Summer festival season is heating up, and one of the best things about going to one is soaking up tons of entertainment all at once. A festival can be far cheaper than going to individual concerts, art shows, or other large entertainment venues, and sometimes they're free to the public. Here are some of the best budget-friendly summer festivals in the country.
The W.C. Handy Music Festival is in its 36th year and celebrates the Florence native known as the "Father of the Blues." Activities run July 21-30 and include concerts, art exhibits, plays, a bike ride, and fun run. Visitors can expect to hear top-notch blues, jazz, gospel and soul from noted performers in multiple venues in Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia.
Blueberries are annual rite of summer, and Ketchikan pulls out all the stops with its annual Blueberry Arts Festival. Now in its 42nd year, the festival's activities include a blueberry pie eating contest, a slug race (for kids), live entertainment, a dance festival, and much more. Join in the fun Aug. 4-6.
One of the oldest continuously running festivals in Arkansas, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in Warren will be celebrating its 61st anniversary this year. The fest has become a state tradition, having welcomed every Arkansas governor since 1956. Live music, fireworks, an all-tomato luncheon and street dance, turtle races, a tomato-packing competition, and a carnival are just some of the offerings June 9-10.
The Riviera Village Summer Festival in Redondo Beach doesn't cost a dime to attend. For this year's 40th fest, crowds will be treated to constant live entertainment, carnival rides, an international food court, and more than 200 booths featuring a wide variety of high-end arts and crafts -- plus free parking. The festival runs June 24-25.
Celebrate Scandinavian culture and tradition at the 25th annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Estes Park June 24-25. Music, Viking re-enactments, dance groups, craft tents, and traditional folk art are just some of the family-friendly offerings. Kids (and adults) can paint a Swedish dala horse and make a flower crown wreath in the cultural tent. Anyone wearing traditional Viking garb is invited to strut their stuff in the daily fashion show.
For more than two decades, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven has brought together world-class music, dance, theater, spoken-word, and circus performances. The festival offers both free and ticketed events (at least 85 percent are offered at no cost) over a three-week span in June in New Haven's historic downtown.
The Holy Trinity Greek Festival in Wilmington is celebrating its 42st anniversary June 6-10 with Greek music, the Greek Terpsechorian Youth Folk dance group, a free Greek dance class, church tours, and lots and lots of food. Can't skip work to pick up some souvlaki? A free lunch shuttle runs every 10 minutes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday during the festival.
Every year, visitors flock to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., a free event held outdoors along the National Mall during the last week of June and first week of July. Each year, practitioners showcase living traditions of different cultures with crafts, music, demonstrations, and food.
Ernest Hemingway established a permanent residence in Key West for much of the 1930s, and his legacy lives on there every year during Hemingway Days. July 18-23, festival attendees can enjoy a Hemingway look-alike contest, the main attraction, but there are other activities, such as a fake running of the bulls, a marlin fishing tournament, an arm-wrestling championship, and a 5K run/walk and paddleboard race.
Watermelon is an iconic summer fruit, and for the folks in Cordele, it's a pretty big deal during the Watermelon Days Festival. Dubbed the "Watermelon Capital of the World" (though it has some competition for that title), Cordele puts on watermelon-related events nearly all summer long, including a dog show, a seed-spitting contest, pageants, parades, decorating contests, watermelon chunking contests, and more. Don't miss the fireworks.
The city of Des Moines' Jazz in July features 150 local and national musicians in multiple concert locations across the metro area, inspiring more than 20,000 people a year to enjoy free jazz outdoors throughout the month. The event, which is marking its 35th year, also includes food vendors, visual artists, and activities for kids.
Festival on the Trails in Gardner packs plenty of fun -- including free entertainment, activities for kids including face painting and inflatables, food booths, a car show, and crafts -- into just two days (June 9-10). The event features a Chat-Fest, giving attendees an opportunity to talk to distinguished citizens about the area and family history. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year, making it a hot (but not ticketed) event.
The MainStrasse Village Original Goettafest in Covington is an annual tribute to goetta, a German-inspired sausage-like mush composed of ground meat, oats, and spices tasty enough that the community built a festival around it. The June 16-18 event includes games, children's activities, rides, arts and crafts, music, and entertainment. Admission is free.
Honoring New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong, the Satchmo SummerFest (which uses one of his popular nicknames) brings the trumpet legend to life in the form of music, exhibits, games, food, and more. The fest, which happens Aug. 4-6, is put on by the nonprofit organization French Quarter Festivals as part of its mission to promote the city with activities that showcase its unique culture.
Billed as America's largest free arts festival, Artscape in Baltimore features more than 150 fine artists, fashion designers, and craftspeople. It also includes a full schedule of performing arts including dance, opera, theater, film, experimental music, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. A delicious array of food vendors round out the festival, which is expected to attract more than 350,000 people over its July 21-23 run.
Each summer, the Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead pays tribute to the cultures of Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Saami people June 23-24. The festival features music, presenters, goods, and food from each culture, as well as a living Viking village with daily battle reenactments.
