The Best of the Fests 

The top music festivals in the Southeast

It's undeniable. The Southeast has some pretty rockin', jazzin', bluegrassin', funkin', country-in', R&B-in', dancin' and blues-in' festivals. There's no shortage of great events that are probably within a day's road trip. Here's look at some of the best.

ALABAMA

CITY STAGES Occurring the third weekend in June, City Stages heats up the streets of Birmingham. Marking its 17th year, the festival offers a lineup of 100 acts on nine stages including Aretha Franklin, Loretta Lynn, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Alejandro Escovedo. Weekend passes for the three-day event range from $30 for early birds to $40 if you wait until June. www.citystages.org.

W.C. HANDY MUSIC FESTIVAL Named in tribute to "the Father of the Blues," this festival is held annually in the Shoals area of Florence. The weeklong event (July 24-30) celebrates the evolution of jazz and blues. Ticket prices vary. www.wchandymusicfestival.org.

FLORIDA

CITYLINK MUSIC FEST A late-December event held annually in Hollywood, this is an intense 12-hour festival featuring mostly local unsigned artists. The 75-plus acts perform on 10 stages from 3 p.m.-3 a.m. Ticket prices vary with the venue. Check out www.citylinkmagazine.com when the weather starts to cool.

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY A 26-year-old musical tradition filled with four days and four nights of live jazz, this event is held on the waterfront of Coachman Park in Clearwater. The regional jazz event features many of today's most popular jazz artists. And the too-good-but-it's-true factor: Attendance is free! www.clearwaterjazz.com.

FLORIDA MUSIC FESTIVAL Spearheaded largely by the Orlando culture-and-nightlife tabloid Axis, the May 18-24 festival has quickly grown from a showcase event for unsigned artists to a three-day party featuring several national alternative, indie, modern-rock and DJ acts. The event gathers more than 150 yet-to-be-discovered artists for a networking free-for-all. Fourteen venues charge individual covers, or FMF offers an all-access wristband. For prices and schedules, go to www.floridamusicfestival.com.

LANGERADO MUSIC FESTIVAL While a young festival, it is already being compared to some of the country's biggest. The tropical weather of South Florida makes the early March spectacle a late winter treat. Offering more than 25 bands on three stages, the event has featured such acts as the String Cheese Incident, Medeski Martin & Wood, Keller Williams, Toots and the Maytels and De La Soul. Two-day passes are generally less than $100. www.langerado.com.

SUWANNEE SPRINGFEST Held the last weekend of March, Springfest (there's also a fall version called MagnoliaFest) offers a grand slate of bluegrass/newgrass artists. The lineup has included the Béla Fleck Acoustic Trio, the Waybacks, and the Biscuit Burners. Rain or shine, the bands jam and keep on jamming in the amphitheater and surrounding areas of Live Oak's Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, between Gainesville and the Georgia state line. For more info, www.magmusic.com.

TROPICAL HEATWAVE The 24th annual festival, sponsored by WMNF-FM (88.5), offers an eclectic selection of bands ranging from Alejandro Escovedo, Reckless Kelly and Heritage O.P. This year's theme is "It's the End of the World as We Know It ... Let's Party!" It's a one-day-only affair (May 14) held in and around the Cuban Club in Ybor City. Tickets are $30 (advance), $35 (at gate). www.tropicalheatwave.org.

VERIZON MUSIC FESTIVAL Now in its fifth year, the event, held the fourth or fifth week in May, generally caters to an array of pop, jazz, blues and even hip-hop fans. Past artists have included Jewel, India Arie, Victor Manuelle, Better than Ezra, Evanescence, k.d. lang and Missy Elliott. Shows are held in high-profile venues around the Tampa Bay area. www.verizon.com.

WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE The five-day event redefines winter, as it is held in Miami usually beginning on the first or second Friday in March. Thousands of dance music professionals, fans and veterans representing more than 60 countries swoon to this haven for DJ/IDM/electronica networking. The conference offers seminars, workshops and panel discussions with live performances. Past headliners have included the Chemical Brothers, Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, Richie Hawtin and Sasha. Prices vary for each individual WMC event, but latecomers can expect to pay $400 for all-access registration. www.wmcon.com.

GEORGIA

THE ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL Throughout May, this event takes over the city, summoning eclectic jazz lovers to an array of venues around town. The city-sponsored festival showcases a plethora of jazz artists and with an outdoor concert series held Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30) in Piedmont Park. Most of the festival is free, but tickets for shows at Chastain Park and Spivey Hall must be purchased at the venues' box office or website. www.atlantafestivals.com.

BLIND WILLIE MCTELL BLUES FESTIVAL For the 12th year, on May 20-21, the town of Thomson celebrates the legacy of Blind Willie McTell, the great blue guitarist born there in 1901. This year, the Southern recipe of roadhouse boogie and blues will offer up Marcia Ball, John Hammond Trio, Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Marie Muldaur. $25 (advance), $35 (at gate). www.blindwillie.com.

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