Soul Train’s Guide to Summer Music Festivals

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments over the years is the proliferation of summer music festivals taking place across the country–and across the globe!  Late spring/early summer brought the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Hang-Out Music Festival (Gulf Shores, AL); and this past weekend saw the Capital Jazz Fest outside of Baltimore and the 5th Annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia. compiled a list of some of the upcoming live music events to check out this season.  Whether searching for the perfect cultural experience for the family, the ultimate girlfriends’ getaway, or a laid back road trip with the fellas, you’re sure to find something to suit your musical tastes!

 Summerstage Gala and Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

(June 5, New York, NY)

New York’s City Parks Foundation hosts what will no doubt be an unforgettable evening of music with this all-star tribute to the legendary Jimi Hendrix.  Set to perform are Amel Larrieux, Living Colour, G. Love and Special Sauce, Wyclef Jean, and The Roots.  The Summerstage Gala is a fund raiser for City Parks Foundation’s free arts and cultural programming, and while VIP packages go as high as $25,000 general admission tickets are a more affordable $50.  To get the full line-up, as well as additional details about other City Parks Foundation programs, visit

Northwest Arkansas Black Music Month Celebration Presented by Coca-Cola

(June 7, Fayetteville, AR)

Kicking off at the end of May with a Motown/Stax tribute concert featuring some of the area’s hottest local musicians, Northwest Arkansas’ fourth annual Black Music Month Celebration has become a highly anticipated summer event.  This year’s festivities will include a tribute to Soul Train, featuring a special Soul Train photo exhibition hosted at University of Arkansas’ Global Campus and a screening of VH1’s documentary Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America on June 7.  On that same evening, revelers will attempt to create the biggest Soul Train line in the state’s history!  The night will wrap up with a block party featuring some of Prince’s greatest hits, as it falls on his birthday.  For more information, visit

 Gnaoua World Music Festival

(June 21-24, Essaouira, Morocco)

For those with a taste for adventure, a journey to Morocco for the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival may be in order!  Taking place in the coastal town of Essaouira–far from the touristy hustle and bustle of Morocco’s larger cities like Marrakech and Casablanca, the Gnaoua World Music Festival primarily features musicians from various countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  Now in its fifteenth year, this year’s line-up includes Carlou D (Senegal), Querencia (New York/Cuba), Fareed Ayez and Abu Mohammad (Pakistan), and Bob Maghrib, billed as a “Bob Marley revival” created in 2011 by some of Morocco’s top musicians.  This is more than a summer music festival for sure; it is an international once in a lifetime experience, as Essaouira is in and of itself a feast for the senses!  Check out for more information.

Montreux Jazz Festival

(June 29-July 14, Lake Geneva, Switzerland)

Wanna get away?  Grab your passport and book a flight to Switzerland for the 46th annual Montreux Jazz Festival!  As the preeminent international music festival spanning over the course of two weeks, this year’s event offers a little something for every musical taste.  Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea, Alanis Morissette, Erykah Badu, Bobby Womack, Tricky, Pitbull, Trombone Shorty, Anita Baker, Herbie Hancock…the list of this year’s talent goes on!  Also on tap for 2012 is “Freak Out!”, a Chic tribute and dance party produced by Nile Rodgers and Mark Ronson, and featuring Taylor Dayne, Martha Wash, Ultra Naté, and other legendary artists.  Details galore at

Essence Music Festvial Presented by Coca-Cola

(July 5-8, New Orleans, LA)

The annual Essence Music Festival is probably one of–if not the most–popular and well-known events of all.  Each summer during or around the Fourth of July weekend, hundreds of thousands of soul, R&B, and gospel fans converge upon the Crescent City for performances by a host of  music’s top artists.  And it goes without saying that the city of New Orleans is just as big a draw, with its legendary food, celebratory spirit, and rich cultural history.  Perhaps the biggest news about the 2012 Essence Music Festival came when it was announced just weeks ago that D’Angelo will make his first US appearance on the main stage at the Super Dome, after being out of the spotlight for over a decade.  This year’s festival also includes the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and perennial favorites Mary J. Blige and Charlie Wilson; powerhouses Ledisi, Tank, and Fantasia; and gospel greats Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary.  Be sure to catch emerging acts such as rock n blues artist Gary Clark, Jr., Q Parker, and Greta Prince in the Superlounges, along with Goapele, Eric Roberson, the Robert Glasper Experiment, and the world’s only all-woman brass band, the Original Pinettes.  Single night tickets start around $50 and full weekend packages are also available.  The weekend includes dozens of empowerment seminars, and the Expo hall is open to the public.  Head over to to get the lowdown on this year’s Essence Music Festival!