Each year, the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic near Holly Springs celebrates the emergence and history of North Mississippi Hill Country blues. The picnic includes major contemporary artists with direct ties to blues greats such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner. The June 23-24 event also features guitar and harmonica workshops, as well as vendors selling barbecue and fried catfish.
The Kansas City Ethnic Enrichment Festival is held annually near the entrance of historic Swope Park. The internationally themed festival features food, crafts, and performances from more than 60 different cultures Aug. 18-20. Kids 12 and under get in free, and adult ticket prices are only $5. With free parking available, this event is an inexpensive outing for the whole family.
Rock 'n' roll and classic cars join forces for Hot August Nights, a 10-day fest Aug. 4-13 in the Western Nevada cities of Reno, Sparks, and Virginia City. The event features a car auction, car shows, a swap meet, vehicle competitions, and bands performing music from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.
Established in 1967 to celebrate the town's 250th anniversary, the Stratham Fair has taken place every year since. Organizers boast that it's one of the oldest fairs in New England and relish presenting a traditional fair experience. Fair attendees enjoy a lobster bake, horse pulls, midway rides, a pie-eating contest, 4-H exhibits, fireworks, entertainment, and more July 20-23.
Get high at the annual Festival of Ballooning in Readington, where thrill-seekers gather for North America's largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival. Activities include concerts, fireworks, a 5K run, yoga, and of course hot air balloon rides. Early bird tickets to the July 28-30 event are $20 for adults and $8 for kids (though balloon rides add a significant cost: $225-$250).
The Great New York State Fair in Geddes boasts a stellar midway full of rides, live entertainment, a gigantic sand sculpture, animal exhibits (including a chance to watch a dairy cow give birth), wine and cheese tasting events, and much more. The 13-day event runs Aug. 23 through Sept. 4, with discounted admission offered on Thursdays ($3) and Labor Day ($1). All other days $10.
The 7th Inning Stretch Festival has a baseball theme -- it's hosted by the American Legion World Series -- but if there's a game going on, it's hard to find among all the other events scheduled for Aug. 5 in Shelby. The free day starts with the Little Miss American Legion Beauty Pageant and ends with a concert by the Charlie Daniels Band, with a cornhole tournament, hamster races, obstacle course, and plenty of stuff for children throughout.
German Days in Bismarck (named after Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck in 1873 to attract German settlers to the area -- and it worked) is a free, three-day celebration of all things German, including music, food, and, of course, beer. Visitors dress up and enjoy a stein-hoisting contest, polka, clogging, oom-pah music and activities, including authentic European storytelling and fairy tales for kids. Dates this year are July 13-15.
Celebrating arguably the best thing about summer, the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival serves more than 50,000 pounds of the stuff to more than 20,000 visitors and surrounds it with watermelon-themed activities, an arts and crafts fair, classic car show, carnival rides, and live music. Held annually since 1948 (this year it's Aug. 12), this has become a very popular event. Any why not? It includes a free watermelon feed.
Held each year over Fourth of July, the Big Butler Fair is the largest fair in western Pennsylvania, drawing crowds from four states. Events include stunt driving, tractor and truck pulls, a demolition derby, square dancing, concerts, harness racing, carnival rides, fireworks (on the Fourth), and much more. General admission tickets are $8; add an all-day ride band for $15-$20. It runs June 30 to July 8.
Fans of the spicy stuff will want to catch the 11th annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival in Nashville this year. Free to attend, this fun summer fest not only serves up some of the hottest chicken around, but offers entertainment and an amateur cooking contest. Free samples are limited to the first 500 guests, so arrive early on July 4.
Not a typical summer festival, Bat Fest in Austin lets visitors watch 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge on Aug. 19. In addition to bats, there are three stages with live music, arts and crafts vendors, and tons of food, too. Tickets are $15, and kids under 8 are free with an adult.
Days of '47 in Salt Lake City is a free, unique event celebrating the early pioneers. While festivities began in April, the Family Festival July 22 is an all-day event that draws a huge crowd. It follows a youth parade and is loaded with family-friendly (and free!) activities such as inflatable slides and pioneer-era learning opportunities.
Norfolk goes in a different direction for its free Mid-Summer Fantasy Theatre in the Park: back in time. This event on the last weekend in July promises to explore Shakespearean themes with visual and performance art -- but in the spirit of the hip Burning Man desert art and music festival. Also this year, the Pittsburgh-based Squonk Opera's pedal-driven Cycle Sonic performers will be providing both sound and spectacle to the festivities. Visitors (and others) can expect to find children's activities, specialty foods, and craft brews, wines, and ciders.
The West Virginia Blackberry Festival offers a variety of family-friendly activities, including a pet parade, a talent show and baking contest, live music, fireworks, a 5K run, and more. The free event, which got its start 21 years ago as a homecoming celebration, is held in the tiny town of Nutter Fort and runs Aug. 3-5.
Return to the days of the "Old West" during Cheyenne Frontier Days, a 10-day celebration (July 21-30) featuring the world's largest outdoor rodeo that draws talent from across the country, competing on horseback for $1 million in prizes. Other features include an old frontier town, saloon, a chuck-wagon cook-off, pancake breakfast, and much more, all set against a dramatic southern Wyoming landscape.