, both family and music have long roots. Family and music have been embedded in one another via festivals that bring people together with the gospel of music like never before, owing to the state’s recent country music renaissance, thanks to singers like Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, and Carly Pearce, to name a few.
Kentucky’s music festivals range from major to tiny, country to bluegrass, in the city to in the woods, and everywhere in between, just like its diverse topography of mountains, rolling hills, and coalfields. We’ve put together a primer of our 10 favorite Kentucky music festivals below to aid in the planning of your upcoming visit to the Bluegrass State, from Poppy Mountain in Morehead to Sleeping In The Woods in Monticello.
10 Festivals in Kentucky For Fans of Bluegrass, Country, and Roots Music
Poppy Mountain Music Festival ( Morehead, KY/ Sept. 8-16)
The Poppy Mountain Music Festival,
which was established more than 30 years ago not far from Keith Whitley’s Morehead birthplace, has long been regarded as one of the wildest gatherings in Kentucky. Next month, when John Anderson, Larry Cordle, Ralph Stanley II & The Clinch Mountain Boys, Moonlite Mile, and other artists make their way up the mountain for another week of revelry and excellent music, the tradition is set to continue.
The Moonshiner’s Ball (Livingston, KY/ Oct. 12-15)
The Moonshiner’s Ball,
which was started in 2014 as a type of reunion for the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers, a Lexington-based band that over the years has had many of its members move away and disperse around the nation, has developed into one of the state’s most respected festivals over the previous ten years.
The festival, which had previously alternated between two venues over its first four years, has now found a home at a riverbank campsite in Livingston, putting visitors not just on the front porch of nature but also the front porch of excellent music. When you go to the Ball, you never quite know what you’re going to receive because the motto is “Folk by day, funk by night.”
Bourbon & Beyond (Louisville, KY/ Sept. 14-17)
In recent years, Bourbon & Beyond
has surpassed Railbird in the state’s rankings of top events. With music from artists like Bruno Mars, Brandi Carlile, The Black Keys, Billy Strings, and others, this year’s festival features an amazing bourbon roster with rare, vintage, and experimental varieties of the distilled beverage.
Foxfire Music & Arts Festival (Ashland, KY/ Sept. 30-Oct. 1
The Foxfire Music & Arts Festival,
which takes place on the Ashland Riverfront and looks out over the Ohio River into West Virginia, has been providing music to the area since 2021. The 2023 edition of the event, which will take place in late September and early October, seems to be its most incendiary yet with performances by Morgan Wade, Elle King, Kat Hasty, Nolan Taylor, Hunter Flynn, and others.
Manchester Music Festival (Manchester, KY/ Aug. 31-Sept. 2)
Since 2018, the little town of Manchester’s Labor Day weekend has been marked with the free-to-attend Manchester Music Festival. The Red Clay Strays, Cole Chaney, and Sundy Best will all be performing at this year’s festival.
Master Musicians Festival (Somerset, KY/ TBD July 2024)
The Master Musicians Festival,
which has drawn crowds to Somerset’s Festival Field for 30 years, has featured performances by everyone from Willie Nelson to Billy Strings, John Prine, and Wynonna Judd. The 2023 edition of the festival included a special tribute set reflecting on 30 years of the festival with covers from past performers like Willie Nelson, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Tyler Childers, Abby Hamilton, courtesy of Nicholas Jamerson & The Morning Jays and Brother Smith. This past July, the event also featured sets from Ian Noe, Nappy Roots, and Judd.
ROMP Fest (Owensboro, KY/ TBD June 2024)
Since 2004, the River Of Music Party, often known as ROMP
Fest, has brought bluegrass and other roots music to Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro. It is organized by the Bluegrass Music Hall Of Fame & Museum. Along with two stages of music this past June that included Old Crow Medicine Show, Sam Bush, Molly Tuttle, and Rhonda Vincent, the four-day, family-friendly festival also offers a number of kid-friendly activities.
Laurel Cove Music Festival (Pineville, KY/ TBD June 2024)
The Laurel Cove Music Festival,
which takes place just north of the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky’s first state park, combines the best Appalachian musicians with breathtaking vistas of Pine Mountain and the surrounding environment. The group, which was founded in 2019, has served as a launching pad for achievement for the region’s residents Godwin, Ferrell, Wade, and others. The venue is sometimes referred to as the “Red Rocks of Kentucky” because of its combination of fantastic music and landscape.
Railbird Festival (Lexington, KY/ TBD June 2024)
moved into its new home at the Red Mile this past June with 40,000 of its best friends who came to watch headliners Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan after spending the previous two years in the Lexington, Kentucky, horse racing facility Keeneland. Rising artists including Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, Cole Chaney, 49 Winchester, and Morgan Wade all performed on the Railbird’s three stages, contributing to the overall picture of Appalachian music.
Sleeping In The Woods (Monticello, KY/ May 17-19, 2024)
The Sleeping In The Woods Songwriter Festival,
founded by Nicholas Jamerson, one of Kentucky’s most beloved and underappreciated songwriters on a national level, brings storytelling front and center via two days of workshops, live music, and community. A few hundred people attended its first event at Lake Cumberland this past spring, when artists including Jim Lauderdale, Rachel Baiman, Brit Taylor, and Jamerson himself played for over three hours as the headliner.