 Outside Lands Festival

(August 10-12, San Francisco, CA)

If you’re looking for a live music event featuring an eclectic and diverse line-up and the best in food, wine, and art, look no further than the Outside Lands Festival.  Since its inception in 2008, Outside Lands has united hundreds of thousands of music lovers with some of the region’s favorite bites and sips in San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Park.  Attendees to this year’s festival can look forward to performances by Stevie Wonder, Alabama Shakes, Big Boi, Santigold, Michael Kiwanuka, and Fitz and the Tantrums, as well as Metallica, Tom Morello’s Nightwatchmen, and Norah Jones.  The festival incorporates a major greening component as well, and all are encouraged to support local vendors and businesses while attending the events.

Three-day tickets start at $225, and there are also VIP packages.  Learn more about Outside Lands at

Vail Soul Music Festival

(August 17-19, Vail, CO)

When we think of Vail, CO, most certainly images of ski slopes and warm lodges come to mind.  But here’s what you may not know: Vail is the place to be for summertime soul!  Launched in 2010, the Vail Soul Music Festival is a must-attend event for lovers of soul music.  The concerts take place at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, rain or shine.  In addition to the live music performances, the weekend also includes official happy hours and after parties, a leadership breakfast and music seminar, and a jazz and gospel brunch.  This year’s artists include Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart, Julie Dexter, Anthony David, Kindred the Family Soul, the Brand New Heavies featuring N’Dea Davenport, and Sugarfoot’s Ohio Players.  VIP tickets start at $85, and general admission passes are as low as $30.  You can learn more about the 2012 Vail Soul Music Festival by going to!


Rock the Bells

(Various dates and locations)

Originally launched in 2004, Rock the Bells has since become one of the most popular summer music festivals for hip-hop heads of all ages.  This year’s series boasts performances by Nas, Method Man & Red Man, Kendrick Lamar, Big Daddy Kane, Common, Ice Cube, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Kid Cudi, and Salt n Pepa.  Taking place over the course of three weekends in three different cities (August 18-19 in San Bernardino, CA; August 25-26 in Mountain View, CA; and September 1-2 in Holmdel, NJ), the 2012 Rock the Bells festival has teamed up with Hip Hop and Hope for Haiti, a non-profit organization, to bring awareness to the country’s continuing humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.  This year’s Rock the Bells will culminate with a concert in Miami, FL featuring some of this year’s festival performers (date to be announced).  Two-day general admission passes are $199, and there are VIP packages.  Get more information about the festival line-up, travel, lodging, and tickets at

Power to the Peaceful

(Sept. 8-9, San Francisco, CA)

Created in 1998 by musician/activist Michael Franti, the annual Power to the Peaceful music festival celebrates the best in local, regional, national, and international music while bringing awareness to current global social, political, economic, and environmental urgencies.  The festival is free to the public (although donations are appreciated) and attracted 80,000 peaceful music lovers in 2010.  Now in its 13th year after a brief hiatus in 2011, PTTP is back and promises to deliver a weekend filled with great sounds, consciousness, and fun for the entire family.  Kicking off with an early morning yoga session in Golden Gate Park on September 8, the day’s main stage performances will close out with Michael Franti + Spearhead’s first hometown show of 2012 (the band is currently out on its Do It For Love tour).  There will also be an official Power to the Peaceful after party, and a children’s matinee on September 9.  This year’s complete line-up has yet to be announced, but previous years have featured artists such as Saul Williams, Zap Mama, Alanis Morissette, Three 5 Human, the Indigo Girls, and Chrystal Bowersox (oh, and yours truly!), as well as special appearances by Angela Davis and Woody Harrelson.   You can visit in the coming weeks for full details about this year’s festival!

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a taste of what summer 2012 has to offer.  What live music festivals are you looking forward to this year?  Tell us on Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment below!

-Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX, based in the Bay Area.  Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, and follow her on Facebook at and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock

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