10 Incredible Summer Arts and Music Festivals Around the US

Coachella Music Festival at sunset Jason Persse/Flickr
Summer is upon us. What better way to enjoy this season of sunshine than participating in one of the many outdoor arts festivals across the United States? Performances of all sorts, delicious food, and never ending rows of crafts vendors await. Here are 10 top fests to get you started.
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Man dancing at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism/Flickr
Nestled deep in the picturesque Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, the Pillow—as it’s called for short—is a perfect getaway for international dance enthusiasts. Artists hail from all across the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, Italy, and Israel, among other places. The country's oldest ongoing summer dance festival, the event features a lineup of approximately 200 free events on top of its ticketed shows. As an educational institution, the Pillow also provides an ongoing series of scholarly talks as well as panel discussions, interviews, and much more.

When: All summer long 
Where: Becket, Massachusetts
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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival the camera is toy./Flickr
The name Bonnaroo was derived from a Creole word meaning “a good time.” Perhaps it is no coincidence then that approximately 90,000 people flock to Manchester, Tennessee for four nights every June, when a 700-acre plot of land becomes a booming tent city. The festival is an amalgamation of musical styles ranging from indie folk to late-night electronica; everybody from Kanye West to Bob Dylan has performed here. When people aren’t grooving to the music, a wide array of crafts and food vendors are just as captivating, along with the Cinema Tent, Comedy Tent, and Silent Disco. Rolling Stone named Bonnaroo one of the "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll."

When: Mid-June
Where: Manchester, Tennessee
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Traverse City Film Festival Mark Cameron/Flickr
Founded by Oscar winner Michael Moore in 2005, the Traverse City Film Festival screens top-notch independent films and documentaries that don't get much screenplay elsewhere. A non-profit organization, the festival is backed largely by outside businesses, devoted volunteers, and community groups. In addition to the lineup of new releases, one of the festival’s highlights is its free, classic movie showing on a giant, inflatable outdoor screen. More than a decade after its founding, the festival has grown to become one of the largest events of its kind in the Midwest.

When: Late July 
Where: Traverse City, Michigan
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Aspen Music Festival Zereshk/Wikimedia Commons
A training ground for young, aspiring classical musicians, the Aspen Music Festival provides eight weeks of dynamic summer music. Hundreds of musicians perform over the course of the summer, with up to eight shows a day, presenting listeners with a wide array of musical styles. The festival is also home to a school that provides classes and educational forums for students. While many events are ticketed, a quarter of the performances are free of charge.

When: All summer long
Where: Aspen, Colorado
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Large burning statue at Burning Man Hawaii Savvy/Flickr
Burning Man takes place every year on an ancient lakebed in the Black Rock Desert, known as La Playa. The weeklong event focuses on creating an experimental community that inspires its members to express themselves artistically. A different theme is selected annually to connect individual creations in a larger pattern. Participants are encouraged to think outside their normal day-to-day lives; they respond by building pieces ranging from large-scale installations to themed tent camps. The approximately 50,000 attendees move around the arid landscape on bikes and decorated vehicles built specifically for the event. Burning Man gets its name from the large wooden statue built by the community and ritually burned at the end of the week.

When: Late August to early September
Where: Black Rock Desert, Nevada
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Man performing in Williamstown Theatre Festival Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism/Flickr
Founded in 1954, the Tony-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival serves as a stage for both revamped classic plays and innovative new ones. Located on the campus of Williams College, the festival has deep historical ties to the institution, as well as the Yale School of Drama.

When: All summer long  
Where: Williamstown, Massachusetts
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People dressed up at Artscape Plot Spoiler/Wikimedia Commons
The largest free arts festival in the United States, Artscape takes over the Mount Royal neighborhood of Baltimore every July for a three-day celebration of visual and performing arts. From craftspeople to fashion designers to large-scale musical acts, there is fun to be had for the whole family. Around 250,000 people attend the event each year for this opportunity to view a wide variety of top-notch handmade goods. When festival goers aren’t browsing the vendor booths, they can catch a performance of dance, music, or theater.  

When: Mid-July 
Where: Baltimore
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Man singing at Chicago Blues Festival Mathew Ginger/Flickr
The three-day Chicago Blues Festival is the largest free event celebrating that homegrown musical form. Some 500,000 people gather along the lakefront annually to hear such big names as Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, and Buddy Guy. The atmosphere is perfect for either bringing a blanket and sitting on the grass or standing up close to the stage. 

When: Mid-June
Where: Chicago
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Dressed up members of Jazz Fest sailn1/Flickr
Dating back to when Mahalia Jackson performed at the very first concert in 1970, the New Orleans Jazz Fest has focused on local talent, only recently expanding to internationally renowned acts. The event highlights both traditional and contemporary music, creating an interesting mix for listeners. The food and crafts vendors also draw from the city’s rich cultural heritage. With over 70 food booths from locally owned businesses, the assortment of Louisiana delicacies being sold is endless—boiled crawfish, sausage po’ boy sandwiches, Cajun jambalaya. You name it; they've got it.

Where: New Orleans
When: Late April to early May
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Performance during FringeNYC Kamal Aboul-Hosn/Flickr
This two-week performance extravaganza highlights theater from the edge. The biggest event of its kind in North America, FringeNYC hosts over 200 companies from around the world at more than 20 venues scattered throughout New York City's Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, and East Village. Along with seated performances, ranging from opera to more traditional plays, FringeNYC has educational discussions, free outdoor shows, and events targeted toward youngsters. 

When: Mid-late August
Where: New York City
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