Summer guide: Your handbook to the 23 best local music festivals

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Festivals have gradually become the predominant way people experience live music in the summer.

It makes sense, too. Considering we live in a Spotify-embracing culture where everyone is free to sample songs from a wide variety of artists in scattered genres, it seems almost inevitable the trend would eventually bleed over into the live arena. Hence sprawling fests like the Tennessee-based gold standard Bonnaroo, where this year attendees can take in sets by everyone from Elton John and Lionel Richie to Kanye West and Skrillex.

Following a spring dominated by downright chilly temperatures (seriously, is it safe to stash the parka yet?) and the near-constant threat of rain (everyone must've skipped out on seeing "Noah" in theaters because the deluge was already taking place outside our windows most evenings), it's finally time to slather on the sunscreen and head out to scope out the various local and national acts that'll be hitting Columbus streets and venues in the coming months.

What follows here, while not comprehensive, offers a curated overview of a couple dozen locally based fests, with a quick detour exploring five events worth hitting the road to see. Mark these dates in your calendars now.


May 23-25

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $129

PERFORMERS: Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band, Galactic, The Wailers and more

SUMMARY: The Grateful Dead played some, uh, legendary shows at Legend Valley beginning in the late '80s, and now the Dead revivalists in Dark Star return to headline a fest heavy on jam bands.


May 24-25

Duck Creek Camping and Outdoor Events Area, Logan

COST: $80 or $90 in advance/$100 at the gate

PERFORMERS: The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, The Hackensaw Boys, Dom Flemons, The Spikedrivers, The Moxie Strings and more

SUMMARY: The Hocking Hills hootenanny is a family run affair, and this blood-relative intimacy bleeds into everything from the band bookings (the fest consciously keeps things small-scale) to its backyard barbecue vibe.


May 29-June 1

Robbins Crossing, Nelsonville

COST: $110

PERFORMERS: The Avett Brothers, Dinosaur Jr., Jason Isbell, Kurt Vile & the Violators, Hiss Golden Messenger and more

SUMMARY: The laid-back fest ropes in big names (Avett Brothers, etc.), but the real action this year takes place on its excellent undercard, which includes the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger, Shakey Graves and C-bus' own Saintseneca.


June 6-8

Main Street and Civic Center Drive, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Happy Chichester, Maggie Green, Kid Runner and more

SUMMARY: Art is still the main focus of this Downtown fest, but a steady stream of local acts should provide a pleasant soundtrack for taking in the scenery.


June 6-7

Park Street, Arena District

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: The Personnel, Jared Mahone, Fab Johnson Brothers, The Floorwalkers, Reaganomics and more

SUMMARY: In the fall of 2013, Woodlands Tavern took to its Facebook site to announce its acquisition of the Park Street Complex, and the venue's earthy, jam-and-folk-leaning thumbprints are all over this fest.


June 12-14

Downtown Logan

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Arnett Howard, Steel City Rovers, Juggernaut Jug Band, The Jake Leg Stompers, The Hobos and more

SUMMARY: Washboards: They're not just for laundry anymore. Virtually every act on this bill employs the cleaning implement in a musical capacity, a la the stocking cap-wearing critter from "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas."


June 13-14

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $110

PERFORMERS: Hank Williams, Jr., Dierks Bentley, Randy Houser, Chris Young and more

SUMMARY: The radio station-curated event pairs relative youngsters (Bentley, Houser, etc.) with vets like Hank Williams, Jr., who's earned his perch on the power of his famous last name rather than the strength of his music.


June 20-22

Creekside Plaza, Gahanna

COST: $5 general admission/$12 weekend pass

PERFORMERS: John Hammond, Elizabeth Mis with the Urban Jazz Coalition, The Pete Mills Quartet, Terry Davidson & the Gears and more

SUMMARY: John Hammond is the standout - the bluesman has recorded alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton - but the rest of the bill delivers a solid array of local and national blues/jazz performers.


June 20-22

Franklin Park, Near East Side

COST: Adults: $5 before 5 p.m./$10 after 5 p.m. Children: $3

PERFORMERS: Bob Marley reggae tribute, Nikki Brown, Eddie B. Sands, Apostle Ronnie Diamond & Choir and more

SUMMARY: This festival commemorates abolition with a stream of performers whose songs are designed to celebrate "the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery."


June 20-21

Goodale Park, Victorian Village

COST: $10 donation

PERFORMERS: Alex Newell ("Glee"), Crystal Bowersox ("American Idol") and more

SUMMARY: One more sign of how far gay rights have come in recent years: the annual celebration's headlining performers were culled from insanely popular network TV shows.


June 27-29

Goodale Park, Victorian Village

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: You'd have better luck accessing the President's nuclear launch code than getting an early preview of the Comfest lineup.

SUMMARY: Music is almost secondary at this long-running Columbus institution, which seems odd to say considering the sheer number of performers that take to the stage over the course of the three-day fest. But between the people-watching, the catching-up with old friends and the copious amounts of booze (sipped from colorful, if recently downsized, plastic mugs), the music tends to serve as more of a soundtrack to the surrounding shenanigans than a prime reason for venturing to the Victorian Village neighborhood.


