainability pavilion. This year, in addition to festival regulars like Donna the Buffalo, local legends Watchouse, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Sonny Miles, and the Sam Grisham Project will also play. And of course, the Paperhand Puppet Intervention will be on parade, which is always a hit with the younger festival goers.
May 2-5 | Various times | From $57; 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro; 

Enofest in Durham

The granddaddy of music festivals in the Triangle, Enofest dates back to 1980 and happens on the grounds of Durham’s West Point Park. Started as a fundraiser for the Eno River Association, the festival — which also offers a craft and food market — has hosted a who’s who of Americana-adjacent and roots artists including Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson and Loudon Wainwright III. Recent years have featured rising regional acts including Mipso, Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Indigo De Souza. This year will feature more than 60 bands on 4 different stages.
July 4 & 6 | 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; From $35; N. Roxboro Street, Durham; 

Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville

Reputedly the first event in America to be called a “folk festival,” Asheville’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was founded in 1928 by the folk-music legend Bascom Lamar Lunsford. It remains the longest continuously running folk festival in the country, and it’s as much about the folk-dance traditions of Western North Carolina as it is about the music. Check here to stay up to date on this year’s performers.
Aug. 1-3 | 7 – 9 p.m.; from $20; 701 Warren Wilson Road, Swannanoa;

Earl Scruggs Music Festival in Mill Spring

A newcomer to the North Carolina festival circuit, the Earl Scruggs Music Festival debuted last year at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring. As you’d expect for a festival named after the man who invented the three-finger style of bluegrass banjo, the lineup trends toward classic bluegrass and Americana. This year that means acts like local duo Larry & Joe, bluegrass legends Old Crow Medicine Show, Might Poplar (Watchouse frontman Andrew Marlin’s pure bluegrass group), Tanya Tucker and more.
August 30 – September 1 | From $125; 25 International Boulevard, Mill Spring;

The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival in High Point

Although he made his mark as an artist elsewhere, John Coltrane was born and raised in Hamlet, North Carolina. He was one of the towering figures of 20th century jazz, a key collaborator with Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and his fellow North Carolina native Thelonious Monk. The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival has been paying tribute to his legacy every Labor Day weekend since 2011 with solid lineups: 2022 featured trumpeter Chris Botti, singer Patti LaBelle and saxophonist Kirk Whalum, among others.
August 31 – September 1; From $120; Oak Hallow Park; 1841 Eastchester Drive, High Point;

Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh has a well-earned reputation for doing music festivals right, and one of the events that helped pave the way is the alternative-slanted Hopscotch. Originally started in 2010 under the auspices of the Indy Week newspaper, it showed off Raleigh’s walkable grid of downtown nightclubs and outdoor stages to fantastic effect. Past headliners have included Flaming Lips, The Roots, Solange Knowles and St. Vincent. The homegrown celebration typically has main stages at City Plaza and Moore Square, plus shows at various downtown venues. Alongside the stages, dozens of bars and restaurants will host day parties showcasing local talent. Check here for lineup updates, not yet announced.
Sept. 7 – 9 | Various times; From $129 for early bird pricing; Downtown Raleigh;

North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro

In 2015, the National Council for the Traditional Arts brought the long-running National Folk Festival (which has been around since 1934) to Greensboro for a three-year run. It was such a success that, after the national festival’s Greensboro run ended, the city opted to keep it going as the rebranded North Carolina Folk Festival. Last year’s lineup was typically eclectic, featuring everything from George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars to the Winston-Salem Symphony String Quartet. Expect more of the same in 2023. Stay tuned for updates here.
September 6-8; Greensboro;

World of Bluegrass

World of Bluegrass in Raleigh

Our own City of Oaks hosts the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world! Bluegrass Live! caps off the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention, with a mix of large and small shows, ticketed performance and free events. A $25 day pass will get you entrance to Bluegrass Ramble, a collection of smaller shows held at venues around downtown. Single- or two-day passes get you early access to headliners (last year they included Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, The Del McCoury Band and The Kruger Brothers) at Red Hat Amphitheater and The Martin Marietta Center for Performing Arts. The two-day street festival offers several free music stages along Fayetteville Street, with food, drink and an arts market to explore. This year will be the last official year of the IBMA conference in Raleigh, but plans are underway for the city and local music organizations to create a similar event in Raleigh starting in 2025.
Sept. 24 – 28; Various times; Free or reserved seats from $25; downtown Raleigh;

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of WALTER magazine. It was updated on March 19, 2024.