Thursday, July 3

Various venues, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Mojoflo, Nick D' & the Believers, The Wet Darlings, Jared Mahone, Angela Perley & the Howlin' Moons and more

SUMMARY: Crowds flock Downtown largely for the fireworks display, but locals like Angela Perley and Nick D' & the Believers should offer serious pyrotechnics of their own.


Saturday, July 5

Seventh Son Brewery

1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village

COST: $10

PERFORMERS: Autumn Defense, Operators, Twin Peaks, R. Ring, Tweens, Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites and more

SUMMARY: The fest, which started as a parking lot party dominated by local bands, has quietly evolved into one of the cooler events on our jam-packed summer calendar. This year's fest, which takes place at Seventh Son's Italian Village Brewery on the Fourth of July weekend, includes performances from Autumn Defense (Wilco's Pat Sansone and John Stirratt), R. Ring (the side project of Breeders guitarist Kelley Deal) and Operators, the newborn dance-rock band launched by Dan Boeckner (Divine Fits, Handsome Furs) and C-bus' own Sam Brown (Divine Fits, New Bomb Turks).


July 18-20

North Bank Park, Arena District

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: The Soul Rebels, Brian Culbertson, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Terence Blanchard and more

SUMMARY: An array of local and national jazz players provides a swinging soundtrack for barbecue-soaked gluttony.


July 23-Aug. 3

The Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, North Campus

COST: Varies from free ("Sinatra Forever" featuring Rick Michel) to $45 (Lady Antebellum)

PERFORMERS: Aretha Franklin, Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Lady Antebellum, Boyz II Men and more

SUMMARY: The annual event draws scores ready to devour almost anything battered and fried, but this year's musical lineup offers a handful of delicacies, most notably an appearance by reigning Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.


July 23-26

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $180

PERFORMERS: Insane Clown Posse, Hopsin, Tech N9ne, Kottonmouth Kings, Dizzy Wright and more

SUMMARY: Snicker if you want (and, judging by the YouTube comments posted on a recent Gathering infomercial, plenty of you already have), but the long-running, Insane Clown Posse-curated event, which makes its Ohio debut after the townspeople chased it Frankenstein's monster-style from its longtime Illinois stomping grounds, routinely gathers a respectable array of rap (Tech N9ne, Hopsin, Yelawolf) and hard rock (Biohazard, Cannibal Corpse) acts. Expect ICP to close out the whole Faygo-soaked affair with a set heavy on bloody revenge fantasies and questions about magnets.


Aug. 1-3

Coffman Park, Dublin

COST: Adults: $10 in advance/$12 at the gate; children 12 and under: free

PERFORMERS: Red Hot Chili Pipers, Sharon Shannon, Solas, We Banjo 3, The StepCrew and more

SUMMARY: Unlike other Irish fests, which tend to be dominated by cheap green beer and tipsy patrons adorned with "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons, this suburban affair remains a destination for far-flung fans of Celtic music.


Aug. 7-9

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $90

PERFORMERS: The Werks, Papadosio, Emancipator, Future Rock, Zoogma, Dopapod and more

SUMMARY: It's possible to get a contact high just reading the lineup for this jam band-dominated fest.


Aug. 9-10

Genoa Park, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Diana Reyes, Los Amigos Invisibles, Amarfis Aquino, Zancudo and more

SUMMARY: This two-day fest celebrates everything Latino, though the cross-cultural stew cooked up by the consistently excellent Los Amigos Invisibles should appeal to music fans of all stripes.


Aug. 29-30

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $110

PERFORMERS: Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, Tim McGraw, Kip Moore, Cassadee Pope and more

SUMMARY: It's hard to believe Darius Rucker, once derisively referred to as "Hootie," has reinvented himself as a credible country crooner, but here we are.


Aug. 29-Sept. 3

Various locations

COST: Varies from free to ticketed events with acts and prices TBA

PERFORMERS: Free stages: Local Native, Circa Survive, Cold War Kids, New Found Glory, Switchfoot and more. Ticketed acts: TBA

SUMMARY: Fashion Meets Music organizers eschewed the slow-and-steady approach of last year's (apparently) one-and-done Breakaway Festival when it announced plans for this multiday extravaganza, which is easily one of the more ambitious fests we've seen launched anywhere in recent years. FMMF, which is set to take place at a multitude of venues around the city, includes exhibitions by fashion houses, a zip line (!) and, most importantly, performances from a s---load of local and national acts. Some of the artists announced for the free stages are cause for excitement (Local Natives, etc.), but the event's success will almost certainly hinge on the drawing power of the bigger-name ticketed acts, which are still to be announced.


Sept. 5-7

Olde Towne East

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Local musicians TBA

SUMMARY: The cozy local fest feels more like a neighborhood block party.


Sept. 19-21

Intersection of Town St. and Lucas St. in Franklinton

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Local musicians TBA

SUMMARY: The street party and celebration of all things local - especially music (last year's lineup included heavy hitters like Lydia Loveless and New Bomb Turks alongside a smattering of the best the city had to offer) - has long been an Alive staff favorite. But rather than resting on its laurels, the festival has drastically reshaped itself for 2014, relocating from its Downtown stomping grounds to the growing (if still rough-around-the-edges) 'hood of Franklinton. It'll be interesting to see if the crowds that flocked Downtown last year will follow the fest as it ventures further to the city's fringes, but we wouldn't want to bet against 'em.